Tracking the social media fortune of motor sports leading championships

Motor sport has successfully navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, with leading championships managing to put together championship seasons throughout turbulent times.

Off the track, each individual series has fought for the attention of viewers around the world, some more successful in others.

Across social media, the battle for followers has intensified, with real-world championships turning to eSports to try to hook the next generation of fans.

This writer has followed the battle every step of the way, and can now present a deep-dive into each series, including who is hot, and who is not…

Methodology

Since March 2017, Motorsport Broadcasting has collected and analysed metrics on 14 of the world’s leading motor sport series, dissecting their performance across the leading social media platforms.

The data gives us a greater insight on which championships are increasing their social media following the most comparatively speaking against their rivals, and which entities risk slipping out of the limelight in the years ahead.

The metrics focus on the number of followers for each series, across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, aggregating these totals together to form a wider view, as this is easily accessible data within the public domain.

The championships covered are:

  • British Superbikes
  • British Touring Car Championship
  • Formula E
  • Formula 1
  • Formula Two
  • IndyCar Series
  • MotoGP
  • NASCAR
  • Roborace
  • W Series*
  • World Endurance Championship
  • World Rally Championship
  • World Rallycross*
  • World Superbikes
  • World Touring Car Championship

* Added in September 2019

By analysing international and domestic series within the same time series, we can see what the natural ‘floor’ is, and whether any international championships are performing worse than anticipated against their rivals.

As thus, the surprise is not when the British Superbikes or British Touring Car Championships are at the back of the pack, but rather when someone else is.

By comparing multiple data points, we can analyse how much a championship has grown over a given period, ranking this data to see which series is the best and worst performer within the data set (1st means fastest growth of the championships tracked within the period, 15th means slowest growth).

The methodology is imperfect, but helps us identify how championships are performing over a longer period against their rivals in the marketplace.

Formula Two and W Series rises show benefits of current F1 support package

The chart above shows how Formula 1, Formula Two and the W Series have performed in direct comparison to their rivals recently.

As expected, Formula 1 has led the way, only briefly dipping behind their nearest rival twice. Formula E overtook F1 in the back end of 2018, with MotoGP doing the same two years later.

More interestingly is the consistent rise of Formula Two since Liberty Media purchased F1 and their subsidiary organisations.

In early 2017, Formula Two was lacklustre in the social media space, ranking 13th (and last) in the series that Motorsport Broadcasting is tracking. To put it simply, Formula Two was growing slower in terms of raw volume than its key rivals.

Since then, Formula Two’s reach on social media has risen faster than its rivals: gradually increasing to 8th in July 2018 and 3rd in Autumn 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Formula Two’s rise has not matched the dazzling heights it saw last year (a statistic supported by Sky’s UK audience figures for the series year-on-year), however we can attribute this to the poor calendar format as opposed to any misstep on the social media front.

Social media figures have grown for the leading feeder series by 748% in the past four years: from 156,000 followers in May 2017 to 1.33 million followers at the end of October, a massive achievement.

It shows not only how well Liberty Media have treated the series across their platforms, but also how much of an afterthought Bernie Ecclestone’s F1 treated the feeder championships.

Motorsport Broadcasting has not tracked Formula Three’s figures, but expect a similar pattern to have emerged in that space.

Pleasingly, the W Series is also performing well on social media, rising at a faster rate than some of their bigger rivals this season, including F2, as the chart shows.

The championship has doubled their following in the six months to October: rising from 165,000 followers to 331,000 followers. The total volumes are still small, but there is reason to be hopeful that W Series is about to break out on social media.

An expanded calendar, to give the championship more ‘growth opportunities’ would help in that regard as we head into 2022.

Formula E and IndyCar’s stats show mixed results

While Formula Two and W Series have generally seen a positive swing in momentum, Formula E and IndyCar have experienced turbulence in recent years.

IndyCar’s social media movement has fluctuated in recent years, with a strong 2017 and 2018 followed by a sharp slump in 2019, possibly influenced by Fernando Alonso’s first Indianapolis 500 appearance in 2017.

The series recovered throughout the pandemic, but failed to reach their earlier heights, in comparison to its rivals at least.

Whereas international championships such as MotoGP and F1 have increased their calendar length, IndyCar’s typical season lasts six months, the season beginning in March and finishing in September.

The result, from a social media perspective, has been a much sharper ‘off-season decline’ compared to their rivals, thanks to the length of their off-season. There is some evidence in the data that a long off-season hurts IndyCar to gain momentum at the start of the following season.

IndyCar’s trough came at the start of the pandemic, a surprising statistic considering how successful their eSports Series was in attracting attention, with McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris to the party. Evidently, Norris’s appearance in the video world had little impact on IndyCar overall.

Formula E’s trajectory is well supported by their decline in audience figures through the pandemic. At one point, in late 2018 at the start of the Gen2, Formula E was growing faster than most of their rivals, but has since slipped down the order. Although Formula E retains a higher reach (for now), the likes of Formula Two are currently growing at a faster rate than the electric series.

Reigning champion Antonio Felix da Costa acknowledged in an interview with The Race recently that the series has “took a few punches” recently, something that the championship needs to rectify heading into season 8.

World Superbikes performs well

The leading two-wheel championships have generally performed well in recent years. MotoGP sits behind Formula 1 as expected; however, the bigger surprise is World Superbikes.

Despite Jonathan Rea’s dominance from 2015 to 2020, the series has always been there or there abouts, consistently in the top six for social media growth since the start of 2019.

2021 has built on the strong foundations, with Rea’s time at the top of the series halted, for now at least, by Turkish rider Toprak Razgatlioglu, helping push World Superbikes into a top three spot for social media growth, only behind F1 and MotoGP.

MotoGP will be hoping that the impact of their new Amazon Prime documentary series, alongside the rest of their product offering, will help not only their social media offering, but also the broadcasters too.

“We’re not the target of these new products,” Manel Arroyo, MotoGP’s Managing Director told me earlier this year. “The purpose is to bring in a new audience of people that are normally visiting different platforms.”

“And then, they find these kind of products and documentaries, discovering us in the process. Our main target with our platforms is to create new audiences and to bring these audiences to our broadcasters, whether in Spain, Italy, Germany, UK, everywhere.”

“It’s not just about social media growth, but looking at how we deliver the growth as well to our broadcasters.”

Another consistent performer is the World Rally Championship, with the All Live platform helping. However, a poor Summer saw the series drop to 7th in the social media standings, its lowest ranking in three years.

The overall picture

What does this mean when all the data points are crunched together into one chart?

Highlighted are some of the series with the biggest fluctuations referenced in this article.

IndyCar’s standing has not necessarily declined from 2017 to 2021, but what has happened is that both it, and Formula E, have encountered competition from what an unlikely source in Formula Two.

This makes it more difficult for both IndyCar and Formula E to stand out from the crowd, with Formula Two now on the social scene. 2022 is critical for the latter, who have now fallen behind the likes of the World Endurance Championship on social media.

Overall, it shows just how important it is to have momentum on track, and how that then translates into the social media metrics.

Statistics last updated on October 31st, 2021.

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