Bernie Ecclestone has taken swipes at young Formula One fans, women and Ferrari in an astonishing and unusually detailed interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific magazine.
The Formula One boss dismissed concerns over Formula One’s declining viewing figures, saying the fall in viewers was explained by more people watching F1 via tablets and other devices.
Ecclestone said he had faced “a lot of criticism lately because the television audience has declined” but argued “we have seen that decline in nearly all sports”.
“Have the viewers declined? I doubt it,” he said. “The viewership is just spread in different areas because today people can watch on these iPads or on even telephones.”
“And it’s only now that we’re catching up and finding out that if we lose ten per cent of our free-to-air television audience how much we might have picked up elsewhere as more people watch Formula One through other means.”
Despite Formula One Management having recently embraced Twitter, Ecclestone said he was “not interested in tweeting” and refuted the suggestion that F1 should engage more with new media to develop its following among younger viewers.
“If you have a brand that you want to put in front of a few hundred million people, I can do that easily for you on television,” he continued. “Now, you’re telling me I need to find a channel to get this 15-year-old to watch Formula One because somebody wants to put out a new brand in front of them? They are not going to be interested in the slightest bit.”
“Young kids will see the Rolex brand, but are they going to go and buy one? They can’t afford it. Or our other sponsor, UBS – these kids don’t care about banking. They haven’t got enough money to put in the bloody banks anyway. That’s what I think.”
Yet in an apparent self-contradiction, Ecclestone admitted there was value to attracting fans at a young age: “I say to some of these people who start this nonsense about social media, look at what tobacco companies tried to do – get people smoking their brand early on because then people continue smoking their brand forever.”
In further remarks no doubt intended to provoke, Ecclestone added “women in particular like to criticise” changes in the sport and claimed Formula One’s most successful team were no longer the draw they once were.
“Ferrari used to have such fantastic fan support,” he said, “and now they’re not winning as much, and you can see that their popularity has dropped off.”
“In the old days you’d see people walking around with Ferrari flags and the whole place would be full of red. I don’t see that any more. It’s quite strange because you don’t see people walking around with any flags or waving them like you used to. The world changes.”
Ecclestone reiterated his view that Formula One would not miss the four cars lost due to Marussia and Caterham’s financial problems, which he blamed on the teams themselves overspending.
“Just don’t spend as much,” said Ecclestone. “These teams don’t need to be in financial trouble. They need to think about what they have got to spend and do the best they can with that.”
“Take Williams, for example. Years ago Frank [Williams] had a very small budget and was generally in trouble. Yet he always paid every dollar that he owed. He ran his team accordingly with the amount of money he could come up with. He didn’t have dreams about competing with Ferrari. Eventually things got better and he built the business and now he’s where he is today.
“It’s the same for everything in life, isn’t it, really? It’s the same problem with ladies and credit cards.”
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