Ross, could we keep politics, ideology out of F1?

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I’ve read the story at James Allen on F1 about Ross Brawn coming in under the Liberty Media wing of Formula 1 and working as a sporting operative to cure F1’s woes. The idea is that he would be in charge of the sporting elements of the series moving forward and one presumes just one of the multiple folks it will take to replace Bernie Ecclestone.

I am unclear on what that role would be as the sporting and technical regulations are duties the FIA currently control and Liberty Media’s presumed acquisition of F1 would be from a commercial rights holder position only but alas, there is most likely a “sporting” element to that part of ownership as well.

I was reading a parallel article at WaPo about the waning interest in the NFL and while many folks have pointed to the football league as a model that F1 could follow to find success and to staunch any bleeding of interest or viewership it may be experiencing; I would submit that this article cautions us as to this thought.

“Sunday Night Football” by 19 percent, “Monday Night Football” by 24 percent and the dreaded Thursday night game by 18 percent. A variety of factors may be contributing to this dive, from the election to so-called “fragmentation” of mass media. But none of the explanations make as much sense as the simplest one: The NFL has put less appealing and more disturbing action on the screen, and viewers are turning it off.”

The fact is, the demographic that has kept the NFL moving skyward for years is now turned off by the politics of the sport and the narrative, as well as quality of product, it seems to be selling. The Article continues:

“But the NFL is beginning to seem over-managed and over-staged. Constant commercials and interruptions by refs waving their arms do not produce “appointment viewing;” rather, they produce punts, ties and stasis. Look at the standings: A cluster of 18 teams, indistinguishable save for the colors of their shirts, are at .500 or worse and five more at 4-3. In other words, 23 teams are not must-see-TV to anyone but their most fervent fans. The constant advertisements and hail of yellow flags from overly officious officials make a PBS series seem fast-moving, with a clearer story line.”

Is any of this tickling some notion or thought you may have had recently had about F1? Even from this past weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix? It’s not my intention to take the stuffing out of F1, I love F1, but I would caution the sport to avoid the cultural narratives that have little or no resonance with the majority of its demographic. NASCAR started down this road and quickly slowed its gallop when the O-Rings starting to buckle under full throttle-up. Fact is, sport is sport and not a cultural mirror that instantly equals the mobocracy of social media or punditry.

When you are trying to appeal to five million viewers per game or race, there are too many ideologies, socioeconomic levels, age groups, and genders to pin yourself to one particular group. In a sporting event, identity politics and social narratives miss the target on large swaths of viewers while sating the particular group they feel might be interested or compelled to tune it. You’re a “progressive”? A “Conservative”? Fine, enjoy the race but if the broadcast package is scripted, demagogic, heavy handed or even outright politically salacious in one direction or another, you are going to experience a tune-out and as long as you are fine with the lost revenue and appeal of the sport, then more power to you.

I, for one, am not comfortable about alienating progressive, liberal, conservative or libertarian viewers because to me, they are F1 fans first and other folks when they turn the race off and go about their day. I don’t need to have technical or sporting regulations written to support a format that drives a social agenda nor would I want the regulations to send a message about a completely unrelated political or social topic.

Sports have usually been an escape from grind of daily toil and ideologies. One time when fans from all stripes can come together for the purity of just sport. My recent editorial on the “Verstappen Rule” was an attempt to suggest that the over regulation of this sport is killing it. The NFL is facing the same situation:

“The NFL’s overemphasis on “brand” and “shield” has meant increasingly petty attention to discipline and uniformity, which is sucking away dynamism and rendering it joyless. The league is picking apart its own product with stoppages, until it’s hard for the viewer to separate the major from the minor offense”

The current cultural outrage model of mobocracy is demanding that the sport litigate or mitigate any and all elements that could breach whatever cause or concern they have with the sport until the sport ceases to be recognizable or appealing. In F1’s case, the sport is now controlled, litigated and directed by what I call the holy trinity of trump cards—Safety, Cost and Sustainability. Any move in direction is immediately met by the mobocracy with one or more of the trinity trump cards in which to judge the direction. What??!! Are you against safety?

No one, me included, wants unsafe racing but some seem to live in the delusion that you can litigate or mitigate all risk from motorsport and that’s simply not true and in their quest to do so, they run the risk of neutering the sport entirely of any real sense of racing. I’m not saying that’s already happened but you can see where this is heading. No one wants the NFL to take concussion lightly, quite the contrary, but to what length can the sport go to make it impossible to be injured playing the game and still have it be football?

The Article goes on to say:

“The NFL ratings malaise is being puzzled over by everyone from media executives to stock analysts, who offer a variety of speculative causes. Everything from fantasy football to Twitter live-streaming to the shorter attention spans and habits of millennials has been cited. But none of these entirely add up. Other sports aren’t suffering precipitous drops; NBA and Major League Baseball ratings have strengthened over the past year.

In looking for a difference, it’s hard to dismiss the coexisting facts that the NFL has ruined the flow of its on-field stories while experiencing a spate of deeply negative stories off the field — most of them self-inflicted and perpetuated, from the Deflategate four-game suspension of Tom Brady, to the spousal abuse case of place kicker Josh Brown. Donald Trump has blamed Colin Kaepernick for dissing the national anthem for the fall in ratings. If that’s a factor, then undoubtedly so are narratives involving concussions and domestic violence.”

Even this article couldn’t steer clear of the politics in citing Trump when there was a clear poll taken recently they could have pointed to that said the exact same thing. The biggest reason? The National Anthem protests, the lowest reason? Head injuries and player safety. What would F1 find in a similar poll? Would driver safety be the biggest reason for waning interest or would it be Mercedes domination, hybrid engines, lack of sound, too many races, or the lack of sprinklers and walls at corners or even gold medals? Ok, just having fun with Mr. Ecclestone on the last few.

The NFL has offered several reason but none of them add up, as this article points out, but when a poll was taken that suggests the leading cause for the drop in ratings is the National Anthem protests, I think it rather concerning that the NFL is still blaming Millennials for being cord-cutters and not liking football as much. Well, if that’s true, then know your demographic.

If F1 is completely convinced that Millennials are the future of F1, have they even asked them if they like F1 or racing in general? They may just not be that jazzed about the sport finding other interests more appealing. What could you possibly change about F1 to make someone who doesn’t care for racing find it more appealing? Put a mustache on it? Call it “Authentic” or “artisan”? Make team bosses wear skinny jeans? Bring PBR beer on as the title sponsor? What?

If F1 is to look to the NFL as a model of how to run a sport, I would kindly and humbly suggest they keep walking because F1 is not the NFL and NASCAR took a real caning when they started down the road of social narratives that instantly turned their key demographic off. I don’t care about the political, social or ideological justices when I am watching F1, I care about good, competitive racing devoid of life’s more complicated topics and would prefer they also keep sex and religion out of the sport as well.

I don’t care if the next F1 world champ is Lewis Hamilton, a Hindu woman from India driving for Force India or, perhaps very unlikely, Fernando Alonso in a McLaren. Leave the politics and protests out of F1 please, it’s already doing a real number on the NFL and NASCAR is still wearing a cast and IV over its dipping of the toe into ideologically driven broadcast and marketing attempts.

Hat Tip: Washington Post and Boston CBS


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Jack Flash (Australia)

Hear, hear.
I am with you on the whole script here NC.

Peter Riva

Bravo Todd.


Sorry, man, but meaningless statements such as “NASCAR started down this road and quickly slowed its gallop when the O-Rings starting to buckle under full throttle-up.” have no place on your blog, other than they might make you feel cute or clever.
No matter how many years you claim to be a fan and how you brag about your technological background, you should lose the cryptic comments and stick to facts rather than hot air.

Jack Flash (Australia)

It is “the Journal of F1 Opinion”. Not the Journal of Motorsport and Corporate facts. it says so right on the Main URL page.

Paul KieferJr

You forget: Some of us NASCAR guys also read this. :P

Jack Flash (Australia)

I did not see NC’s comment as any disrespect to NASCAR. They tried something in Brand and Sporting terms… it backfired.. they reset back to previous position. All that NC said was “learn from the mistakes owned by others in Motorsport”. It was not a Taledega Pantsing.

Negative Camber

Hey Jack, I don’t follow V8, have they tried different approaches to their marketing or brand association to appeal to younger crowds with unfavorable results on viewership or attendance? Do you happen to know?

Tom Firth

Not Jack, but I’m sure he can give more info. They made a number of changes to race formats with shorter 60km races and a break in between, but it backfired when hardly any passing occurred so went back to the 120km format for some of those events. The idea was sort of for younger crowds, but also TV time. V8 supercars or ‘Supercars’ as its now known’s biggest issue for attendance and viewership though is its switch to a pay TV/FTA mixed deal, quite similar to F1 in the UK. They’ve got bigger problems though, commercially going forwards. New… Read more »

Jack Flash (Australia)

A good summary Tom. V8 Supercars tried to change the format to shorter Sprint Rounds and Weekends of multiple short format Sprints to engage the “attention deficient” younger audience… but it backfired in even lower attendances and viewership. It just made the racing processional, and less strategic. V8SC recognised that faux-pas and moved back toward the more traditional endurance event weekends. V8SC pulled out of that nose dive. On the TV viewing front… the move from total Commercial TV to a mixed Pay-TV and Free-to-Air had even greater negative impact. This at a time when the whole reason the Series… Read more »

Negative Camber

Great insight folks, I hadn’t kept up with it but you bring up a very good point, I just heard this past weekend (and I wish I could remember who said it), that perhaps F1 needed to make the races much shorter. They offered GP2 even as an idea. V8 could be an example of what would happen. Would the Vettel , Max, Dan event ever have happened to add some excitement had the race been half as long? No. I think the format is fine.

Tom Firth

I don’t think changing the race format length is a good idea, but I also find it very hard to agree with the whole ‘”attention deficient” younger audience’ concept. I understand what it means and how it it is the societal truth in quite a lot of younger people, but it doesn’t fit for me because I am of the generation of that allegedly can’t watch more than 5 minutes of F1 without switching off. It also doesn’t fit when you think this is the generation that binge watches hours of Netflix… how does that work if apparently younger people… Read more »

Negative Camber

I agree with you Tom, I think it’s a general label lumped on Gen Y and it’s not accurate or fair but missing the germane reason they have little attention for things that aren’t either topical interests to them or quality product that they are very keen to watch. Binge watching is a good example but it’s also an example of how they like to have on-demand and that plays a role…just not quite sure how much and as sports are live events, that’s a tough one. Your example of Twitter stream for NFL being dismal is another thing that… Read more »

Tom Firth

Yeah. It’s complicated with sport and on demand. You can put live sport, into non live on demand highlights or full events. Lots of sports do that. Does it work? The figures YouTube provide as clicks for Nascar and Indycar events, uploaded to YouTube days after an event, says not really. PVR viewership for sports in the UK according to BARB (British audience research board) says it doesn’t either, as it demonstrated the lowest PVR viewership Is sport, so quite what sport do. I don’t have the answer to. As for mobile devices and online streaming, I’m not sure. I… Read more »


To me the “attention span of young people” argument goes out the window when you look at the explosive increase in Football (Soccer) viewership among that very demographic in the US over the last 20 or so years. 90 minutes of (for example) Liverpool vs Man United seems to get pretty good ratings which increase year to year. I’m in for tomatoes and rotten egg missiles by saying it, but nothing bores ME more than Football. The difference is that I wasn’t exposed to it from a young age. Gen Y not only watches but actually plays the sport when… Read more »

Tom Firth

Yes, lots of other reasons too, the end of the Cochrane era was painful for V8SC, Archer Capital’s motives. The rise of some competition for audience in the Bathurst 12 Hour race towards the start of the season, which V8SC bought in order to see off that challenge.. etc etc.

But hey, its hardly the first time V8ASC has been a political minefield which led to a split in opinion by those who ran it, we can always have more than one Bathurst (1000) again ;-)

Negative Camber

I don’t feel cute, lighten up my friend. I spent the evening at the longest NASCAR race on the calendar in an executive suite and did so with three of the sports biggest sponsors and some of the employees of NASCAR. We spoke for most of the evening about the changes to NASCAR since the mid to late 90’s when I watched it. I asked them all sorts of questions about the reduction in attendance and viewership and sponsor departure etc. They were incredibly candid about the reasons and I gained a lot of insight to what they felt had… Read more »

Paul KieferJr

Recommended reading:

1. “The Prince” by Nicolo’ Machiavelli
2. “1984” by George Orwell

If you think you can escape politics, think again. It’s in everything we do, everything we say, in the very essence of homo sapiens. From the very trivial and mundane to the most grand and important of all things, we, the Human Race, are Politics, from the birth of our race to today.

The Captain

Oh I read that article today at lunch too. Decent analysis of the NFL’s woos, but left a few giant elephant in the room out, like the fact that more people move away from their hometowns today and thanks to the NFL protecting ‘home’ teams you can never watch your team play if you move out of market without coughing up a fortune. I live 30 min from my teams stadium but the games are never on TV because I technically live in a different market. So guess what, I do other stuff on Sunday now. But that poll, oh… Read more »

Negative Camber

You’re right in that politics, even within F1, seem to permeate corners of the series for sure. I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t believe that or aren’t aware of that because I am and for the fine reasons you’ve pointed out. What I would like to see avoided is the marketing push for narratives they feel strongly about. To be perfectly honest with you,I don’t care what ideologies the head of Mercedes, the FIA or FOM believe in. Whether they are EU fans or Brexit fans. I don’t care what party a fellow F1 fan votes… Read more »

Alianora La Canta

The problem with such a survey in F1 is that somewhere between a third and half of its peak audience has already left, and it’s consistently shedding 25 million viewers each year (apart from the occasional 50 million viewer blip). The reasons people have left have changed each year, but everything Negative Camber has said in the paragraph about reasons people left F1 (except gold medals), plus about a dozen others, has been cited to me by at least one person I’ve known who’s stopped watching F1 as being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Driver safety was the… Read more »

Negative Camber

It’s a good point about lapsed viewers and re-gaining them if they can start to appeal to them again. One might assume the marketing spend to re-gain them would be less than finding new fans but I’m no marketing genius.

Tom Firth

Well its certainly not Twitter live streaming that’s damaging NFL viewing figures, the audience figures for the first Twitter stream was abysmal. I don’t think the other two were much better.

stephen kinnear

The main reason my 30 year interest in F1 is waning is because
it is no longer shown in full on free to air television. I’m not paying for Foxtel.

Fred Talmadge

I actually enjoy watching it on UniMas (Spanish TV) turn the volume down and do my own commentary. I’ll follow Haas on Twitter and then come here for what I can’t figure out. Works pretty good for a broadband/cable tv challenge user.

charlie white

I don’t see how Ross(or anyone else in F1) can keep politics or ideology completely out of the sport. Someone always has an agenda or even an ulterior motive. I offer no answers to why NFL ratings are slipping but I know in my own case, I watch few games now because instant replay(I hate it as much as DRS) and the time it takes for a verdict which in most cases only vindicates the official’s on field call. A game has gone from 2.5 hours to 4 hours. And my team(Houston Texans) gave away the family cow for some… Read more »

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