The significant increase in attention paid to Formula 1 by US fans could spell trouble for IndyCar and the continued growth it has experienced
It could be argued that this year’s focus is more on the three upcoming Formula 1 races in the US than on any IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.
Former IndyCar racer and current NBC TV personality James Hinchcliffe said: “There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes right now that I think a lot of people wanted to see.”
As excited as IndyCar fans are for the 17-race season to kick off this weekend, James Hinchcliffe is also looking hard at the challenge Formula 1 poses for IndyCar.
Consider this. The F1 series, which is owned by US-based Liberty Media, has three races in the United States this season: Austin, Miami and the latest addition to the schedule, Las Vegas, in November. It could be argued that this year there is more focus on the three upcoming F1 races in the US than any IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.
Is there a concern that F1 will encroach on IndyCar territory?
“Yes, that’s an interesting question,” said Hinchcliffe, the former IndyCar racer who is now part of the NBC TV broadcast team for IndyCar. “Certainly you have to give credit where credit is due and it’s quite impressive to see the growth from where F1 was here domestically five years ago (so far).
“IndyCar is also experiencing growth in viewership and visitor numbers. So motorsport in general seems to be on an upward trend. And I have a few different reasons for that. First and foremost, motorsport was the first thing to come back to TV in terms of live sport during the pandemic. You had a completely captive audience starved for live sports. I think NASCAR was first and then our sport.
“And then you had that Netflix show about Formula 1 (Drive to survive) that really exposed a huge audience to that world. There is no doubt that F1 was an underserved market in the United States anyway. It was crazy how the numbers for TV a few years ago were as low as they were.
“I firmly believe that a rising tide lifts all ships. And so, if a series gets more fans, more real fans of motorsport, then they start looking at other forms of motorsport. You can see F1 fans watching NASCAR or tuning in to the Indy 500. I don’t think it’s a direct competition per se. We are different products in many ways, even if they are similar products in some ways. But no, I think what’s good for one person is good for everyone, and motorsport just seems to be in a good position at the moment.”
The significant increase in attention paid to F1 by American fans could spell trouble for IndyCar and the continued growth it has enjoyed over the past five years, albeit slower growth than many in the series would like.
Therefore, IndyCar’s job is to find different ways to market itself, different ways to increase revenue and sponsorship for both teams and the series as a whole, and pretty much every way to increase the profile and economic appeal of to increase the series.
If IndyCar doesn’t make significant improvements and changes to attract more fans – especially those in the highly sought after 18 to 30 year old demographic – F1 could soon leave IndyCar on its tire tracks in terms of popularity, TV ratings and revenue generated.
“That’s a question I want to ask you in 12 months,” Hinchcliffe said. “A lot of the things that have come out lately are about the behind-the-scenes work going on with IndyCar off-season on that same topic. (CEO Penske Entertainment/IndyCar) Mark Miles (was quoted in) articles and press releases about a massive increase in marketing budget, a completely different, more aggressive social and digital strategy, obviously the reality show that aired on the CW, 100 days to Indythat’s going to be huge.
“And so a lot of things are happening behind the scenes right now that I think a lot of people wanted to see. And it’s great to see IndyCar taking that initiative now. So 12 months from now we can have a conversation about how well it worked and what areas we need to focus more on.
“But I’m definitely thrilled to have read and learned about all the behind-the-scenes efforts that IndyCar is making to try and just push it forward and bring it out a little bit more.”