From the point of view of a concert promoter, a theatre, or a movie production company, it is infinitely better to bring in a populist second-rate product that will lead to sell-out crowds than it is to play host to the best show on earth yet fail to pique the interest of the ticket-buying public.

Bums on seats equal money, after all, and no show can go on without regular injections of cash.

But in Formula One we see things differently. The commercial structure of the sport and the way in which the spoils are divided has led to a situation in which F1's notorious Strategy Group discusses how to tweak and improve a spectacular show yet persistently fails to even attempt to resolve the main issue: fewer and fewer people actually care about our product, and those who are interested are largely priced out of the market.

This is not because the members of the F1 Strategy Group are fools, however. Far from it. One can not become a success in Formula One without being astutely aware of the side on which your bread is buttered, and for as long as the commercial rights holder refuses to acknowledge that it is his own policies which are killing the sport, no one dependent on the CRH for their livelihood is ever going to address the real issue.

Speaking at the Friday press conference in Monza, the team principals were united in their refusal to acknowledge the real issue at hand.

"The big problem that we seem to have is that circuits aren't getting as many fans through the gates because it's too expensive and the fans can't afford to pay to watch it on TV," the question began. "We're giving a fantastic show and sending it out to a largely empty theatre, which in the end hurts your bottom lines as sponsors pay less. Given that you've got contracts in place, what can Formula One do to make sure that people are watching the fantastic spectacle that we're giving them?"

The responses were a masterclass in ignoring the issue so to better pay lip service to the aims of the commercial rights holder over the needs of the sport as a whole and the fans whose very existence enables this circus to keep on going.

Ferrari's Marco Mattiaci used 120 words to say exactly nothing: "We have been discussing about this several times and definitely they are open to do something different but again it's a such wide discussion that there are so many variables and so many players that it's quite a long discussion, and I think it has to be done with the right institution and venues because otherwise we keep throwing ideas that can create confusion. I think that there is an alignment that we need, an integration among all the players because, as you said, the product is great so that's a great base to start, it has to be fine tuned but I think that's beginning to work in order to make sure that we are aligned to promote the sport."

As is his wont, Christian Horner took the opportunity to bang the drum for Red Bull while avoiding answering anything like the question asked.

"Well, Red Bull for the first time has hosted and promoted a grand prix this year which was a great success," he said. "It was a capacity crowd, more than 100,000 people and there was action from start to finish of the weekend, on and off the track. Obviously it is a difficult question. Our responsibility is to put on the best show that we can and then obviously the different promoters - it's up to them to promote that event and set their prices according to how they run their businesses, whether it be ticket price or television etc etc. I think our responsibility is to put the best show on that we can and then rely on the promoters to do their bit."

John Booth took the approach that the range of modern entertainment options meant that dwindling audience sizes were natural, despite the rude health of rival sports and our steadily declining share of the global sports market. Lotus' Federico Gastaldi took a similar position, adding that "we all agree here that we need to keep improving the show".

The attendee with the broadest perspective was Pirelli's Paul Hembery, who is both a sponsor and a supplier. "The answers to the questions are complex, obviously," he said. "If they were easy, we would have done it. I'm quite sure that there's a lot of people involved in the sport with a great deal of experience and a great deal of ideas, so if it was just a one-off shot to solve things, then it would happen. But the people around me here are involved in discussions, they have the strategy group which is involved in looking at different ways the sport needs to approach the public. We, as a sponsor, look forward to hearing what they come up with."

But with the greatest respect, they were all wrong. And until it is publicly acknowledged by high profile figures within the sport that our greatest enemy is internal, we will continue to slip down the ratings while failing to attract younger audience members to make up for our declining (and ageing) fanbase.

Until the financial structure of the sport is changed to reflect the current economic reality of the world, F1 will continue to become ever more expensive to watch either live or from the comfort of one's sofa, until there is no one left to watch.

For as long as our circuits are forced to pay such exorbitant hosting fees while not being allowed to profit from anything other than ticket sales, fans will continue to be priced out of the sport year on year, thanks to the in-built escalators in race contracts that mean more money has to be found from somewhere with every passing year.

For as long as broadcasting fees are so high that free-to-air broadcasters are priced out of the sport, races are not going to be promoted through televised advertising to anyone other than those who already pay to subscribe, and audience figures will continue to tumble.

It's hardly rocket science, yet those in charge of building F1's earth rockets are unable - or unwilling - to make sense of it.

By Kate Walker

Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.

 

Comments

Loading Comments...