F1 dealt US blow after Drive to Survive success as Miami GP TV figures land

Brundle mistakes basketball star for NFL player in Miami GP gaffe

Formula One is big business in America these days, but recent viewing figures suggest that interest may have started to wane. Enthusiasm for F1 stateside has been heightened in recent years by the success of the Netflix series Drive to Survive, which has spawned a new generation of fans. That in turn has led to a big increase in the value of broadcasting rights.

Sports channel ESPN had been paying nearly £4million ($5m) per season to provide live coverage of the F1 calendar. But with a recent surge of US interest in the sport, the Disney-owned network is now on a deal that costs them £72m ($90m) per year – that also includes several races shown on ABC.

But whereas the television stations’ financial investment in F1 may have shot up, executives will have been less than impressed to discover that US viewing figures are significantly down after the last Grand Prix in Miami.

The same race was held for the first time last year and shown live on ABC. It attracted an audience of 2.6million people – the largest viewing figures ever recorded in the US for a live F1 broadcast.

But according to GP Blog, audience figures for this month’s Miami GP were down by around a quarter compared to last year’s race. The disappointing figures raise questions as to why interest has seemingly dropped off, with the New York Times suggesting that the current dominance of Red Bull Racing has made the current season ‘duller than usual’.

Current world champion Max Verstappen came from ninth on the grid to win in Miami, extending his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship for 14 points, but the Dutchman’s success was followed by an avalanche of disgruntled fans on social media, complaining that the race had been boring and should be removed from the F1 schedule.

Despite concerns around the drop-off in viewing figures, there are still some encouraging signs that interest has become more far-reaching. The same report from GP Blog says that analysis shows that although people in big cities were dropping out of the viewing figures more often, interest in the sport was actually growing in more rural areas. That inclues North Carolina – the home of NASCAR – and Oklahoma.

TV rights holders like ESPN will be hoping that the dip for the Miami Grand Prix was more a reflection of the race itself rather than a sign of things to come and that audience figures will start to rise again when the F1 circus reaches Imola for the next race of the season this weekend.

However, there could be an even greater issue to deal with. The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is under threat of being cancelled thanks to a severe weather warning in the region. A Red Weather warning has been issued for May 16-17, but treacherous weather is likely to remain for the rest of the week.

TV companies and sponsors will have their fingers crossed that the multi-million dollar event is not rendered a total washout before an engine has even been started.

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