Trends in Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix attracted a race day audience of 28,000 on Sunday. It has a crowd capacity of about 32,000. This may not sound like much, particularly given that the event has been going for 10 years. This is perhaps a little strange given that Bahrain clearly has a car society. I asked after the race for the historical crowd figures and the circuit people were as helpful as always and the numbers made interesting reading.

In 2004 the first event attracted 68,000 people over the three days. The following year that went up to 75,000 and in 2006 to 77,000. There was then a significant leap in 2007 to 90,000 and 100,000 in 2008. The numbers were slightly down in 2009 with 93,680 but returned to 100,000 again in 2010. At that point the global economic crisis hit Bahrain and and in 2011 the unrest resulting from demands for more democracy caused the race to be cancelled. Last year the event returned to the F1 calendar amid much controversy and the crowd was down to 70,000.

I bumped into the chairman of the circuit Zayed Al-Zayani in the early hours of Monday at Bahrain airport. We were both on the 03.50 Emirates flight to Dubai, along with a large number of F1 folk, and we had a chat about this year’s event, which he deemed to have been a success. He said that the primary drop in spectator numbers since 2010 was due to the big banks in Bahrain running into trouble and no longer inviting large numbers of corporate VIPs and rewarding their staff with F1 tickets.

There is no doubt that some international and corporate visitors have been scared away by the troubles. However, it is reckoned that about 90 percent of the spectators are Bahrainis. It should be remembered that the country has a population of only 1.3 million and that in the Muslim world Sunday is a working day, rather than the weekend. We noted this on the way to the track at 08.00 on Sunday when we found ourselves passing a traffic jam of commuters several miles long, going into Manama as we were going out.

Al Zayani said that he was encouraged by the increase in the three-day figure to 73,000 this year, mainly because a lot of them were corporate guests and he believes that confidence is returning.

83 thoughts on “Trends in Bahrain

  1. Thank you once again Joe for this insightful nugget of information.
    it is rare to find journalism that is well disciplined and can produce long term trend analysis such as this piece.
    well done sir.

  2. Hi Joe, enjoy the blog and the insight you bring to those not inside the F1 bubble.
    What did you make of Bernie’s comment to the BBC at the weekend that he wouldn’t – in principle – be opposed to a Grand Prix in Syria, despite all the trouble they have been having?

      1. He does the same on French TV, they don’t understand his humour unfortunately so it’s lost in translation 😉
        DT’s piece on Bahrein in GP+ is worth a read…, as is GP+ full stop – its a great read only hours after each race.

      2. Bernie logic:… what is human rights? I can drive at 200 in Africa fine but if I do 200 in England, they’ll put me in jail. So it’s about following the laws. What is human rights then?

        Carefully ignores the topic with a sidestep and a distraction.. beautiful!

      3. And if it happens, I’m sure you’d defend it. All those teenagers causing trouble and all.

    1. Bernie wants Bahrain to stage a night race and a 5 year extension after 2016 and we can all rule out Syria

  3. Thanks Joe for clarifying the figures. So many discrepancies!! The race was actually well attended despite the heat and enjoyed without incident both from the drivers and the spectators. It’s also comforting to learn that Bahrain has been offered a further 5 years on its contract which will take it to 2021, but hasn’t yet been signed. A rumor that Bahrain may be first race of 2014 season and held at night is quite exciting too. As for Syria….how bizarre….

  4. The attendance figures on race day mean more to me than the three day figure as, I assume, a large proportion of three day figure are the same people as on race day otherwise it’s double counting. It’s pretty low in any case for a ten year old event it’s true.

  5. From the helicopter shot of the track they certainly appear to be a car society given the enormous car park that appeared to be filled.

  6. Hi Joe,
    Maths has never been a strong point of mine but if the circuit has a capacity of 32k how did they fit in 100k over the weekend in 2008? Did they have more temporary grandstands back then?

                1. It is not me claiming. I reported the official figure and said it looked about right. You, of course, know better based on what you saw on TV…

                  1. Looked about right?
                    Reporting the official figure doesn’t exonerate the inaccuracies.
                    I based my criticism of your opinion on what eye witnesses at the race relayed directlly to me and what respected International Journalists have reported in numerous national and international publications/media outlets.

                    1. Did you consider the possibility that they are writing a load of rubbish?
                      Name some names and I will tell you who was really there.
                      I might even tell you who is respected.

                    1. Groan… You have made your point. Several times. You don’t believe the crowd figures and I am a corrupt hack being paid squillions by the evil sheikhs of Araby. I think we all understand your conspiracy theory. Quite why any of us would do this is not something that appears to have entered your head, but please spare us any more theorising. It is time to move on…

            1. I’m with Joe on this one. LMFAO!!! It’s Bahrain! They say there are no stupid questions. They are clearly wrong. Health and safety. Pfff

          1. Pulling a sensible sounding hypothesis from the buttock area :

            More stringent security measures put in place to avoid a serious security incident in the wake of the various troubles in the country have led to a reduction of capacity to ensure all bags are checked and security loopholes are fully closed.

            Read up on English football attendances and the Taylor Report for a similar story from another sport and another public safety context.

            1. Quite. In the late 80’s / early 90’s I used to be an intermittent football attendee – you could pay on the door and stand where you liked. Then things went to all-seater. My brother-in-law – a season ticket holder – would thus end up at one end of the ground with me at the other.

  7. That seems very low even considering it’s a working day. The main grandstand seemed quite roomy with empty seats.

    I’ve just bought tickets to the Canadian Grand Prix and have read that attendance is usually between 100,000 and 115,000. Do you happen to know if that is over three days (and therefore double and triple counting) or is that all on race day?

    Which event on the calendar has the highest attendance? Silverstone?

    1. It is race day. I think China is big but on a three-day figures Australia is high. I’d need time to analyse but Bahrain is low.

    2. dcook87, I’ve been to Montreal and figures around 100k are certainly for race day. Their weekend figures will be closer to 300k. Bahrain (from the TV feed) looked to have much more capacity than 32k and there were quite a few empty seats (not exactly a 1st for f1).

  8. I was wondering about this when I saw what appeared to be sparsely populated grandstands on TV yesterday. Thank you for the scoop!

    Out of curiosity, relative to other grands prix, is Bahrain fairly small in attendance figures? Which grand prix has the biggest draw?

    I did some searching for attendance figures, but it quickly gets very blurry.

    1. Most races have between 75,000 and 100,000 on race day. As to the biggest that would need a lot of research. China is certainly up there, Australia and Canada are both big too.

  9. So, were there actually 20,000 people at the track on each of Friday and Saturday? Sure looked like mostly empty seats, on television.
    Are the attendance numbers for tickets distributed or people at the track?
    My guess is the former.

  10. During the race coverage, the stands looked very open with low attendance. Now I better understand the report on contract extension for 5 additional years. The sustained attendance growth was pretty strong up until the recent political unrest. But when you look at the possible calendar expansion in the next 2 years and maintaining a 22 race schedule; Russia, NYC/NJ, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, and Thailand. There seems to some likely candidates in the drop zone; South Korea, Germany, and Spain. With likely hood of continued political unrest, you still wonder if the Bahrain event is worth contract extension. Oops, just forgot, in Bernie’s world; yes its worth the money!

    1. Argentina and South Africa do not seem to be very serious. Korea is dead but not yet buried. Spain, Belgium and Germany are struggling, but it is not as easy as it seems as the various contracts mean that some races HAVE to be on the calendar.

      1. South Africa and Argentina ruled out bids ages ago this year and last year. Korea will see the contract out to the end. I think Spain, Belgium and Germany will remain on the calendar. Since you said Germany is struggling could they put another circuit on the table or just maybe France joining in the act. Long Beach negotiations are under away

  11. Joe – You are on fire today. (Perhaps it’s everyday and I just need to shell out for the magazine.) If attendance isn’t an issue for Bernie, what has lead to other GPs being dropped from the schedule? Is it purely about what the host country or group brings to the table in the way of cold, hard cash?

    It’d be interesting to see if there’s a point at which the attendance becomes too much of an embarrassment to F1, as a brand, for Bernie.

      1. All wholesalers care about how the retailer sells/promotes their product. If they (retailers) don’t do it justice, it will have an impact. If Bernie truly no longer cares, he should be removed. But as you said before, what Bernie says is not what he thinks. What Bernie promotes as his stance is rarely his actual stance.

        1. Surely BE would say it’s not normally the promoter. Each one to their job – he enables. I’m sure he cares, even I would say that.

  12. The three-day figures of 100,000 people before the troubles seem very impressive given the 32,000 crowd capacity today.

  13. A minor point, but if the Sakhir circuit has a capacity of 32,000 people, then how do 100,000 show up over three days?

    1. I think the answer lies in general admittance, rather than seating capacity. Also corporates and probably not included in capacity figure. Good point though.

    1. I believe Abu Dhabi’s capactiy is around 45k. It was near sold out when I went in 2009 and it still had a great atmosphere. Nothing like Montreal but it was very nice. It wasn’t a nightmare getting out of the track either.

  14. Joe i have no axe to grind and wouldn’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the situation but for the race start there were more photographers on the first corner photo tower than in one of the adjacent grandstands, the two next to it were barely a quarter full. I’d be amazed if those figures were true, like i say only what i saw with my own eyes.

    1. No, I think the figures are right. I was in the grid and checked out the grandstands and that official figures are very plausible.

  15. Joe do you think that Grand Prix such as the Bahrain GP should be held on the Saturday instead of the Sunday. Given that they are probably going to put lights around the circuit, you could have practice on the thursday, qualifying on the friday night (UK time) and the race on the saturday. I’m guessing if they did that they couldn’t have the race as the second part of a double header although I’m guessing having it as the first race of a double header would make everything a little less frantic (although I’m guessing the staff would be away from home for even longer then) . I know that F1 moved away from saturday races a while ago. MotoGP have the dutch GP at assen on the saturday which is good.

    1. Changing from Sundays has been tried elsewhere and generally affects the viewing numbers because people don’t know when things are on. Remember that for Bernie the number of spectators is largely irrelevant. He is a wholesaler…

  16. Corporate clients, free tickets from company, wonder how many people who went actualy paid for the ticket and were actualy fans of F1 and or racing.

    Sat in Austaralia stands a few weeks back and had 4 days of action and the sunday there was not a spare seat to be had, fans paying to watch a race.

    China, Malaysia “the cheapest race on the calander”, Bahrain when watching on TV all had masses of empty seats. Especialy the stand opposite the pits.
    But then again that countries are all paying masses of money into the “circus”.

    Wonder if the powers to be would be happy to have drivers race at empty circuits as long as they got a large pot of money from the country and sponsors.
    But then again no spectators no sponsorship.

    Bring the races back to the countries that have a heritage and fan base.

      1. As per the London Olympics when corporate got a lot of the good tickets to events and gave them to their employees or “who ever” and then people did not show up and all you could see were empty seats.
        The real fans and supporters could not buy these seats or sit in them.
        What about the real fans?
        Fans who travel, fans who buy the product, fans who follow F1.
        Not these flunkies that could not name a driver, team or car and only turn up for the freebies. Where is there long term support for F1.
        I did not see any corporate flunkies down at the fishing club in melbourne only fans and supporters.
        Think I prefered the old days.
        Its not a backward looking view its what is happening now.
        Will Silverstone have empty seats?
        Even if it is raining the real fans will be there,

  17. Not a fan of this particular track from a racing point of view. If Bernie’s looking for races to cannibalize to accommodate new hopefully better racing venues this is one that gets my vote. Not sure the maestro could part with the loss of Arab money/support to the teams and sport though.

  18. 28,000 fans on race day? ? ? Only in the the wildest imagination of the event organizers. The main grandstand was AT MOST filled to 1/5th its capacity. The other grandstands were even less densely populated. Given a maximum seating of 32,000, this suggests the actual number of race day attendees was somewhat south of 5,000.

    Attendance figures are perhaps the most malleable truth of the racing world. There are a great many reasons for organizers to exaggerate attendance. Attendance is often grossly exaggerated, but rarely as to the extremes seen in Bahrain.

    There’s a word for 5,000 attendees to a Formula One race day. That word is ‘Embarrassing’. Why just 5,000 attendees for the largest annual event in the kingdom? Could it possibly, maybe, just have a little something to do with the recent unpleasantness? An unpleasantness that F1 seems to use its every breath to diminish?

    It’s little wonder that Bahrain’s event organizers would actively work to disguise a dismal and embarrassing level of attendance at the nation’s largest event. As for why Joe accepted these clearly manipulated figures without question, I can only surmise he never had an opportunity to glance at the race day grandstands.

    1. Or Joe had a better opportunity to look at all the race day grandstands rather than the occasional images picked out by the TV director running the show. Just a thought.

      1. I can only suggest that you take a look at the high definition video or race day photos.

        Joe is a great reporter, but none of our memories are infallible. Eye witness testimony is perhaps the most unreliable form of proof. This unreliability has been repeatedly documented in any number of peer reviewed studies.

        A fleeting video is often far more reliable than the remembrances of any given individual. The facts strongly suggest that this race was very poorly attended, and that the Bahraini organizers are brashly trying to cover up this unfortunate fact.

  19. I can only suggest you take a look at some race day photos, even better, the race day video. I certainly wasn’t there, but I freeze framed the grandstands from the high definition video feed. Even at the start of the race, the main grandstand on the start – finish line had at most 1/5 occupancy. The other grandstands had perhaps 1/10 occupancy.

    Given that the race organizers gave a total seating figure of 32,000, their attendance figures do not come close to passing the smell test. Were I being overly charitable, I might give them 8,000, though it was far more likely to be 5,000 or fewer.

    28,000 is simply laughable.

    Joe, you know more than most that race attendance figures are frequently exaggerated. In many cases, they’re whatever the organizers wish them to be. The Bahrain organizers had more reasons than most to exaggerate their dismally embarrassing levels of attendance. Even if the grandstands were half full, and they weren’t, their figures would still be exaggerated by nearly 50%. I really cannot fathom how you can say their numbers are “about right”.

    My strong suspicion is that this was the worst attended F1 race of the past 30 years! This is certainly not an honor the Bahraini’s would wish to have advertised. It would seem they’re doing everything they can to white wash this awkward truth.

    1. I disagree. I was there. I looked at the grandstands and 28,000 sounded very plausible. I do not believe they were exaggerating.
      However, as those who watch on TV always seem to think they know better, I am not going to argue any more on the subject.
      It was certainly not the worst attended F1 race in the last 30 years.

      1. Who am I to disagree with eye witness testimony?

        Though I have heard rumors that photographic and video evidence can be *slightly* more reliable.

        1. Maybe it can, but I go to all the races and look at the grandstands as a matter of course as I am always on the grid, meeting people who hide out during the weekend… I don’t stand there counting the people, but the number seemed about right based on many previous races. That is all I am saying. If the Bahrainis had anything to hide they would not give out crowd figures. Some races do, some don’t. Most are fairly believable, a few are not.

          1. Joe,

            What are your thoughts on spectator numbers at Valencia? From the past few editions I’ve seen on the haunted fish tank, it looked as though you could have fired a shotgun at the main grandstand without fear of hitting anyone…

          2. I must strongly disagree with your analysis that “If the Bahrainis had anything to hide they would not give out crowd figures”.

            There are two ways to address an embarrassing truth. One, as you suggest, is to ignore it and hope it goes away. There is another way. That is to brashly deny the truth by loudly and repeatedly stating a lie. Sometimes the more outlandish the lie, the more believable it is. Some would say they’d never inflate the figures by so much, never tell such a massive lie. It’s not too much if the lie is believed.

            The Bahraini organizers would hardly be the first racing organizers to have taken this second tact. The cases of inflated event attendance figures are legion. Here in the US, most such figures are taken with great grains of salt. While the shareholders and tax man may receive legitimate numbers, the public and the press are lied to with impunity. If this can happen regularly in first-world democracies, why should we believe the organizers in third-world dictatorships would take higher ground?

            Perhaps the Bahrani organizers did “issue” 28,000 race day tickets, making their lie more of a “misunderstanding”. Whatever the case, not 1/5th of that reported 28,000 actually appeared in the grandstands. Don’t believe me, look at the video, look at the photos. The Bahrani’s are lying.

  20. Joe, what are you’re thoughts a year on about F1 being in Bahrain? I was fully in favour of it as it seemed to benefit the ruling party (PR/Stability), the protesters (a voice/international awareness rather than being forgotten about), F1 (a big cheque, Bernie showing his power still…). However, there was a comment on one of the James Allen blog that one of the protesters that he himself had interviewed last year, (said to be peaceful) had been locked up since the summer of last year with no trial (backed up by other news sites), which seems unacceptable for F1 to be a party to.

    Hard to know where to stand on it all, hence my question to you.

  21. People have to look at the crowds that just attend the race for the accompanying events behind the grandstands.

  22. Thank you Joe, it’s always refreshing to read your honest perspective. I was actually at the race (3 days), paid for my ticket, sat at the “Turn 1 Grandstand” and it was certainly at capacity! Have the photos and videos to prove it, but apparently those watching on tv always believe they have a more realistic assessment of the situation. What a lot of people don’t understand is that many families purchase tickets not necessarily to watch the entire race but for the activities and concerts in the F1 village. As the race was ongoing the village was certainly bursting with visitors. It was a great event, I thoroughly enjoyed the race as well as all the activities.

  23. I often find that whenever Bernie says anything about what is going to happen, then bleieve the opposite as that usually occurs. Remember medals, water sprinklers……….

  24. Hi Joe. If you don’t mind, I have a few little questions about things you said in this thread.
    Which was the poorest attended GP and why?
    How many journalists attend each race, and how many go to every race as you do?
    Thanks Joe

    1. The poorest attended GP is probably Bahrain. Korea is not great but has a much bigger capacity.
      The number of journalists at a race fluctuates, depending on local interest. Those who have an FIA hard card have to do a certain number of races to qualify. I am not sure what the current minimum is (it changes) but it is probably 10-12. There are probably about 50 who do every race and another 150 who do the majority. I believe the total of hard cards is about 300. These are all guesses. The FIA knows the numbers but I do not.

      1. Thanks Joe, I wasn’t thinking about local journalists, just the people that attend more than one race and who you probably see at most of them.

        Re-reading it, I didn’t phrase my questions at all well. I imagined an interesting story behind your post “It was certainly not the worst attended F1 race in the last 30 years”
        Thanks again.

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