“Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one? They can’t afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS – these kids don’t care about banking. They haven’t got enough money to put in the bloody banks anyway. That’s what I think. I don’t know why people want to get to the so-called ‘young generation’. Why do they want to do that? Is it to sell them something? Most of these kids haven’t got any money. I’d rather get to the 70-year-old guy who’s got plenty of cash. So, there’s no point trying to reach these kids because they won’t buy any of the products here and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney.”
This was said by Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Group chief executive. If you thought these quotes were old, you couldn’t be more wrong, these things were said barely one year ago. For far too long Bernie Ecclestone believes that nothing should be done considering Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, since they are not bringing in money in short term.
As late as March 2015 Formula One Management relaunched their website, launched their Youtube Channel and their Instagram feed. One might say better late than never, and I do tend to agree. But this must be just a beginning, not a short term experiment. Many fans where surprised to see archive videos on F1 Youtube channel, especially since archive videos to be shown where chosen by fans on Twitter. This was another step in the right direction. For the 2016 season, F1 created the ‘Driver of the Day’ award, which will be given to the driver voted by the fans, as FIA announced in official statement: “Viewers will be encouraged to vote online for their “Driver of the Day” throughout a Grand Prix, with the winner to be announced as part of the race broadcast immediately following the conclusion of the race, when the driver will be presented with their prize.”
All of these moves and improvements are good, but they are all still long overdue in comparison to other sports. But not to be too harsh, they are important steps in the right direction towards modern fan engagement. Funny enough, the most important F1 fan engagement event in the last year was not one of the before mentioned improvements, nor anything related to the official F1 channels. It was a photo of Fernando Alonso resting on a chair, deep in his thoughts after yet another Honda failure. Within minutes a hashtag #placesalonsowouldratherbe was spread accross the Internet inviting fans to create funny photoshop creations or simply funny statements related to the hashtag. According to fans, Alonso would have rather been on the beach, in the jungle, on the moon, in the Mercedes garage, on the Titanic and many other places after a dissapointing season with Honda. This hashtag was the talking point even among the F1 drivers. Even Alonso himself joined the ‘party’, when he presented the media his and teams’ „best of“ selection. This hashtag was really global, only on Saturday 12,000 tweets used this hashtag and estimates suggest that between 7,25M and 7,5M people saw tweets using this hashtag.
Yet, the F1 still doesn’t seem to be impressed with social media. Bernie Ecclestone will need more convincing, as he said himself: “I’d like to know, as we are doing this, has it been successful or not? I am told it is. So we will wait and see. Unfortunately we cannot get any figures. We just don’t know. I am sure it is doing good things. If not we will stop it.” It doesn’t seem that he is at all open to social media. It seems like he is just looking for a reason to shut the whole thing down.
F1 NEEDS AN INTERVENTION
Joe Brown, executive editor of Wired US online edition, is just one of many people who disagree with Bernie Ecclestone. He claims: “F1 is a locked box, there’s a culture of secrecy, there’s competition, there’s incredibly sensitive technology, there’s even espionage. Everyone is very secretive. I would say, ‘Get over that’. The secrets only stay secret for a short time. I would be much more transparent about it, say things like ,”We have a crazy new wing coming out next week you are going to love it,” give something for the fans to anticipate.”
Brown explains that media around the F1, as well as other sports, is turning away from the model that chooses what fans want to see for them, in form of TV broadcast on Pay-per-view TV stations. Media are now offering the fans a choice what they want to see and on what medium. “There are so many opportunities, things coming out of the race where you can slice up the content and give the fans what they want. Some people are interested in long form, others are interested in little bitty stuff. It’s about pushing this stuff out through various channels. Motorsport could be better at figuring out how to use this huge buffet of platforms to push their brand out to the people who don’t only want the entire race [on Television].”
Brown is also suggesting another very popular source of information, an official podcast to be made from Kimi Raikkonen’s radio transmissions. “Things that make the drivers look like more than just another part of the machine, because right now, you see them only in such controlled circumstances or on their own (social media) feeds where they are using too much marketing. Make them more human and make everything more accessible.”
One US based research shows that 63% of Twitter users rely on Twitter as primary source of information, which is 10% more than last year. Value of social media marketing is greater than ever, and it will only grow. Dara Nasr, managing director of Twitter UK, compared F1 approach to social media to other sports: “Yes, F1 is pretty much alone as a sport. If you look at some of the most valuable sports, like NFL, they have been doing it for a few years. Then there is also the Premiership, the Rugby World Cup, Tennis – pretty much any major sport does it. I am not one to talk about the intricacies of the deals that F1 has with TV companies, I cannot comment on that, but it is one of the minority in not doing it [social media] properly. When people are watching F1, more than 80 percent of them are tweeting about it. So the potential to innovate here with the audience you automatically have is huge.”
Twitter stats show that F1 doesn’t connect to fans in same amount as other sports, which is understandable considering F1’s low interest in social media. Let’s just compare them to NASCAR and put their levels of fan engagement in perspective. F1 Twitter account has 1,8M followers as of writing this article, while NASCAR has 2,5M ollowers. This is a massive difference, when you consider that NASCAR is a sport with much lower global TV reach compared to the F1 Grand Prix.
Jennifer Louis, head of Global Creative Strategy at Facebook and Instagram, joins the criticism of the F1 approach to social media, Internet and free content. She says that the F1 sees publishing materials on the social media as competition to fans watching it on the TV, which can’t be further from truth. Materials published on the social media simply complement the live action, creating more passion for the sport from the fans, especially younger ones, in the process. And this is where Bernie Ecclestone makes the biggest mistake. Mistake other sports realize can’t be made. Older fans do have money to pay for a Rolex, that is true, but younger fans will one day grow up and earn money to pay for their Rolex. But if they were attracted to NASCAR or any other sport when they were young, and not the F1, Rolex will no longer have a reason to advertise during the F1 events. Jennifer Louis tries to pursuade F1 to change their minds with good arguments: “There is a huge opportunity for them [F1] to do a lot more across the board, because it is a really passionate audience. I know from our perspective on Facebook and Instagram, we can help identify people by passion as well as demographics, so we think it is a massive opportunity to be doing some really exciting stuff with motor racing. You can tap into those passions – and deliver things that those fans really love. Football deals with this issue a lot. We deal with Sky Sports and obviously people pay to have Sky Sports, so they don’t want to give their footage all away from free – because otherwise why would you pay? But it is looking at the balance of showing people what is the value of paying for that service. So it is about giving them the right content, and the right amount of content, at the key times, so their consideration for purchasing the service, or renewing the service, really makes sense. It is not like you have to do all of one or all of the other. But it is definitely finding that balance, and showing the value of that content.”
VIEW FROM THE F1 PADDOCK
Formula One Management (FOM), knows that content is king. And they do offer content to the fans, but only after money transaction has been made. They have the rights on all videos and photos around the F1 and F1 events. It even says so on the back of the Grand Prix tickets. Testing period is different, not so heavily regulated, but you can’t show up at an F1 event and start periscoping or snapchating without a green light from the FOM. Sky Sport F1 pays for rights to shoot video of the race and for the rights to shoot all pre-, during- and post event footage including Ted’s notebook. And they pay a pretty penny to do so. But even with all this money going around F1 saw the decline in TV audience over the last few years. This fact probably forced Bernie’s hand and made him listen to all the voices calling and suggesting social media involvement.
Haas F1 Team driver, Romain Grosjean, recently made his frustrations clear: “I ran a live video on my Facebook page during our filming day, as well as from my room yesterday. And the FOM asked me to remove all the videos. We had more than a million views on all the videos. I think it’s great, it allows people to see F1, what it’s like inside, behind the scenes, but we’re not allowed. F1 is too narrow-minded – we say that we lose fans, but nowadays, so many people in the world have social networks – and we’re not allowed to make the most of them.”
AMERICANS BRING THE KNOW-HOW TO THE RACE TRACK
As mentioned before, Romain Grosjean is a driver for newly created Haas F1 Team. They are established by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team coowner Gene Haas in April of 2014.
It is a sister team of the Stewart-Haas Racing, proud winners of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, in 2011 and 2014. Team owner Gene Haas told his vision for the F1 team: “Just like NASCAR is very dominant in the United States—half of our production is actually consumed in the United States—if we could increase our market share by even 1 or 2 percent in the rest of the world that would almost double our sales. That really is the goal, to bring that brand recognition, produce more product in the United States and sell more overseas.”
As shortly mentioned before, at this moment NASCAR is winning the race with F1 for online fans. And they are just gaining more and more ground. During the recent Daytona 500 race, NASCAR presented a massive social media campaign, which included Twitter and Snapchat. The campaign „Ready.Set.Race“ invited the fans to race eachother in the Hashtag 500 race. Ready.Set.Race combined the TV, creative and social engagement in attempt to awake genuine race feeling in the fans as Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president, marketing and industry services explains: “When you’re a kid riding a bike and racing the other kids in the neighborhood, or when you’re at the gym on the treadmill, and you’re trying to secretly race the person next to you. To us, all that just reinforces that love of racing, and what better way to get your racing fix than watching or attending a NASCAR race. We’re absolutely focused on that in our television creative, but this digital and social component, where we’re encouraging fans to race each other during one of our events, is a new and innovative way to make that love of racing come to life.”
As the 2013 Nielsen report suggested, only 9% of NASCAR fans were between 18 and 35 years of age. According to that same report 49% NASCAR fans were older than 55 years. So, these numbers prove that NASCAR faces the same problem like F1 – not enough young fans. With one simple difference, compared to the F1, NASCAR is actually aware of the long term repercutions and they are acting on it firing on all cylinders. Here is where Haas F1 Team can help move the F1 to the present day. Coming from the USA and NASCAR, where nobody is claiming that the jury is still out on the social media marketing, Haas F1 Team will surely do their best to behave on social media as they learned in NASCAR, just under the strict the F1 rules. And hopefully they will encourage other F1 teams to do the same, forcing the F1’s hand in the process. With social media aware drivers like Romain Grosjean, they have already started their mission. On February 21st, 2016, the Haas F1 Team used social media and its website to take the cover off its first ever F1 car, called VF-16. This is exactly what F1 needs to see in order to understaind the power of social media and modern an engagement. I will monitor how this situation will develop, and hopefully I will have good news to report in the future.