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Reality check for F1 as social media interest declines

social media f1

With not enough race dates for the demand, 23 Grand Prix weekends scheduled for 2024, Formula 1 is indeed booming but signs of a worrisome decline in interest are emerging on social media suggesting a peak in the sport’s popularity.

Under Liberty Media, and more recently with CEO Stefano Domenicali at the helm, the business and promotion of F1 is firing on all cylinders. Apart from the official FOM-controlled channels on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, they are backed by superb media content from the ten F1 teams with state-of-the-art video, interviews, highlights with all the bells and whistles, feeding a top-notch social media network. And plenty of it.

But is it a case of ‘casting pearls among the swine’ so to speak? Might well be according to a study and subsequent report by Buzz Radar, tapping into 70-million social media accounts, to ascertain the impact of F1 at all levels. The numbers make for some uncomfortable reading, not only for F1, FIA, Liberty Media, FOM etc but all media covering the sport, including GRANDPRIX247.

The Buzz Radar F1 social media report asks the question with its title: “Have we reached peak F1 popularity?”

The report points out: “In the last decade Formula 1 has gone from a relatively specialist sport targeted at a narrow demographic, carrying adverts for global banks and Swiss watches, to one of the coolest and most watched competitions on the planet.

“Or, at least, that’s what the explosion in TV ratings, fan surveys and the general buzz you see online suggests. But what does the data say? And can that expansion continue?”

Historical data shows F1’s popularity rockets when competition is fierce

Historical data shows F1’s popularity rockets when competition is fierce Verstappen: You can't have the 2021 drama every year

Regarding the process of compiling and studying the data, the report explains: “Over the last decade, we’ve captured over 70-million online conversations around Formula 1 and analysed them using Buzz Radar’s social and audience intelligence platform combined with our team of experts. All with the view of discovering key insights into F1 audiences and their behaviours.”

The report also revealed what makes F1 popular on social media: “Historical data shows F1’s popularity rockets when competition is fierce and unpredictable. In 2016, social media interest exploded as Nico Rosberg just barely beat Lewis Hamilton in a season-long duel.

“But that interest declines when one driver starts to dominate week-on-week. The excitement and unpredictability of the sport starts to ebb away, and if Liberty doesn’t find a way to stop it, so will the support of fans.

“Right now, Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s almost-permanent residence on the top podium has fans tuning out. A predictable sport, after all, is no fun at all. For F1 to thrive, it needs to recapture the magical formula of wheel-to-wheel racing between multiple top drivers vying for supremacy.”

This is not news nor music to the ears of F1 chief Domenicali and his team at FOM. Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei let the cat out of the bag during a speech at a Goldman Sachs event earlier this month: “Obviously, the challenge is Max Verstappen who is having an unbelievable year or record-setting year.

“Stefano Domenicali is rightly trying to pivot and say: Come watch this historic event, you’ve never seen success like this, you don’t want to miss it. We’ll see if that works… The midfield is quite interesting, and we can show statistically there’s more overtaking than has ever occurred,” added Maffei.

Buzz Radar findings on the state of F1 on social media

  • Fan growth exploded from 2016 to 2022, and online conversations around F1 grew by 80% making F1 the fastest-growing sport on social platforms during that period.
  • Those new fans are struggling with F1’s current predictability: In 2023, use of words like ‘boring’ and ‘annoying’ to describe
  • A big shift from the ‘exciting’ and ‘interesting’ descriptors seen more in 2022.
  • Data suggests that if one driver and team continues to dominate, up to 50% of the new fans gained since 2016 could tune out by the end of 2024.
  • Data from early 2023 suggests this turbo-charged growth may have already peaked.
  • Alarming drops compared to 2022 were detected in key metrics:
    Social media mentions: Down 70%
    New followers across major accounts: Down 46%
    Overall social media reach: Down 64%
  • Remaining engaged fans are talking about F1 in increasingly passionate terms.
  • The percentage of positive conversations has more than doubled from 19% in 2016 to 46% in 2023.

The social media figures mentioned above tend to mirror the decline in traffic to websites. With fewer conversations on social media less chance of referral traffic, with a domino effect not only in readers but also income derived by websites covering F1.

This is further exacerbated by the deliberate change in news feed treatment by Meta’s Facebook, for instance (because they are not alone) in tweaking the algorithm to downrank posts with news reports and links to stories that means a user clicks out of the FB portal. Resulting in a massive loss in referral traffic from the platform. To the detriment of many sites, large and small.

Buzz Radar’s conclusion: “While F1 faces challenges to regain more casual fans, its core base is still energised. The key will be translating that passion into renewed mass appeal. More consistency in contention across teams and drivers will be critical for powering continued engagement.”

Big Question: Have we reached peak Formula 1 popularity?