Much has been said about the rise in popularity of Formula One in the USA in recent years. ESPN audiences have grown incrementally since the broadcaster gained the rights to show live races in 2018, with the average viewership increasing by 68 per cent across the four years. Most recently it was reported that Formula 1′s first race of the 2022 season was ESPN’s most viewed since 1995, peaking at 1.5m US viewers. These viewing statistics, coupled with the addition of the Miami Grand Prix to the 2022 calendar, and the record-breaking crowds at the 2021 US Grand Prix, underline what is clearly an upward trend of F1 fandom in the States. However, this growth in a previously challenging market has had more far-reaching consequences than a hike in the number of fans.
From a business perspective, we’re also seeing a proliferation of US-headquartered brands entering F1. Of the 127 recognised sponsorship deals across the whole F1 landscape last year, close to 40 per cent were with US-headquartered brands. This unprecedented growth reflects the continued success and increasing opportunity building partnerships with teams across the grid represents, with the sport the perfect fit for the ever-growing technology industry.
What’s Behind F1’s Growth in Popularity Stateside?
The growth of the Formula One fanbase in the United States isn’t a new trend. The work of Liberty Media, ESPN’s broadcasting deal, and the emergence of a new generation of social-media-savvy drivers have all contributed to increasing the sport’s exposure. Coupled with the successful Drive to Survive series on Netflix, F1 is building traction in a market it has been eager to crack for decades. Indeed, according to ESPN, viewership of the sport increased by a staggering 42 per cent in 2021, compared to the 2019 season and the early signs suggest that the inaugural Miami GP will be a sell out.
This increased following isn’t irrelevant to the sport’s commercial rise in the US; the viewing figures justify increased advertising revenue, whilst increased expenditure on race attendance and merchandise will be lining the pockets of key stakeholders. This is a reassuring sign for US-based brands that are considering their first foray into the sport. While the business focus will likely be the non-US regions, knowing that F1 holds weight in their home market will boost confidence in the sport as a long-term partnership investment.
What Else Has Changed?
Investment in motorsport from US-based companies has largely followed the same trend as audience growth in the market. Just as enthusiasts have historically been more involved in their domestic series’ (Nascar and IndyCar most predominantly), so to have US companies been more engaged in promoting their businesses on a local level in their own backyard. It was generally the larger, already-established global brands, such as FedEx, UPS and Hilton Hotels that took the leap into partnering with what has historically been a predominantly European sport in F1. Now, we’re seeing a major shift. Just as the technology industry is playing a more prominent role in our lives, technology brands are more visible in the world of sports partnerships.
This growth has coincided with an ever-changing sponsorship landscape in Formula One. When tobacco advertising was banned in the early 2000s, we saw an uptick in consumer brands entering the sport and spending remained high. Major title partnership deals were being penned and the sport maintained its mass consumer brand appeal. Household alcohol names took over and the sport enjoyed a relatively stable period of investment. Yet, as partnership investment became increasingly scrutinised, many of those deals expired without renewal and the partnership revenue was harder to come by.
In the space of just a few years, Formula One was being talked about as if it had an expiry date. Formula E was attracting interest from the big automotive names, and technology partners had earmarked the all-electric series as the place to invest. It represented ‘the future’ whilst Formula One was increasingly touted as a ticking time bomb, with huge race outfits and eye-wateringly high overheads.
But Formula One has always evolved. You only need to look at the advances in safety and the expansion of the race calendar into new markets for proof. It’s the most technologically advanced sport in the world and this is where it has grown its relevance and appeal to industries across the world. As our reliance on technology grows, F1’s partnership offering has essentially pivoted towards the world of tech.
The introduction of a cost cap has helped F1 shed some of its cost-heavy reputation, whilst the recently reinforced commitment to produce a 100 per cent sustainably-fuelled hybrid engine in 2025 has improved its sustainability credentials , further strengthening its cause.
All that, coupled with the Drive to Survive momentum, Formula One’s impressive social media growth, and a climactic 2021 title fight has made the sport a prime candidate for US technology brands that are striving to become household names.