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I was watching the Formula 1 practice from Germany today and made a mental note to discuss the lack of people in attendance for the day’s sessions. I was a bit taken back to be completely honest. I made a note to discuss it on our upcoming German Grand Prix review podcast but then later this afternoon I read an article over at AUTOSPORT and it seems I wasn’t the only person who noticed.

One could be forgiven for thinking that a German driver leading the championship in a German car would be the exact type of bait to get bums in seats over a jaunty weekend of good fun and frivolity at the German Grand Prix but Friday was bust. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said:

“It’s not satisfying,” explained Wolff. “If you compare Hockenheim Friday to Friday at Silverstone and Friday in Austria, it’s a different world.

“We have to understand why that is. I’m not sure whether we have an exact number for Sunday already – you know, there are lots of people probably deciding at short notice, depending on the weekend – and we have to analyse the phenomenon.

“If the weekend continues like it does now, we need to think about it.”

Not wanting to overreact on a low turnout on Friday, I considered that the German population could be knackered from several days of celebrating their World Cup victory and that maybe the incredible performance of Marcel Kittel in the Tour de France has added to their dark-beer slugging stupor. In fact, I’ve tried to come up with many reasons why they wouldn’t rush to an F1 race where their team is not just doing well but beating the competition like a rented mule. Then again, maybe that’s the problem after all.

There are two more days for the German public to show up and explain why they weren’t able to make it on Friday but if they don’t show up, it’s a huge sign for F1. The British Grand Prix was well attended as was Austria and I would suspect the USGP will have a nice attendance as well but there is little doubt that viewership is decreasing and attendance is waning according to F1 pundits. What F1 chooses to do about it could be an even more interesting story than the one playing out on track right now.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • MIE

    I get the impression that most of the Germans that used to come to the Grand Prix were Michael Schumacher fans rather than F1 fans. When he left the sport they stopped coming. Despite the number of German drivers being high (most of whom were inspired to start racing by Schumacher’s success) they haven’t inspired the fans in the same way. Even Vettel’s run of four championships didn’t earn him a following that compared to Schumacher’s.
    I guess some drivers attract a following and those fans are so devoted they are interested in the person and not the sport.

    • jiji the cat

      i disagree. for many years before the shoe the fans were filling the grandstands. maybe Germany as a whole is experiencing one almighty hangover from the world cup?

      • MIE

        In Schumacher’s prime, Germany had two Grands Prix a year (German at Hockenhiem and European at Nurbergring) and both were full. Since he retired they have struggled to fill the stands for a single race.

        I think the problem started well before their recent success on the football field.

  • I still don’t understand why it’s so hard to see that the World’s economy sucks. People have better things to do with their hard earned money.

  • What was attendance like for FP and Quali 2010/2012? Race? I don’t recall.

    Sunday’s attendance will prove some sort of barometer at least; internet-reported Sunday-ticket sales were:

    2010-63,000
    2012-59,000

    I’ll assume everyone who purchased tickets attended those years. With 122,000 seating capacity, if significantly less than half the seats are filled come race day, one *could* argue Merc’s dominance, or lack of volume, or boring races, contrived regulations, etc. are a contributing factor.

    The aforementioned World Cup hangover, blistering heat, increasing new-media influenced public consciousness, GDP stagnation, or unicorns spreading flaunting rainbow trials across the sky *could* be influential as well.

  • I was at the Nurburgring last year, and it was by no means a sell out… but come Sunday almost every seat was taken. One very interesting thing was that outside of the F1 race itself, I could have sat anywhere in the grandstand or indeed the whole section down the hill to the hairpin. Also, there were a ton of Vettel supporters last year, including an entire 2 grandstands that whipped out a huge tarp with Vettel #1 and a picture of his helmet over 2 sections of the grandstands as Seb did his victory lap.

    The Nurburgring is in the middle of nowhere with very little public transport options…. Hockenheim is very close to the fairly large city centers of Manheim and Heidelberg. Friends we visited in Heidelberg said they could hear the F1 engines from their house when they raced in Hockenheim (although probably not this year!). On the other hand, we choose to wait a few hours to drive a couple of laps of the Nordschleife on the day of F1 qualifying….many F1 fans were doing the same. Maybe that’s an extra draw about the Nurburgring…..also lots of campers in and around the whole facility. At the Red Bull “camp site” there was speculation that Seb himself would show up, as he’s done in previous years.

    Every German I spoke to outside the race said that seeing the F1 live is expensive, and they felt like the experience was better at home.

  • Dangough

    Regardless of the reasons, well done to Toto for actually publicly drawing attention to the empty seats. So often there seems to be an Emporer’s New clothes style blindness to the sea of empty seats, with FOM excelling at pointing a camera at the only slightly densely populated bit of grandstand.

    I’ve never been to a German race but was lucky enough to go to Spa in Schumi’s prime and can agree that there was definitely an element of the fans following him rather than the sport, but clearly there are a lot of reasons adding up to the poor attendance.

    What the 2 other races mentioned by Toto had though was a dedicated marketing effort behind them. AUstria had a lot of hype and the campaign for Silverstone 2015 has already started on email, facebook etc. F1 in general is famously bad at selling itself from the tracks just putting up a banner outside the track and calling it marketing to F1 luminaries whinging publically when a private constructive comment would be better, plus for everyone except the track owners, bums on seats just don’t seem to be important.

    Regarding the cost, yes F1 is expensive but I noticed a number of times on Sky this weekend that they talked about the relatively cheap ticket price vs. Silverstone.