Why Formula 1 needs to be free to air

I have often seen Formula One called the most niche mainstream sport in the world. A lot of people know of Formula One or Lewis Hamilton, but beyond that, the world of F1 can seem very complex and dull to your average sports fan.

Netflix have done a great job with their ‘Drive to Survive’ series, allowing non-F1 fans a glimpse into the chaotic world of F1 politics and behind the scenes drama. Despite the success of it, is it enough for someone to then pay to upgrade their television package for, let’s face it, pretty mediocre racing? I don’t think so.

Where is F1 available for free?

At the time of writing, there are only 9 countries in the world where you can watch Formula One for free on satellite TV or streaming. Those are Albania, Australia (Aussie GP only), Austria, Brazil, China, Russia, Slovenia, United Kingdom (British GP only) and Venezuela.

Considering that Formula One has an audience of over 100 million people on an average weekend, it’s really surprising how few countries have all 23 races in 2021 for free. In the UK, you have two options to watch Formula 1 on TV.

You can either watch all the race highlights on Channel 4, with the exception of the British Grand Prix which you are able to watch live, that includes all Free Practice sessions and qualifying.

The other option is to buy Sky Sports and then have access to every session of every Grand Prix. Naturally, this is quite pricey. After having a look around the Sky website, the cheapest package I could find that includes Sky Sports F1 was £39 a month. However, that is only for 18 months before the price jumps up to £50 a month. Extortion. Of course, you can just listen to it on the radio for free which seems like best option out of all these.

This extortionate pricing is not just in the UK, but more recently German broadcaster RTL lost its rights to show live F1, as Sky now has complete control until 2024 at least.

Image credit: F1

How has this change affected viewing figures?

There is no doubt that F1 viewership has risen year on year since Liberty Media has take over. This is has been because Formula One has expanded it’s audience with better social media coverage and, of course, the ‘Drive to Survive’ series has been able to bring more people in, but it could be so much more.

In 2019, Formula 1 had an average of 91.5m people watching any given Grand Prix with the Italian Grand Prix being the most watched with 112m.

If we compare that to just football for now, El Classico gets around 75m viewers on average, the 2019 Champions League final got around 180m viewers, and the average World Cup game in 2018 had 191 million viewers. F1 is a global sport and should be able to compete with other global sporting events.

In the UK alone, there was 3.5m tuning in for the 2020 British Grand Prix. This was by far the most-watched race of 2020, unsurprising considering it is free-to-air. This shows though that their is an appetite for Formula 1 and that people are more willing to watch it’s more readily available.

While it may seem simple to increase viewership by making it more readily available to watch, unfortunately, there is one big problem. The racing is pretty dull. That is the stark reality of the current era of Formula 1.

If someone was to tuned in for their first Grand Prix and it be in Abu Dhabi or Russia, I’m sure they won’t be very impressed. Even if they tuned in for the spectacle of the Monaco Grand Prix, there is no guarantee that they will be dazzled, given how boring the racing usually is there.

2020 was the perfect time to make F1 free-to-air

Start of the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix. Credit: F1

The 2020 season was one of the best seasons of Formula 1 we have seen in a very long time. Despite the fact there was no real title battle, so many of the races this year were memorable. Lando’s last lap in Austria to George’s near miss in Sakhir, and everything in between. Last season could have been the show piece for Formula 1.

While the world was in turmoil and many sports were yet to start, Formula One was going and there was a huge audience out there craving sports.

I think F1 and broadcasters made a big error by not making F1 more available either by encouraging more broadcasters to show more races for free or allowing some races to be free on F1 TV.

F1 TV is a brilliant tool that Formula One can use and does use to expand audiences. It’s an affordable streaming service, which allows people in some countries to watch live Formula One. However, it’s not available in any of Formula One’s biggest markets. So, what’s the point? If you’re not going to allow F1’s biggest fans to get full access to it, then it becomes pointless.

Now, we all know Formula One loves money and to keep the prices of TV contracts going up they can’t start competition with their own rivals. Because of that, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see F1 TV really become a good alternative way of watching Formula One.

Image credit: Racer

Liberty Media and FOM need to realise that continuing to put F1 behind a paywall will slow the progress in growing the sport. If the racing will be closer and more exciting from 2022, then people are going to miss out on exciting racing that attracts people to the sport.

I love Formula One and I really wish I wouldn’t be the only one in most social situations that is interested in Formula One. Formula One is a mainstream sport, and it needs to start acting like it. It needs to make the most of the closer racing we hope to get from 2022 as a way to market the sport and get more people watching regularly. 2021 needs to be the year in which Formula One really expands. Some countries will still limit fans attending so it’s important that Formula One makes itself widely available during these times.

Thank you for reading. To see more from me, check out View-From-The-Crowd.com or View from the Crowd on YouTube.


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