Why Liberty believes F1’s ‘old rich white’ business model has held it back RaceFans


Formula 1 is growing rapidly in popularity as it has moved away from a business model that targeted older, wealthier fans, according to the chairman of its owner, Liberty Media.

Greg Maffei was responding to criticism from former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone who claimed the sport had become too “Americanised” since Liberty bought it from CVC Capital Partners in 2016.

“Bernie has to say something,” Maffei told Bloomberg. “That’s how it works.”

Ecclestone began its takeover of F1 in the 70s and turned it into a global sports brand which Liberty bought for $8 billion. Maffei said the sport stagnated during his final years under Ecclestone.

“Bernie deserves huge credit for building the sport,” he said. “He built a huge juggernaut.

“We did a lot to try to open up the sport” – Maffei

“But the reality is that in our view it hasn’t progressed over the last few years and the public has stagnated. Bernie’s line was ‘I like rich old white people paying for sports’.

“Our point of view has been that there is an opportunity to be much broader, to introduce gender diversity, to introduce age diversity. And I think it worked well. And I’m willing to accept Bernie’s criticism.

The sport is showing signs of finally catching the interest of the US market it has long coveted. Maffei said about 300,000 fans attended last weekend’s event in Miami and it’s possible many more will be seen in the future.

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“Frankly, our partners have been limiting audiences, limiting attendance because they want to make sure they’ve got it right the first year,” he said. “I suspect it will be bigger in the years to come. There was clearly more demand.

“Now we have launched Las Vegas very successfully, which will start on November 23.”

The Miami Grand Prix attracted 300,000 fans in three days

Liberty Media has been more willing than Ecclestone to splash the cash on F1 and broaden its appeal to new audiences, Maffei said.

“We have invested. It may help that we’re an American company, but we’ve invested time in building a great experience.

“We have done a lot to try to open up the sport. It was a fairly closed sport, very little confinement, very little product came out. Now we are the fastest growing sport on social media.

“We had fan experiences. For example, a few years ago cars drove through Trafalgar Square and attracted 100,000 people to come and see it in London. Of course the drivers were supposed to ride passively around Nelson[‘s column] and they all made donuts, so that kind of stuff is natural and what you want to see.

“We obviously saw the growth of things opening up like the Netflix series Drive to Survive led us to expand the audience. All of these things have been very positive.

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In 2014, Ecclestone remarked that he was not interested in attracting young fans as they were unlikely to buy products advertised by F1 sponsors such as Rolex. Maffei said he was delighted to see the sport starting to attract young viewers.

Report: Young fans irrelevant, women criticize too much and Ferrari has lost popularity, claims Ecclestone

“At a time when other sports are aging, we can show through polls that we have not only increased gender, but also reduced the average age of our audience by four years in three years, which is a huge achievement.

“We are seeing massive increases in viewership here in the United States, up 50% year over year and then another 20% this year. So at a time when many sports, in Due to the changing nature of sports on television, experiencing declines, we have quite the opposite.

Some have expressed concern that Liberty’s pursuit of more races in America – Las Vegas will be its third – will come at the expense of traditional European venues. However, Lewis Hamilton thinks it’s worth going to new places and attracting fans from more diverse backgrounds.

“I’m a bit old school. Of course I like history, especially in certain circuits.

“But the older I get, the more I realize it’s about the people. We could go to the middle of nowhere where there are very few people, no great accommodations, no great community and for us as individuals to ride a historic track is cool. But it’s about people.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
F1 should go where it has an impact, says Hamilton

“We’ve had a pandemic with no people and it’s just not an atmosphere. It was like a test day. It was not pleasant. We now see hundreds of thousands of people showing up for the race, full of energy, excited, eager to know more.

“So I think the fans are at the heart of what this sport is, they create it. So for me, it’s, I think, being in cities where we can really engage in communities and in also have an impact.

“I love the Nurburgring, for example, but there’s not a diverse community there. We don’t really have an impact on the place. Right here [in Miami], we can do something. Yesterday I met a bunch of kids from different backgrounds who now want to get into [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects and so, it’s much cooler for me.

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