Is Formula One the Fastest Growing Motorsport on Social Media?

The stats offer a convincing argument that F1 has suddenly discovered the internet.

byGabriel Loewenberg| PUBLISHED May 15, 2017 1:49 PM
Is Formula One the Fastest Growing Motorsport on Social Media?

Last week, an info-graphic was posted to Reddit showing that Formula One, over the last year, has had the largest growth on social media of most, if not all, forms of motorsports. The graphic originated from the Twitter account of F1 Broadcasting, a blog which covers a multitude of motorsports.

This is supposed to be the change in number of social media followers for each series over the course of a little more than a year. Based on the totals, this looks like it covers Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. YouTube doesn't seem to be included, but it should.

This chart tells an interesting story; lots of them in fact. 

First, lets eliminate one series from the discussion. Roborace hasn't actually started yet, so we're going to ignore them. Also, doesn't it seem odd that they have so many followers right out of the box? Ironically, it's bots. They have bot accounts padding the numbers. Go look at their Instagram followers. It's either bots, or middle aged Russian women really love Roborace. 

I have no idea if the folks at Roborace paid for those followers, or maybe it's some inside joke between the people who run the bot accounts. Maybe the bot accounts are truly interested in Roborace. Either way, Roborace is out of this race.

According to the chart, WEC was up 5.3%, but in terms of numbers, it was only 30,000 or so followers. Because their totals are so low, we'll leave them out of this discussion. For the sake of keeping this from spiraling into an insane amount of statistics, lets only focus on the big three: Formula One, MotoGP, and NASCAR. 

I do need to point out, that in terms of looking at real data, I was able to get fairly detailed information on three of the four social platforms that I wanted to look at. I was not able to get access to detailed historical data on the Facebook accounts of these three series. More specifically, I wasn't willing to pay a few hundred dollars, or more in some cases, to obtain it from various services that do that for you. Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube were easy, and free, to get. The little bit of Facebook data I was able to get access to seemed to follow the trends of the of the other social profiles when compared.

While Facebook will be absent from this, I think we are still looking at representative data; enough to draw conclusions from. 

The first thing you'll notice is the number of followers MotoGP has compared to NASCAR and F1. It seems disproportionately large. I think it's right on target with their audience, as are NASCAR's numbers. It's F1 that is out of place. 

MotoGP has a few things driving it's numbers so high. They appeal to the younger crowd, who are more social media savvy. The sport is also wildly popular in Asian nations, as there seems to be a large amount of followers from that area of the world. Finally, a cursory scroll through followers makes me think that MotoGP has a larger female fan base that the other sports. I might be wrong, but with motorsports being such a sausagefest, if female fans are gravitating towards MotoGP, it would certainly add significantly to their online footprint. 

But all of these things are for another story. Is Formula One the fastest growing motorsport on social media? 

Let's dive in to some numbers and graphs. 

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

On this chart, and subsequent ones, F1 is the left column, NASCAR the center, and MotoGP is on the right. 

Here, I've highlight the starting point of the data set, which was June 23, 2016. It's clear that Formula One made the largest gain in followers, but NASCAR was close behind, with a huge jump in what looks like one day. MotoGP doesn't have nearly as many followers here, and picked up less than half of what the other two did. 

NASCAR's Twitter game is strong, but will most likely be eclipsed by Formula One by the end of the year. Considering MotoGP has 12 million followers on Facebook, I'm surprised at their numbers here.

Let's take a look at that big one day gain for NASCAR by looking at the daily Twitter activity over this same time span.

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

This shows the daily Twitter activity of each account. Anytime there was a tweet that had "@[twitterhandle]" in it, or the account in question posted a tweet, it shows up here. I've highlighted the day in question, February 4, 2017. That was the Super Bowl, the kick-off of NASCAR's advertising season with the Daytona 500 just three weeks away. I don't know how much NASCAR spent on their Super Bowl advertising, but in netted them almost 2,500 mentions on Twitter and 130,000 new followers in one day.  

YouTube was not included in the rankings that started us down this road, but it should be. It's just as much of a social network as Facebook or Instagram.

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

Of note here is that the accounts of MotoGP and Formula One were created less than three months apart. But how each sport has utilized the platform couldn't be more different. MotoGp has been providing video content for their fans and their fans have been watching. NASCAR has more posted content, but their subscriber base and total views have been stagnant, while F1 has been skyrocketing just this year.

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

As far as view counts go, this is obviously always be on the rise.  MotoGP has been performing well, while NASCAR just is. It's Formula One that is on the move. In January 2016, after having been active for a decade, F1's total view count was about a third of what Katy Perry's new video has gotten in it's first two days. Formula One's YouTube game was virtually nonexistent. Just months ago, that all changed. With only 541 videos up, they are about to fly by NASCAR's total views of almost 5,000 videos. 

Why the sudden spike of Formula One activity on YouTube? The new owners of F1 decided it was about time they use the platform. They started uploading archived content, as well as current clips, in March of this year. The response can been seen in the numbers. 

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

Looking at each sport's Instagram followers over the almost last two years tells the tale of Formula One's social growth. Two years ago, there wasn't an official Formula One Instagram account at all. The old regime at Formula One realized they needed to be here. They've been gaining followers at about the same pace as MotoGP. NASCAR has been slowly growing on this platform, but not for lack of trying.

Gabriel Loewenberg/SocialBlade

NASCAR has been adding content to Instagram at a furious pace, but they haven't been able to translate that into followers. MotoGP and F1 have made good use of the platform to engage their fans.


Just so you have the current numbers to see, this is how many people "like" each sport's Facebook page as of mid-day on May 15:

MotoGP has found the magic formula for bringing fans to Facebook and keeping them active on the page. Formula One should being calling up the MotoGP folks to ask them how they do it. Based on how NASCAR performs across other social platforms, they are probably not going to see massive jumps in followers, but there is no reason F1 should not have a larger social footprint. 

Well, there is one reason. Bernie Ecclestone. As dictator-in-chief in Formula One through the dawn of the internet and the rise of social media, he staunchly opposed to anything that he couldn't directly control. All content needed to be compartmentalized and monetized

Remember Lewis Hamilton getting in trouble for SnapChatting at a press conference? It broke down the wall that Bernie built around F1. As much as Ecclestone used to say that Formula One was entertainment, you'd think he'd let it be entertaining. 

But that is changing now with Liberty Media. They want to fans to have a rich online experience. They know there is more going on in Formula One than practice, qualifying and a race every few weeks. People want to see more than just what is shown on television. 3,975,816 people (as of writing this) "like" Lewis Hamilton's Facebook page. That is more than "like" the F1 page. The drivers are providing the online experience that F1 hasn't been. 

Liberty Media aims to change this. They have started to. Let's hope they follow through.

Is Formula One the fastest growing motorsport on social media? Yes, but only because F1 ignored it for so long.

For this article, I used Social Blade to pull the numbers and generate the graphs. It's a free service. They did not sponsor this post, nor is this an endorsement.