F1’s boom in the US and its lessons for soccer leagues

F1 lessons for soccer leagues

The 2021 F1 season was the most watched ever in the history of the American Racing League. The competition ended with another massive audience for the climax circuit.

An average of nearly a million viewers watched ESPN2 to watch Max Verstappen controversially win his first world championship in the chaotic Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12. That, for a race that started at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning.

In recent years, European football has traditionally proven its dominance on a quiet Sunday morning. However, F1 dominated every Sunday this year.

The average audience for the ESPN2 963000 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was more than three times the audience for the West Ham-Burnley match on NBCSN that was at the same time. Also, don’t compare to ESPN’s other big foreign imports, La Liga, either. Only 465,000 people watched Barcelona’s victory over Real Sociedad in his first appearance on ABC on Sunday 15 August.

Admittedly, it’s apples and oranges compared to an individual sport like F1. Every Grand Prix presents a star-studded championship-level event. Meanwhile, a team sport like soccer can have strong stars or teams; There is potential for a healthy mix.

However, it may just be a comparison worth making. As Second Captains co-host Ciaran Murphy said on a recent episode, “Every sport now tries to say ‘How do we pull an F1 car here’?

The beginnings of F1 and Soccer

In the 1990s, both Formula 1 and football served relatively niche sports communities. Each competed for attention in the crowded US sports field. Since then, soccer has grown to become the fourth most popular team sport in the United States.

Meanwhile, F1 bounced from network to network over the past two decades until it was finally unified with ESPN. Fortunately for F1, the dividend paid out. In an era of cutting the rope where leagues are happy to maintain steady or modest growth, F1 is enjoying explosive growth. American viewership has boomed from 672,000 races in 2019 to an all-time high of 934,000 this season.

F1 lessons for soccer leagues

Lewis Hamilton

Likewise, viewership in Canada has skyrocketed in recent years. The season averaged about 728,000 viewers per race (528,000 in English TSN and 200,000 in French RDS). On top of that, the viewership numbers were really crazy in Lewis Hamilton’s home country of the United Kingdom. An average of 3.4 million people watched the final race on Channel 4 Free.

F1 vs. football viewership

Formula 1 shines even when compared to some of the biggest football matches in the United States. For example, the most watched race in F1 this year was the US Grand Prix on ABC with 1.2 million viewers. By comparison, ABC’s broadcast of the MLS Cup Final attracted 1.14 million. However, that number has swelled to 1.5 million with the Spanish language audience on UniMás and TUDN.

The most watched English Premier League match of last season, the Manchester Derby, drew 973,000 people on NBC. Once again, Telemundo and NBC Sports Digital’s Spanish-speaking viewers reached 1.2 million. But, F1 can’t compete with the most watched soccer matches in the US – the Champions League final and Liga MX finals. Last second leg of 2021 Liga MX Final Opening Between Atlas and Lyon attracted 2.4 million viewers on Univision/TUDN. Furthermore, 2.1 million people watched the 2021 Champions League Final Chelsea Man City on CBS.

Despite the hype in F1, NASCAR is still more popular in the US. Watching sports media Reports indicate an average of 2.93 million viewers watched the races across FOX, FS1, NBC and NBCSN. Furthermore, the average IndyCar viewership is slightly higher than F1’s. The massive audience that the Indy 500 continues to attract raise their average. It also helps the most informative start time of the races.

Effects on growth

If you don’t watch F1, you might feel it Irish Times Columnist and host of the Second Captains podcast Ken Early. In one of the last episodes, he incredibly asked a question that is in the heads of many fans.

“Why would anyone care about this? I don’t get it! But, apparently, Netflix somehow saved him. People watched the Netflix topic and suddenly it was like I’d watch the race too!”

It may be the influence of Netflix, as well as the great influence of ESPN, that has made F1 so popular among fans, influencers and prominent members of the media this season. Ben Axelrod, journalist in Northeast Ohio, joking, “Soccer twitter & F1 twitter – Randomly takes over the schedule on weekend mornings.” Ryen Russillo, the eighth host of the most popular sports podcast for both Spotify and Apple, started a regular segment of F1 with Ringer’s Kevin Clark this chapter. College Football’s Spencer Hall, who writes for Channel Six and hosts SEC Network’s “Thinking Out Loud,” is another recent convert to Islam who spends mostly Sundays Untimed coverage races.

As Kane hinted early on, F1 has broken into the mainstream among non-racing fans in a way other leagues have not. Several factors have fueled the rise of Formula One. One factor that has not been underestimated is that most Formula 1 races start on Sunday mornings when the main competition for the business is European football.

Netflix has brought in a whole new audience with its popular docuseries, ‘Drive to Survive’. As said John Suchinsky, director of programming and acquisitions at ESPN, the multiple viewing paths can accommodate a range of audiences.

“Having additional F1 content reaching a wide and different audience helps raise awareness and interest, and hopefully motivate them to tune in to the racing. The high tide lifts all boats.”

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F1 lessons for soccer leagues

Max Verstappen Racing

Then there is the star power of Formula One – which now revolves around the emerging rivalry between track champions Hamilton and Verstappen. And it’s not just about drivers. Liberty Media’s immersive F1 racing productions bring viewers behind the scenes more than almost any other sport. During the chaotic finale of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, viewers heard Mercedes Racing CEO Toto Wolff vehemently objecting to the rules for restarting the race, saying,[y]You need to return the cycle to how it was before, that’s not right! “Toto, that’s called motor racing, okay?” Michael Massey, director of Formula One racing, replied happily.

A ESPN effect. As NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said when announcing the league’s return to ESPN, “I’m well aware [ESPN’s] The ability to promote, market and reach sports fans more than anyone else. This will continue to grow and have been a very important part of the allure of our meeting together.”

F1 lessons for soccer leagues

But, can other leagues looking for significant growth in the US draw any lessons from Formula 1? Sportico . writer Jacob FeldmanInspired by the rise of Formula One, he cleverly created the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sports.” Let’s see if there is anything football leagues can do better.

F1 has embraced social media

Feldman describes how F1 can be used to prevent footage from being shared on different platforms. This was not a problem for MLS, which has a strong online presence. And her teams do a great job of sharing the highlights. The same goes for European leagues even if some of them are foolishly geo-blocked in the US. Liga MX could do a better job of penetrating the English language crowd.

F1 turned racing into events

Here is where football cannot be compared to F1. There are usually only about 20 Grand Prixes per season. Each one takes place in a photogenic, albeit sometimes tyrannical location. NBC has gone to great lengths to turn the weekend’s matches into big events with its Premier League Fan Fest. The other European leagues don’t have big enough fan bases to do the same. But MLS can easily hold regular fan festivals with many enthusiastic fan bases across the country. And ESPN, which already produces College Gameday, is the perfect partner to make that happen. Liga MX also has huge followings in many of America’s biggest cities, so regular fan celebrations will come as normal.

F1 made broadcast TV more welcoming

We haven’t seen as many television production innovations with football as we’ve seen in the NFL for example. Unfortunately, we’ve even seen production go back to the SD era with ESPN Show From the 2021 MLS Eastern Conference Final.

F1 Let ESPN Stream For Free

This was a daring maneuver from F1 that will pay off in big way with his next TV deal. But even if the FA wanted to give up its product in exchange for more clarity, there was the problem of network bandwidth. The networks simply do not have enough broadcast windows to show all the different football leagues. Thus, we have now seen that the Premier League, the Spanish League, and the German Bundesliga are mostly behind the paywall system in the United States. And with NBCSN shutting down, it’s likely that more and more Premier League matches will be on Peacock’s push streaming service.

Fortunately, MLS trends in the right direction to make its games easy to watch for the largest number of people. 2022 will see a record 48 games on free-to-air television (ABC, FOX, Univision and UniMás). And Liga MX already offers a regular roster on TV broadcasts, including the super popular qualifiers.

F1 has improved its racing quality

The major European leagues already have the best players in the world. Liga MX presents the most dominant CONCACAF clubs. MLS is now producing elite talent highlighted by the recent transfers of Brendan Aaronson and Gianluca Bosio. And while not all of MLS came from Major League Soccer, the United States is now the fourth-highest in the 2021-22 Champions League of any non-UEFA nation.

F1 set the events of the story

That’s subjective, but it’s the Premier League with its mix of historic clubs, elite players, world-class managers with outstanding personalities, and internationally famous/infamous owners that have the most dramatic stories. This factor is also related to the debate between a level playing league versus a league with super teams.

It’s a personal opinion but it’s also an area where MLS struggles a bit. Due to the economics of the game, once a young MLS star becomes known among casual players and fans outside the team’s home market, they usually leave for Europe. Golden Shoe Tate Castellanos may be the last to leave. Of course, the league includes big stars such as Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela. But MLS appears to rely more on the atmosphere in its matches as a selling point rather than individual stars.

F1 has benefited from growing digital communities

This applies to all the different soccer leagues vying for attention in the United States as well. The diverse subreddits and Twitter communities of clubs and leagues are thriving.


There is a lot that other leagues can learn from the boom in Formula One. Ultimately, racing an F1 Grand Prix is ​​more like golf, tennis, a Grand Slam, or a WWE pay-per-view than a football match. Many watch the characters and behind-the-scenes drama as much as they watch the actual race. With football, these side interests can’t be served either, even if football managers and owners wear microphones.

But, soccer leagues can learn to offer fans a better sense of high stakes, just as Formula One does. In crowded American sports, it may not be enough to organize regular football league matches every weekend and magically expect huge fans to turn up. We see it with the regular season pedestrian sightings of Liga MX, especially on cable. Only in the qualifiers does Liga MX have a huge audience. The same goes for the MLS qualifiers and the final stages of the Champions League.

But it’s not just about offering knockout games. CBS’ Golazo Show, which allows viewers to see a little excitement from all the Champions League and Europa League matches rather than having to sit down for one specific game that may be failing, has proven popular. The biggest game changer in the US may be the newly revamped League Cup which all MLS and Liga MX clubs will be competing for in 2023. It will draw in the English and Spanish fans in the US at one time of the year, midsummer, with little to no competition from other sports. By then, we might be talking about the MLS/Liga MX combination as much as we’re talking about F1.

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