Why does #Formula1 not like social media?

At just before 10pm on Monday February 27 Brad Keselowski made history by tweeting during a major international race.

Amazingly the Penske NASCAR driver had a phone in his car and during the race when the red flag was brought out, following Juan Pablo Montoya’s fiery crash with a jet drier in the closing stages of the Daytona 500, Keselowski tweeted a photo of the incident. The self confessed “twitter addict” saw his following soar in the immediate aftermath of the tweet.

Many within the press room openly commented that the number 2 Penske may require a new driver in the coming races with NASCAR sure to levy a heavy penalty on Keselowski. NASCAR officials however viewed the incident in a very different light and said:

“NASCAR will not penalise Brad Keselowski for his use of Twitter during last night’s Daytona 500,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Nothing we’ve seen from Brad violates any current rules pertaining to the use of social media during races. As such, he won’t be penalised. We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others.”

Formula 1 has always looked down on NASCAR as a simplistic form of racing with many European fans still calling it “red neck racing.” While the cars do not have the sophistication of a Formula 1 car the American series is not just ahead of its European brethren in terms of fan involvement it has lapped Formula 1 and is well on the way to winning the race.

How did Formula 1, the world’s premier racing series, let itself get into this position? Ironically the desire to have long term stability in Formula 1 has played a crucial role in actually weakening its long term growth.

In 1995 Formula One Management was handed the commercial rights to the sport, and in 2001 they were given a 100 year contract extension. At the time the commercial rights were related to television and radio with no thought given to any other form of media that could develop in future.

Take your mind back to the mid-nineties and the world at the time was very different. Mobile phone use was still in its infancy and services such as text messaging were barely used, in fact most operators still offered it as a free service! The internet was still, by and large, limited to use in universities and the thoughts of having it within every house was surely seen as “pie in the sky.”

The potential growth of mobile phone services and its convergence with an internet that would revolutionise world wide communication was unthinkable. Needless to say the development of services such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter was far beyond the imagination of most people.

The commercial rights to Formula 1 were handed to FOM at a time when the world of communication was on the verge of a massive overhaul, the likes of which had never been seen, and the sport has been incredibly slow to adapt to this world.

Formula 1 has consistently refused to enhance the sport’s availability to fans by using the methods of communications that now dominate the world. To put the sports reluctance to use social media into context lets look at their approach to YouTube.

These are obviously the two social media sites that can bring fans closest to the sport. It is very easy to imagine the potential for a Formula 1 YouTube video to go viral on the site. The prospect of seeing a huge crash, a daring overtaking move or even a montage of some of the best racing in the world is enticing for many and the sheer volume of hits that would be possible are immense giving sponsors yet more exposure.

However in the complicated world of Formula 1 no change comes easy and the sport has been slow to adapt to the changing landscape. FOM has moved incredibly slowly to adapt to social media. The thoughts that arguably the most technically advanced sport in the world, one has consistently brought innovation that trickled down to every driver in the world, still has little to no online prescience would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious mistake for the sport.

Whereas NASCAR allows its coverage to be shared on YouTube, fans routinely upload coverage of major crashes or close finishes, and the sports sanctioning body does nothing to curtail this. NASCAR knows that the potential of social media is huge and they freely allow their fans to promote the sport on YouTube.

Formula 1 on the other hand immediately forces the website to remove any of its copy written material an instant after it is posted. There is no official content available on YouTube of Formula 1. In effect there is no potential for sponsors to increase their exposure on the world’s thirds most popular website.

In comparison to NASCAR openly looking for its drivers to interact with fans through social media Formula 1 seems to have reluctantly acknowledged sites such as twitter. Whereas in NASCAR it is compulsory for all drivers have a twitter profile some teams in Formula 1, such as Ferrari, ban their drivers from having a profile.
The official Formula 1 twitter account was setup in late 2009, at the same time as the Marussia team’s account, and to view the differences in their approaches is to question whether they both use the same service!

The Formula 1 account does little more than offer updates on news stories added to the website but no interaction with its followers. The Marussia account on the other hand openly chats with followers and uses their account for competitions and other traffic generating content. It is a similar story with Caterham’s account.

The two new teams use the service to generate fans, and therefore revenue opportunities in future, whereas the Formula 1 establishment is still unwilling to utilise it. This antiquated stance towards the new media is dangerous and limits the potential for the sport’s continued growth.

The thoughts of the reigning world champion, Sebastian Vettel, tweeting from the podium or on the grid of the Monaco Grand Prix is unthinkable but as NASCAR has shown if you embrace new media you can bring new fans to the track and provide considerably more exposure for your sponsors. In a sport that in many ways is dominated by innovation and the bottom line it is remarkable how slow to adapt to social media.

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