Andre de Kock
Start to finish action better than the usual Sunday yawn fest.
Ooh, this is going to make people angry.
Comparing the popularity of various motorsport disciplines will always be a touchy subject – especially when the comparison involves the official top echelons of four-wheeler and two-wheeler racing.
And, when one of the two disciplines is losing fans at a steady rate while the other is gaining friends, pointing out the facts will certainly ruffle feathers.
We are just going to say it – Formula One’s international popularity is steadily declining, while MotoGP’s global following is steadily growing. We do not just state this willy-nilly – we are quoting other people, much better informed than we are.
Now, the marketing experts of international sports agree that the most accurate way to assess any activity’s global popularity is via its television viewership figures. So, you simply Google “F1 – TV viewership” – right? Not really – when we did, 17 separate sites popped up.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes’ domination is not a new thing, but it’s not a good thing for F1. Photo by Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images.
They offered a wide variety of very different figures – all held up as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me. The closest we could get to an official figure was the Formula One company’s own press release, boasting that last year, “Formula 1 grew its audience figures, across both TV and digital platforms, compared to the previous season”.
The statement continues: “The numbers are based on a cumulative measurement which counts every viewer of every F1 session separately so someone who watches several races will be included several times. Using this methodology the audience rose by 9% to 1.9 billion last year,” F1’s bosses claim.
Thus, if you watch any F1 Grand Prix’s three practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself, you will be counted as five television viewers on the given weekend. Which means that, over 21 races, you will be counted as 105 viewers – hardly an accurate way to establish credible data, we think.
Most F1 viewers only hang around for the start and the finish. Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images.
That is not just our opinion, either – the authoritative SportsMoney website’s Senior Contributor Christian Sylt reckons that Formula One lost 19.2 million viewers worldwide last year as it began a new contract in Britain which sees Pay TV network Sky Sports exclusively broadcasting all but one of the races live. According to Sylt, F1’s audience reversed by 3.9% to 471 million last year, meaning that it has lost a staggering 129 million viewers since 2008, when it started to move towards Pay TV.
Googling “MotoGP – TV Viewership” did not yield straight answers either – again, a myriad of sites, and a lot of conflicting information. What can be stated as fact, is that 207 countries broadcast MotoGP last year, either live or deferred on the same day. Unfortunately, we could not find any indication as to the overall number of viewers that entailed.
MotoGP also boasted a massive digital platform, with 13 million fans on Facebook, 2.4m on Twitter, 6.4m on Instagram and 1.8mil on YouTube. The sport’s total reach on digital channels was 6.7 billion interactions last year. MotoGP’s audience was composed of 70% men and 30% women, reckoned to be aged between 18 and 54 years.
All of which could, or maybe not, be accurate, given the Internet’s general patchy reputation for getting things right.
But, on a much smaller scale, we went around asking people about their motorsport preferences on television.
There is no denying a MotoGP race’s endless thrills. Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images.
Actual circuit racers we spoke to say they generally watch only about 10% of F1 Grands Prix. They do not like the fact that Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominate the sport, though many of them concede that trend has been around for many years.
Think Jim Clark and Lotus, Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell, Niki Lauda and Ferrari, Emerson Fittipaldi and Lotus, Ayrton Senna and McLaren, Nigel Mansell and Williams, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari, or Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Now we have Hamilton and Mercedes, with their only viable competitors seemingly the race stewards, when Hamilton and the team incur penalties. Thus many local motorsport enthusiasts only check F1 race starts for action and F1 race finishes for confirmation of the results.
Meanwhile, one dare not miss 30 seconds of any MotoGP, because the action is non-stop, incredibly close and utterly unpredictable. It is also obviously dangerous – one does not have to be a genius to see these competitors patently operate without any safety net.
Brad Binder and his brother Darryn have triggered many South Africans’ interest in the world’s premier motorcycling roadshow. Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images.
Without being ghoulish, that factor adds to the appeal – MotoGP riders are gladiators in a time when almost all of society is bullied into politically correct subjugation and enforced, boring safety so, while we may not be allowed to do dangerous stuff any longer, we can watch in awe when the best motorcycle riders on the planet wage war on the fastest, wildest two-wheeler circuit racing machines in history.
Add that the presence of Brad and Darryn Binder has hugely gripped the South African public, and you have a really great success story. People who never knew motorsport existed are now watching “our Binder boys” – and they get to see the greatest adrenaline game show in the world as a bonus.
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