Ahead of the first race of the new ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season, Prism Sport + Entertainment Head of Motorsport, Simon Hinchliffe, assesses the impact of its decision to move UK race coverage behind the pay wall.
Since its creation a decade ago, Formula E has broadcast its live race coverage through various Free-to-Air platforms in the UK. However, for this season it’s going exclusively behind a paywall as it moves to a new home on TNT Sports. Unlike Formula 1 and MotoGP, which boast a long history and bring a dedicated fanbase, Formula E isn’t likely to attract a significant number of subscribers to the channel. So, why the partnership?
By adding Formula E to its roster, TNT now airs four World Championships through the World Endurance Championship, World Rally Championship, MotoGP and now Formula E. MotoGP is likely to command the highest broadcast fee with questions over how much the channel is paying for the remaining three. Arguably, TNT could well claim to be the home of motorsport in the UK. Of course, it should be noted the viewing figures for Formula 1 on Sky Sports will be larger and broadcast deals far higher.
Given Formula E has a hybrid of Free-to-Air and Pay-to-View coverage in many markets, it’s quite probable that this would have been the ideal set-up for the championship in the UK. However, partnerships have come and gone with BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5, and so TNT may have been the only option on the table.
Formula E can still claim to having a championship broadcast on a UK channel, while its priority will likely be to continue developing its owned-digital presence. It has enjoyed successful growth across its social channels, boasting almost twice as many followers as WEC, for example (3.72 million compared to 1.95 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube), showing that a higher proportion of Formula E fans are more likely to consume content through its various digital channels already. So, despite the expected drop in live viewership on linear TV, the organisation will likely see their overall digital growth as an important metric in 2024, looking to use that to attract sponsors and partnerships going forwards.
There are opportunities for Formula E to go even further. The NFL, for example, showed a vital understanding of its audience to secure effective growth. They saw a significant drop in the interest of younger fans, which was largely a result of the pace and complexity of the game. To address this, it partnered with Pixar to create a ‘Toy Story’ broadcast, using animated simulcast to mimic a real Monday Night Football game. This helped contribute to 19.7 million viewers across all broadcasts, the highest Week 4 figures since 2009, with the Disney Channel stream drawing an audience with an average age of 13, far younger than its typical viewership, estimated at 52-years-old. This kind of innovative approach could see Formula E create something completely unique for its viewers compared to the likes of F1.
The next 18 months will be crucial for the sport to identify, solidify and grow its audience.
If they can succeed, they’ll have the opportunity to attract new commercial opportunities, and in doing so, lock-in the few remaining manufacturers for 2026 and beyond, while hoping they can re-attract some of the major brands they lost over the last few years.
Meanwhile, the championship gears up for the start of its 10th anniversary season this weekend in Mexico, debuting live in the UK on TNT Sports, who will be sure to capture the electrifying atmosphere that makes the Mexico City E-Prix such an iconic opening event.
Prism Sport + Entertainment has three decades of experience working with some of the biggest brands in motorsport to build effective strategies, partnerships and activations.