F1 Group executive sees positive growth in U.S. Formula 1 market

Sean Bratches, managing director of Commercial Operations, Formula One Group, sees promise in the U.S. market.

Chicago hosts the first of two U.S. Formula 1 Fan Festivals in June 8, and F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told Autoweek that he hopes the events will aid the continued growth of the sport in the United States.

Los Angeles will be hosting that other festival. Miami, not long ago thought to be in line for a Formula 1 race, hosted a fan festival celebrating the F1 series last year.

Formula 1 has made several attempts to find a home in the United States but, up until 2012 and the introduction of the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, to the calendar, those attempts had often been in vain. However, with television viewing figures on the rise, talk or adding another F1 race in the United States seems to be gaining traction once again.

“I think historically that certain markets like the United States have been difficult to break into, to use your words, with respect to Formula 1 because Formula 1 really wasn’t set up as an organization to broaden its audience from a marketing standpoint,” said Bratches.

Despite the dominance of Mercedes, whose drivers have finished 1-2 in all but the most recent Grand Prix in Monaco, the news continues to improve in the U.S.

“It’s not one specific thing that’s driving this, it’s a collection of all of them,” said Bratches. “We went from NBC to ESPN last year. Our ratings were up last year significantly. (This year) through Spain combined qualifying and race ratings were up 38 percent year on year, and they were up significantly last year. The races alone are up 49 percent over 2018, and you’ve had every qualifying and race that’s actually been up. We continue to push hard on that front.

“Our digital consumption is up significantly in the States. In fact, in terms of F1.com, the U.K. is our No. 1 market globally from a nominal standpoint, the United States is No. 2 and with our Formula 1 TV direct-to-consumer product, the No.1 market in the world is the United States. We think there is a latent audience, but the story hasn’t been told. Now we’ve got a commercial group with a large megaphone with deep intent and we have an arsenal of opportunities to communicate the values of Formula 1 to that particular marketplace.

“Formula 1 was not in the top five, I’m not even sure it was in the top 10 television markets in 2017 when we got here five weeks before the season started, and last year we were the No. 3 television market in the world for Formula 1. Brazil No. 1, China No. 2.

“I think we’re on a strong trajectory in the States, and these (fan festivals) are an important component of that strategy. In most markets around the world, we’ve raced 25, 30, maybe 40 minutes or an hour outside cities — Austin’s an example, Monza, Silverstone, Spa, Shanghai. The list goes on and on, so the opportunity to bring this show to the people and demonstrate the brand is an exciting proposition to us, and the United States is the only market globally where we’re doing two car runs this year: one in Chicago and one in Los Angeles.”

As he has said previously, every decision made by Liberty Media is made with the fan as the focal point.

“Every conversation we have, we put the fan at the middle of the table, and if we’re not doing something that positively impacts the fan, we reorientate ourselves back to that goal,” Bratches said. “We’ve defined ourselves as to who we are, which is a media and entertainment brand with the soul of a race car driver. What we do is we unleash the greatest racing spectacle on the planet and how we do it, is we look at everything through the eyes of the fan, and that’s critically important to us.

“So, getting the 10 teams together to engage in a multiplicity of activities that are fan-centric that really benefit the whole, has really been an objective of ours and I think one that is really starting to bear fruit.”

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