Simon Hinchliffe
Mar 22, 2024

Why Formula One's return to China is set to drive new opportunities for APAC-focused campaigns

While the majority of F1 continues to look west-ward, the horizon to the east is quickly and quietly realigning itself for potentially immeasurable growth, says Prism Sport’s Simon Hinchliffe.

Why Formula One's return to China is set to drive new opportunities for APAC-focused campaigns
Formula One (F1) has had a presence in Asia Pacific for decades, however the sport has arguably never had a better chance to expand in the region. 
For years, F1’s previous owners primarily focused on linear television broadcast deals and ‘on track’ action. However, since taking over in 2017, Liberty Media has shown the power of embracing character storytelling and bespoke digital strategies. The sport has focused on becoming more accessible and providing a platform that’s centred around the drivers and their personalities.
As is the case in North America, across APAC the growth is visible. With young, popular Chinese, Thai, Australian and Japanese drivers competing in races in Shanghai, Melbourne, Suzuka and Singapore, the stage is set for success to propel F1 to new heights in the APAC region.
400,000 people attended last year’s Melbourne GP, and Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo is one of F1’s most marketable assets globally. Thai engagement is on the rise aligned to Alex Albon’s career trajectory, and since Yuki Tsunoda joined the sport, F1’s popularity in Japan has seen a sharp increase with over 200,000 fans attending its home race.
In China, more than a third of fans began following F1 in the past four years coinciding with driver Zhou Guanyu joining the sport. It’s no surprise F1 is not only leveraging YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, but also WeChat, Douyin and Weibo where more than half of the users are under the age of 35.
The APAC region accounts for around 60% of global social media users and by capitalising on this by departing from F1’s previous owner's approach, the sport is laying the foundations for its stars to shine.
The region is vital for the luxury car brands operating in F1 with Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes and McLaren all seeing sharp increases in sales over the last 18 months. Additionally, the elevated profile of the sport is providing greater opportunities for brand activations with bespoke APAC focused campaigns expected. 
Although F1 is on the rise and, despite the Daryl Morey controversy in 2019, the success of the NBA within APAC remains the best example of how a sport has established itself. The NBA did have superstar Yao Ming; however, before his debut it had partnered with key media companies and delivered bespoke activities tailored to the region to build a following. There are signs F1 is now following this path as it looks to mirror its growth in North America. 
The sport needs to deliver year-round strategies and engagement opportunities that local audiences will value outside of race events. The potential is vast with the right pieces in play to tap into a new, younger fanbase. So, while the majority of F1 continue to look west, the horizon to the east is quickly and quietly realigning itself for potentially immeasurable growth.

Simon Hincliffe is head of motorsport partnerships at Prism Sport + Entertainment 
Campaign Asia

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