How Liberty Media and content creators transformed F1 for the masses
F1 was infamously known for being an old-fashioned billionaires' playspace. Here's how Liberty and online personalities helped to draw in fresh faces.
Formula 1 for a long time had a bit of an image problem. It's always been glamourous - with races like Monaco always putting on a lustful show of extravagance - but over time, it became clear that there was an emerging disconnect between the sport and younger generations of fans.
The overall operation of how the F1 circus operated was remarkably analogue and old-fashioned in a world that was turning digital and online. The reason behind this stubborn lack of advancement, unsurprisingly, comes down to the top dogs who run the business.
Bernie Ecclestone is a British business tycoon and is often credited with turning Formula 1 into a profitable and stable operation. By handling the sales of television broadcast rights to broadcasters, Ecclestone was able to bring a huge amount of money to the sport. His reign as Formula 1 executive - partnered alongside Max Mosley most of the way - ran from the 1970s all the way until 2017.
Bernie in 2012
Whilst Bernie's efforts towards making Formula 1 a sustainable and profitable sport should never be discredited from him, towards the latter years of his reign it became more obvious that he was out of touch with technological advancements that could enhance the sport even further.
In a now-infamous interview given to a sister publication of Autosport in 2014, Ecclestone claimed that there was no point for F1 to be chasing younger fans, as they did not fit in the target demographic of the sport's sponsors.
He went on to say: "I'm not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I'd rather get to the 70-year-old guy who's got plenty of cash. So, there's no point trying to reach these kids because they won't buy any of the products here and if marketers are aiming at this audience, then maybe they should advertise with Disney."
It became quickly obvious that this wasn't a sustainable business model to maintain. In key findings, multiple things were found where the Formula 1 business model was failing in the 21st century. These included, but weren't limited to, a revenue system that favoured the rich and powerful, historical races struggling to fund themselves and stay afloat, and sporting decisions made that were purely financially motivated.
It was time for a change.
The dawn of a new era
Chase Carey pictured in 2020
Liberty Media took over all commercial operations in 2017, with Chase Carey now in the captain's chair. Immediately, fan-pleasing announcements were made to save and support historical European races, instead of going to wherever offers the largest amount of cash.
More importantly, Liberty Media began to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet. Under the rule of Ecclestone, F1 did have social channels, but they were rarely used, with a corporate feel to the content. Liberty made extensive use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for almost constant content - even when the sport was in the winter off-season. Unsurprisingly, existing fans stayed engaged, and the sharable nature of social media meant that new fans were drawn in.
In the last few years, the sport has increased its TV and digital viewership - despite the restrictive TV broadcasting agreements that linger from the Ecclestone era. More significantly, 61% of these new fans were under the age of 35, and 36% were under 25. These are fans that have the potential to support the sport for many decades to come.
But it's not just Liberty Media alone. Thanks to the high drive of new, young and connected fans, a strong online community has emerged in recent times. With any online community comes content creators, and Formula 1 has many talented creators helping to draw more people to the sport.
Meet the creators
We caught up with two of the community's best in the business - Chain Bear F1 (real name Stuart Taylor) and Josh Revell - to see what they think about Liberty's impact, and who they target with their content.
"Liberty Media have made a lot of positive steps in bringing forward the presentation and integration of F1 into a modern setting", Chain Bear said.
Josh agreed: "Liberty Media have definitely changed Formula 1’s image for the better. They’ve completely overhauled and expanded on their social media platforms, and increased fan interactivity."
However, there were some reservations from Chain Bear about how Liberty is, at the end of the day, still a business seeking profit.
"They are, of course, still looking to increase profits, and this can lead to problems of unsustainability, like over saturating the season with races or chasing new markets at the expense of existing core markets. I'm starting to get more wary of that side."
Chain Bear and Josh's content has helped to bring in a huge amount of new fans to the sport. We asked them to summarise who and what their content is for.
"Mainstream F1 media don't often try and bring people up to speed on the basics, and will talk assuming a base knowledge on a lot of things. My aim is to get people more fluent on a lot of topics", explained Chain Bear, who specialises in animated 'explainer' videos for all aspects of motorsport.
Josh's content focuses more on the funny side on what is often a sport that historically took itself very seriously.
"The semi-satirical style used in my videos is deliberate, in an effort to make the subject more appealing to a wider audience. While the information is still there, the aim is to keep viewers who may not be invested in the sport interested in the subject", he explains.
Both creators made it clear about how important it was to them to draw in new people who may not otherwise have cared for the sport. Such an approach has undoubtedly contributed towards F1's recent surge of new, young fans - exactly the type Ecclestone dismissed.
Despite Liberty's success, both creators were aware that the sport isn't perfect. What would they change to make things even better?
"Liberty Media and Formula One Management (FOM) should embrace content creators more," stated Josh.
"Organisations such as Major League Baseball have embraced baseball YouTubers, allow use of archival footage to create videos, and are developing a database to help increase awareness of these content creators. Liberty Media should look toward a similar strategy, so as to create an easier platform for people to create content, thereby promoting the sport to a wider audience."
Chain Bear noted the lack of communication between fans and the FIA (which was demonstrated with the lack of communication leading up to the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix): "It feels like there's a steel wall between the fans and the FIA sometimes, and there were times where no one knows what's going on. That has to change."
Both Liberty Media and online content creators continue to make a positive impact on Formula 1, and the upwards momentum of new fans shows no sign of slowing at the moment. F1, it seems, has finally caught up to the 21st century.