With the addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix to the Formula 1 Calendar for 2023, Americans will have three Formula 1 races in the country, and what will likely prove to be the most visually stunning night race imaginable.
The Las Vegas Grand Prix brings the total number of F1 races on the American continents to 6: 3 in the United States (Miami, Las Vegas, and calendar regular Circuit of the Americas in Austin), and 1 in Canada (Montreal), Mexico (Mexico City), and Brazil’s legendary Formula 1 track at Interlagos. Formula 1 is making its long-desired impact in the American market.
What is primarily responsible for this increase in popularity and success in America? Undoubtedly, Netflix’s Drive to Survive has to take a large share of the responsibility for attracting new viewers, while the on-track action from the drivers and teams is keeping those new viewers along for the ride.
In this article, we’ll be taking a break from the continuing and growing legend of the Wiley Ol’ Campaigner, Fernando Alonso, to discuss Formula 1s growing popularity in America, television rights, and ratings.
Read more about the British Grand Prix.
Formula 1 Before Drive to Survive
Formula 1 has a long history with current broadcast partner ESPN, and one of their parent companies, Disney. This history dates back to 1962, showing race highlights and select races on ABC until the 1980s.
In 1984, ESPN took the seat and broadcast Formula 1 until 1997. Between 1997-2017, the Formula 1 World Championship Calendar expanded globally, while finding itself on less prestigious American television networks, Speed Network and NBC Sports Network.
It wasn’t until Liberty Media (FWONK on the NASDAQ exchange) acquired Formula 1 and began testing F1TV where Formula 1 began to take the form we currently know. F1TV was the impetus for NBC Sports Network to walk away from Formula 1’s broadcast rights in 2017, opening a path for a reunion between ESPN and Formula 1.
From 2011-2016, Formula 1’s live viewership grew 70% in America under the NBC Sports Network broadcast deal, with its Total Audience Delivery at 556,000 viewers.
At the time, Formula 1’s broadcast rights were valued at $4 million. ESPN had actually outbid NBC Sports Network but former F1 Chief Bernie Eccelstone chose NBC Sports. When NBC Sports Network walked away from Formula 1, ESPN acquired the rights to Formula 1 for the 2018 season essentially for free.
The same 2018 season chronicled in Netflix’s Drive To Survive: another Liberty Media endeavor. In 2022, Formula 1 and ESPN have a “handshake deal,” renewing their commitment to each other, agreeing to a 3-year deal, worth between $75 Million and $90 Million per year. Again, Formula 1 has reportedly turned down more money in a television rights negotiation from Amazon, to remain with ESPN.
Drive to Survive, Covid-19, and the Growth of Formula 1
So, what tangible effect has Gunther Steiner, Haas, and the ballad of Daniel Ricciardo had on Formula 1’s growth. Before we look to the statistics, we must address a global reason for the success of Drive to Survive and increased interest in everything Formula 1: the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Although the series has received just criticized at times, docudrama Drive to Survive was one of many bingeworthy series to receive spotlight during the global pandemic. Unlike Tiger King or many other streaming fads during the Pandemic, Formula 1 had a product to drive viewers to outside the Netflix series. Everything from television ratings to Formula 1 simulator racing have seen increases in popularity after the introduction of Drive to Survive.
Formula 1, alongside the UFC (which has also seen tremendous increases in popularity since the pandemic), was one of the few live sports to be run at the height of the Pandemic. The effects of this cannot be understated. With no sports running, Formula 1 and the UFC took the spotlight, leading more viewers to tune into ESPN, the rights holders for both F1 and UFC
With more eyes watching Ricciardo’s journey or Haas misfortune, more people began tuning into the races themselves. The story of Formula 1’s rise to its current success can’t be mentioned without Drive to Survive and the Covid-19 Pandemic. You also can’t speak to the addition of the guaranteed to be visually stunning Las Vegas Grand Prix in 2023 without speaking to the growth in F1’s popularity from Drive To Survive
The Growth of Formula 1: A British Grand Prix Case Study
The British Grand Prix from Silverstone is steeped in history and features some of the most breathtaking corners on the F1 calendar. We’re going to look at the ratings on ESPN for the British Grand Prix over the last few years and see the tangible growth in Formula 1’s ratings. All of these statistics have been gathered from showbuzzdaily.com
As a point of comparison, the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix averaged 660,000 viewers on ESPN2 – a 37% increase from 2018, and a 29% increase on the 2017 edition broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
The 2019 British Grand Prix averaged 591,000 viewers and a 0.15 in the 18-49 demographic on ESPN 2, ranking 44th for the day. In 2020, The British Grand Prix averaged 736,000 viewers, a 0.19 in the key demographic, ranking the Grand Prix 25th on cable. Both of these races were live broadcasts on ESPN at 9:05 a.m. EDT.
And now for the Drive to Survive effect. The 2021 British Grand Prix continued its year-over-year increase as an average of 1.029 million viewers tuned into to watch Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen go head-to-head around Copse (Turn 9), and Verstappen’s huge impact as a consequence.
The British Grand Prix started at 9:55 a.m. EDT and registered a staggering increase to a 0.34 rating in the 18-49 demographic, leaving the ESPN broadcast ranked 5th on cable. And Formula 1’s momentum has kept going in 2022.
Carlos Sainz Jr. earned his first career F1 Grand Prix win at the 2022 British Grand Prix, in front of an average viewing audience of 1.239 million viewers and an incredible 0.49 rating in the 18-49 demographic. The British Grand Prix ranked #1 on cable for the day.
These are huge increases in not only total viewers, but also in viewers in the key demographic. This also doesn’t include viewers like me who subscribe annually to F1TV and don’t have cable, although this number is likely to be negligible compared to the television viewing audience.
Clearly, Drive to Survive highlighting the chaos, characters, and drama of the world’s fastest sport has brought more American eyes to the sport, especially among younger viewers. What will be particularly interesting is follow will be how the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix will do in the ratings in America.
Formula 1’s popularity is increasing and with the pit lane straight running down the Las Vegas Strip for a night race – placing the race in a more “prime” time slot – I can’t help but to speculate how many people will tune in just to see the visual spectacle, let alone the race.
Up Next – Circuit Paul Ricard and the French Grand Prix.
We are officially at the halfway point of the 2022 Formula 1 season. Race 12 of the 2022 season is the French Grand Prix, from Circuit Paul Ricard. The French Grand Prix takes place from July 22nd-24th.