Playing the field

We compared motorsports to cricket recently, citing Formula E as the racing equivalent of Twenty20 – fast, furious action in a condensed format more suited to working lives and television schedules.

We got the wrong sport. It seems Formula E is actually positioning itself to target the US market, with the subtlety of an American football player in ballet shoes. Forget cricket: Formula E wants to take on the NFL.

The clues are pretty clear:

  1. Firstly, there are the teams: two out of four announced to date come from US open wheel race series IndyCar – Dragon Racing and Andretti Autosport. 
  2. Next, the locations: two out of 10 cities on the inaugural calendar are in the US – Miami and Los Angeles. In a neat little link, LA is home to Dragon Racing. (It is also, of course, home to Hollywood, and both Leonardo di Caprio and Cameron Diaz sang the praises of Formula E earlier this year at a Formula 1 event in Monaco.)
  3. Then there’s the broadcast deal with Fox: nominally, this will cover a whole host of countries across the world, but with particular focus on the US market.
  4. What about the sponsors? Tech company Qualcomm will be supplying wireless induction charging for the safety cars, telemetry for the racing cars and augmented reality for the spectators. In another amazing coincidence, the company hails from…you guessed it. California. (The NFL is experimenting with AR too, in an attempt to revive flagging TV viewing figures.)
  5. And of course, there’s Formula E racing ambassador Gil de Ferran: technically, he’s Brazilian, but he’s something of an American racing legend, with IndyCar wins and titles in the trophy cabinet.

But why position so clearly for the US market? Four solid reasons, just to get started:

  1. Population size: the country is quite simply vast. More than 314 million people call the US home. Compare that to the UK’s population of around 60 million. More people means more bums on seats and more television sets in the “on” position.
  2. Talking to audience size, this report shows that one third of all Americans watched the Superbowl earlier this year, the grande finale in NFL. That’s more than 100 million viewers – simply staggering saturation.
  3. Then there’s the value of US sports teams. The numbers are colossal. Forbes reports that each of the 32 NFL teams is worth an average of $1.17 billion.    
  4. A not-so-small, sports-crazy country tagged on to the top of the US with another 35 million potential fans: Canada.
  5. Commercial breaks: with its quick fire sessions, short race and other entertainment, Formula E is an attractive proposition to American broadcasters and advertisers. Expect plenty of advert breaks.

With an impressive roster of players in the Formula E team, the sport is clearly bulking up for an assault on the big time. Securing just a fraction of the audience and dollars of the NFL will strengthen the chances of a long and healthy life for the sport and its backers. That makes the US a target too lucrative to miss.

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