I find it interesting that some F1 journalists have jumped on the “engage fans” bandwagon with full force.
It was not always this way.
Several years ago, I recall having an intense discussion with several prominent F1 journalists about grand prix racing in the U.S. and why it just doesn’t seem to appeal to American fans.
My take was simple but I think pretty accurate: F1 does not give U.S. fans what they expect. And “what is that?” I was asked. The answer, too, is simple: “Access.”
Unfortunately, F1’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone believes — and let’s be clear, many of the players in the paddock agree — that exclusivity brings huge value to F1’s brand. And, to be honest, it seems to work in Europe where many sports have similar walls built between fans and their stars.
That is not true in North America.
Anyone who went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400 or Indy 500 and then attended the U.S. Grand Prix saw the difference. During the NASCAR and IndyCar weekends, the paddock is packed. People are everywhere watching the cars get wheeled into pitlane and running into drivers and getting autographs. When the USGP was in town, electronic gates kept fans out of the paddock, and the usually bare chain-link fences were covered by tarpaulins to ensure nobody could even catch a glimpse of those inside.
There was a story going around last week about Montreal Canadian goalie Carey Price moving close to the glass to make sure he was looking straight into a kid’s smartphone as the young fan was trying to take a selfie with the players behind him. That’s the kind of stuff fans in the U.S. want to see.
If the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final goes into overtime, there will inevitably be a player who does an interview as he’s stepping on the ice for what will likely be the most intense period of hockey he will ever experience. And, fans would be aghast if a player didn’t make himself available.
But can you imagine, an F1 driver acting as an “in-race reporter” and chatting with the broadcasters about the race and strategy on the warm-up lap or during a safety car period? They do that in NASCAR.
The bottom line: If you want U.S. fans to care about F1, you need to give them access to connect with the drivers on a personal level.
It doesn’t have to happen every time, but they need to feel it can. And right now they don’t.