It’s a sad fact that, despite a season of nail-biting action on track, attendance at grands prix is noticeably down this year.
Organisers of the European Grand Prix at Valencia elected to remove grandstands to account for the reduced demand for tickets, and were still faced with swathes of unsold seats. In Monaco, that jewel in Formula One’s crown, the blue of unoccupied grandstand space was uncomfortably bright in the sun. Even Montreal failed to attract a sell-out crowd.
And while it’s easy to point the finger at high ticket costs and the on-going financial crisis, both of which combine to make Formula One a painfully expensive sport to follow live, the impact of television should not be dismissed.
Attending a race as a fan is an exhilarating experience. There’s the roar of the engines, the thrill of the crowds, and the physical intensity of feeling the cars rush by. But it’s also a long day spent in either the sun or the rain, faced with expensive food and drink, endless lines for the loos, and an awful lot of thumb-twiddling between sessions.
Some circuits cater well for fans, and put on all manner of auxiliary entertainment, from circus skills tents for kids to bungee rockets and BMX performances. But many let the action on track do all the talking, and when there’s no action on track then there’s nothing to do.
It’s easy to blame the circuits for the high cost of tickets, but they suffer from the perennial problem of struggling to afford the in-built escalators that turn F1 hosting contracts from expensive to impossible. With no money coming their way from trackside advertising revenues (all of which go to Formula One Administration at the majority of tracks on the calendar), circuits without state funding have no choice but to inflate their entry costs to cover the hosting fees.
For a family of four to attend the 2013 British Grand Prix at Silverstone would cost £496 (three-day general admission). That same family of four could have a week in Majorca for £503. Given that a ticket to the grand prix doesn’t take into account the cost of travel, accommodation, or any food, it is increasingly difficult for families to argue for a weekend’s rain-soaked racing over a week-long break in the sun.
And when the TV package they’re being offered – for roughly the same annual cost as those four three-day tickets – is more comprehensive than anything they can get at the circuit? It makes far more sense to stay home.
When they took over the UK rights from ITV in 2009, the BBC were able to use their Red Button to give fans greater access to F1 than they’d had before (notwithstanding Bernie Ecclestone’s failed F1 Digital attempt). In addition to their in-depth and award-winning pre- and post-race shows, the BBC gave fans a post-race forum, the opportunity to watch
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