As F1 TV viewing figures continue to fall globally, is there a solution to the problem?

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The current financial crisis that is engulfing Formula 1 has been debated to and fro over the past few months, with the collapse of Caterham and the uncertain future faced by Marussia giving many cause for concern about the future of the sport.

As things stand, we are set for a nine-team, 18-car field racing in F1 in 2015 – a quarter less than we saw just three years ago.

Will a lighter grid make much difference to the spectacle though? After all, the backmarkers rarely enjoyed a great deal of TV time, so perhaps having four less cars will mean very little in terms of the casual fans viewership from his or her armchair at home.

Even with 22 cars, F1 TV viewing figures have been falling for some time, losing a grand total of 175m in the past six years. 2015 saw 425m viewers tune in across the world, with a number of broadcasters seeing a fall in their numbers.

This has been the big dilemma for F1 over the past few years. TV figures have plummeted, so a remedy needs to be found. This was used as a factor when criticising the new cars introduced in 2014, saying that their reduced sound and look would only prompt fans to turn off.

It was also the reason behind the ultimately futile double points rule for 2014, intended to make the championship race last longer and therefore keep viewers tuning in. It has thankfully been scrapped for 2015, having firstly had no impact on the championship race whatsoever, and secondly not prevented a further fall of 25m in global viewership from 2013 to 2014.

So are people simply going off Formula 1, or is there a bigger reason behind the fall?

The quality of the racing is important, yet it is not the problem here. 2008 was the ‘peak’ in terms of viewership, booming at 600m. However, this was a year dominated by McLaren and Ferrari, and arguably less exciting than the recent clashes between Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. There is little reason for less fans to be watching because they simply don’t like what they see.

Accessibility is better than it ever has been, also. The majority of broadcasters offer some kind of online streaming service, meaning that fans can watch F1 wherever they may be on their phone or tablet. However, the flip side of the internet revolution is that many may choose to opt for illegal streams instead of paying for a TV contract.

And here lies the crux of the ‘problem’: money. The only correlating variable in the fall in TV viewership is the rise of pay-per-view contracts for the sport. In a bid to increase the sports revenues – which is, of course, good business sense – the F1 Group has been chasing more and more pay TV contracts. Broadcasters who get their viewers to pay for services have more money to offer for the broadcasting rights, thus increasing the sport’s revenues. The F1 pie grows bigger.

It is simply a case of looking at the facts. In 2013, there was a fall of 50m that prompted many a well-documented concern in the F1 community. However, less well-documented was the fact that 46m of this fall was in just two markets where the sport had switched to pay TV. The move away from free-to-air (FTA) cost the sport 30m viewers in China and 16m in France – so a relative fall of 4m is far less concerning.

The same is true of the falling British F1 audience in recent years. For 2012, the BBC gave up its exclusive rights to show F1, with all of the races moving onto pay-TV Sky Sports. The BBC shows half of the races each year live, with highlights for the remainder. Unsurprisingly, there was a decline in the audience in one of the sport’s most important markets, but it was self-induced.

Interestingly though, the United States has been bucking the trend in this area. According to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, the F1 audience in the U.S. grew for the second year in a row, increasing by 10.1% to 12.6m. Clearly, the market that the sport has tried to crack for so long is coming around.

A constant global decline is not something that the sport can simply accept, though. Instead, efforts must be made to combat the fall whilst also aiding revenues. FOM has recently begun a crack-down on those sharing illegal streaming links on Twitter, and it is likely that more and more of these websites will be targeted to get more tuning in on TV.

There could yet be another fall in 2015 though, with rights in Australia now being shared in a similar deal to that of the UK. Fox Sports will show all of the races live, with half of them also live on FTA Channel 10. With Daniel Ricciardo leading the sport’s charge Down Under, many may lament the fact that they cannot watch every race live and free.

So what does the man at the top of the F1 pile think of the situation?

“[It] is working alright,” Bernie Ecclestone told the WSJ. “We are still getting very good TV coverage. It just means that we are getting more coverage from the pay people now.”

The decline may have been sizeable in recent years, but it is not without reason. If the F1 pie is continue to grow, steps such as these must be taken.

However, if the sport can continue its recent drive to harness new technology streams via the F1 App and greater Twitter interaction, the decline may be limited and perhaps even reversed. It is not a trend that can persist, but the reasons behind it are clear.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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