• The Inside Line

F1 and the Bieber effect

Kate Walker
December 2, 2013
Potential rivals for Justin Bieber? © Getty Images

Back in the olden days, when I was a pre-teen, the word 'tween' simply didn't exist. Girls my age had pocket money, and we spent it on CDs and magazines and cheap bits of make-up, but we lacked the mega purchasing power that the current tween market seems to have.

I came of age at a time before boybands, in the beginning of the 1990s when hair metal was beginning to die a death and grunge was taking over. The other musical alternative was hip-hop, but if there wasn't a guitar I wasn't interested.

In my teens, music was everything. When I wasn't listening to music in my room, I was glued to MTV Rocks, or was permanently attached to my Walkman (and later, my Discman). What money I earned babysitting went on CDs, band teeshirts, and concert tickets. I spent thousands of dollars on memorabilia and experiences associated with my musical heroes, and I don't consider a penny of that as money wasted.

My rock gods lived fast and died young, chose to burn out rather than fade away. They were dangerous men, bedecked in leather and tattoos, and sexy for it. Back then, rock n' roll was a sexy occupation, and part of the appeal was the sense of danger found in every riff, every mosh pit. These days, rock stars want to save the world and write off debts.

And somehow, in the vacuum created by the death of true sex appeal in music, we find ourselves in a bizarre reality where teenaged girls worship Justin Bieber and One Direction. I don't get it.

But what I really don't get is why motorsport as a whole and F1 in particular haven't stepped in to fill this vacuum. Racing drivers and MotoGP riders are young men, many of them good-looking. They travel the world doing a sexy job that allows them to flirt with danger every weekend, and they make a lot of money doing it.

Despite this, however, we have totally missed out on the opportunity to sell our sport to the tween and teen girl demographic, adolescents with raging hormones and intense purchasing power, both with their own pocket money (100 percent disposable income) and whatever they can convince their parents to spend on birthdays and at Christmas.

Where are the shirtless calendars, the shopping mall meet-and-greets, the babydoll racing tees in team colours?

Not only do young girls have a lot of money to spend, but if Formula One were able to market itself to these young women it would be growing a new generation of fans, many of whom are likely to stick around for years. Just look at all of the middle-aged women who turn up to [insert boyband here] reunion gigs for proof of female dedication to their youthful passions.

Part of the problem is the way in which drivers guard their private lives. And while they have as much of a right to privacy as the rest of us, setting up interviews for the likes of Sebastian Vettel in whatever the modern equivalent of Teen Beat is doesn't strip away any of his sense of self. Questions about favourite colours, foods, and brands of cologne aren't particularly hard-hitting but they do appeal to the sort of obsessive young fan who wants to know everything about her favourite star. (Trust me on this one - I could still tell you Axl Rose's shoe size…)

Formula One is sexy. So are racing drivers. Teenaged girls like sexy, and they also have money to spend and plenty of time to kill of a weekend. It's the sort of marketing opportunity that's like shooting fish in a barrel, yet it's one the sport persistently ignores. Anyone out there able to explain why? I just can't figure it out…

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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