19.07.17

racing ahead in social media

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With people now picking out more and more of their programming in bespoke ways (Netflix, Youtube RED, Amazon Prime Video), gaining casual and new viewers is becoming increasingly difficult on traditional TV. This is a problem shared by many sports and is certainly something we see in motor sport. Gaining new viewers is increasingly difficult for both the MotoGP and F1 World Championships. Both have shifted largely towards pay TV channels, meaning that potential new fans are unlikely to stumble across Marquez sliding up the inside of Rossi while they are channel-hopping and becoming hooked on a sport that many of us love. Behind BT Sports’ paywall, MotoGP is largely preaching to the converted rather than introducing a whole new fan base to the delights of the sport.

But there’s hope – hope in 140 characters at a time. Both MotoGP and Formula 1 are continuing to fight for fans, but they’re no longer fighting on the battleground between Neighbours ad breaks: it’s all about social. The last two seasons have seen the MotoGP World Championship in a particular dive head first into the social age. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram – they have it all. They even had Vine! Meanwhile, 2016 saw the Formula 1 Championship dip a toe in the water before fully taking the plunge in 2017 under the new Liberty Media ownership.

Perhaps the best use of social media by MotoGP was during the infamous 2015 #SepangClash, when a clip of Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez colliding was shared over two million times, becoming the number one trending topic on Twitter for more than a day (rare in the 48-hour news cycle of the internet). For many championships, a clip like this would be something to hide behind a paywall in the hopes of gaining account sign-ups to simply view the clip. But Dorna had the long term in mind. It’s safe to say with reach like that, more than a couple of non-fans had a watch – a fact supported by the incredible jump in viewing figures for the final round of the championship in Valencia that season.

Just ahead of the British GP, Formula 1 announced a fully-fledged partnership with Snapchat to bring a ‘Story’ to each Grand Prix – guaranteeing fans have a way to share their experience of the event with the world.

Frank Arthofer, Head of Digital and New Business at Formula 1: “This is the first step towards expanding our social media strategy. Right from the start, we have said we want to work with partners to bring fans closer to the amazing show that is Formula 1, an incredible mix of technology and individual talent – and Snap fits that bill. We need to continue to bring new fans to the sport – by reaching out to them on social media platforms with behind the scenes, fun and engaging content. Snap’s platform is one of the most popular among ‘millennials’, a sector we are particularly keen on attracting as it represents the future of our sport.”

When Lewis Hamilton first started using Snapchat during the Japanese Grand Prix press conference, Formula 1 were less than impressed (using his phone in a press conference was a little rude). But it showed the governing bodies the power and reach, especially within the younger demographics, of an app like Snapchat. Now Liberty Media looks to turn every F1 fan into a rabbit-eared Lewis Hamilton, and share it with their non-F1 friends.

The shift in attitude towards a paddock more open to social media has come alongside the Bernie – Liberty Media regime change. One of the first changes made by Liberty after their acquisition of the four-wheeled championship was relaxing video rules within the circuits (an area MotoGP is still struggling with). This change was met with immediate glee by riders and teams, able to engage directly with fans and continue to share their brand to a wider audience. 

Formula 1 during the Bernie era had a general scepticism towards all things ‘new-media’; websites were regularly turned down for media accreditation, the Formula 1 Twitter and Facebook feeds were ghost towns and even the hint of filming inside the paddock would have your pass turned to confetti. Liberty Media, as their name suggests, have brought a kind of social media liberty to the paddock.

Aside from Vine, a rarely used platform, motorsports are yet to deal with a platform going bust after heavy investment. When Snap Inc went public in March 2017, they were valued at $27.09 a share but in mid-July 2017 they’ve dropped to just $15.69 a share with a record low of $15.21. Could Formula 1 and Snapchat be the first paring to go south? It’s still very early, but as Myspace showed in 2011 when 10 million users left between January and February after already losing over 30 million users in 2010, a sinking social media ship doesn’t stay around for long. Most of Wall Street certainly don’t see Snap Inc racing ahead just yet.

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Whilst a battle between Silverstone and Liberty Media continues to brew over the future of the British GP, Liberty Media can at least boast they’re charging ahead on the social media front. With an ever-aging fan base and championships which are becoming harder for potential fans to find, drawing in interest from social media is now the lifeline on which F1 and MotoGP rely on to renew and grow their audiences. Time to get snapping…

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Article by Harry Lloyd


Senior Account Executive and motorcycle racing enthusiast

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