Noah Brier | May 14, 2019

Why is this interesting? - The Sports Fandom Edition

On sports, fandom, and attracting new viewers

Recommended Products

Grand Prix Driver - Season 1

A Prime Video show about the McLaren F1 team that goes much deeper into the car.

Noah here. I’ve been telling everyone I can that they should watch the Netflix show Drive to Survive. It was made with the people at Formula 1 and chronicles the 2018 F1 season from the “midfield” (all teams agreed to participate except for Mercedes and Ferrari, the sport’s most dominant players). I discovered the show a few months ago while searching for downloadable content for jet lagged viewing on a trip to Europe. It’s mid-March release was expertly timed to roll new fans into the 2019 season. And while I hadn’t quite finished all ten episodes by the first race in Australia, I was through them by the second two weeks after in Bahrain and eager to watch my first F1 weekend.

Why is this interesting?

Sports currently exist in a paradoxical state. While they’re raking in record sums from the TV networks and dominating the ratings (seven of the top ten telecasts in 2018 were sporting events, five were NFL) they’re also seeing their fanbase getting older and declining (the reason they’re still getting paid so much, as far as I can tell, is that while their viewing base is declining, it’s happening much slower than the rest of TV). Looking at the data doesn’t paint a pretty picture: viewers are old and there aren’t nearly enough young fans coming up to make up the difference.

Drive to Survive feels like a new approach to this problem. Sports media is typically made for the hardest of hardcore fans. The NFL or NBA networks show 24 hours of analysis and classic games that only serious fans would ever tune in for. Broadcasts and articles on ESPN offer box scores and advanced analytics, but hardly ever have primers on the sports they cover. I spent a few years trying to get into NASCAR and was shocked at how hard it was to find anything that could teach me the basics of pit strategy and car adjustments (as a New Yorker I know exactly as much about cars as you might expect). While Drive to Survive didn’t go deep into those particulars, it did tell a compelling story with impressive visuals and got me interested enough to dive deeper. This review from Motosport says everything you need to know about the show:

There's no doubt that the series is aimed at people on the fence when it comes to watching F1. With its bass-heavy sound editing and quick cuts that distil races down into exciting montages of action and carnage, this is a hammed-up depiction of the motor sport, and one that doesn't really dwell on the boring bits. … To think of 'Drive to Survive' as a documentary is wrong. Instead, thanks to its framing, it's a dramatised version of events.

As race fans they weren’t into it, though the piece does go on to acknowledge that it could be a great move to open up the US market. It will be interesting to watch the US Formula 1 ratings this year to see if anything changes (though they’re certainly not helped by regular starts before 9am eastern time on Sundays).

And F1 is not alone. In doing some digging, it’s fascinating to see the kinds of things other sports are doing to try to attract a younger, more global, more diverse fan base. The NFL will play four games in London this year, part of a broader strategy to drive UK viewership. Baseball, with a median age of 57, is trying to attract millennials to ballparks by reshaping the experience to be more communal and offering subscription packages. The Oakland A’s took 10,000 square feet of seats out and replaced with a clubhouse/bar/viewing area and have now even built out a place for children to play. The whole package is $149 a year or $29.99 a month (food and beer not included of course). The NBA is starting a pro league in Africa and experimenting with new viewing experiences. The MLS, meanwhile, has figured out how to create a fan culture in cities that never had soccer before. While at the end of the day most teams live and die by their performance, it seems clear the ability to attract casual and lapsed fans to both live events and television broadcasts is going to be the only way to ensure the sustained success of the leagues.

Photo of the Day:

On Sunday night the Toronto Raptor’s Kawhi Leonard hit what will surely go down as one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. With just seconds left in the game and the score tied Kawhi got the ball at the top of the arc, was double teamed, and settled for a fade-away shot near the baseline with seven-footer Joel Embiid defending him. The ball bounced off the rim four times before finally dropping in. While the video is certainly worth a watch, this photo from sports photographer Mark Blinch captures all the emotions of the moment.

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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