Optimisation Of F1 Fan Engagement Has Peaked Since Liberty Took Over, But Why?

by Matt Roberts
7th Sep 2018

What does a sports researcher do? Contrary to popular belief, we don’t just stand there with a clipboard taking notes. The reality is far more exciting, far faster paced and far more related to customer experience – and company success! –than one may imagine.

As Global Research Director for Formula 1, I have to say that it’s the most exciting time to be involved in the sport. Since Liberty took over, the number of changes has been incredible. True, it’s easy to take over and make changes in any industry, but do they help? In this case, yes. Innovative, considered and with the optimization of fan engagement and enjoyment at the forefront of their minds, the appeal of F1 is reaching a wider audience than ever before.

But why? What are they doing differently to improve fan engagement that teams before have failed to do? And why is it working?

1) Driving TV and Digital Audiences
Significant investment into TV and digital research means we now receive overnight TV data from 24 markets per race (compared to 5 pre-takeover) and produce quarterly reports, providing insight into audience changes (by both demographic and specific fan segments by market) and recommendations for performance improvement. Digitally, we provide race audiences in real time, but also look in-depth at how our users consume our digital products – i.e. which site they visited previously, the types of stories they read and, importantly, the biggest pressure points on our sites where they end their experience.

2) Ensuring Live Race Experience Is Second-To-None
The most important thing. If fans enjoy it, they will return; they will tell their friends, family, colleagues… and with the rise in social media, it’s no longer limited to word of mouth, the outreach potential is exponential. The best way to find out how they feel and what they want is to ask them, so that’s what we do. To date, over 30,000 fans have been surveyed across all 5 continents.

'A race only lasts a few minutes, but the day itself can last many hours, so we need to consider more than just the race. The environment, facilities and other services on offer such as bars, betting and the usability of our app is vital.’

3) Driving Growth In Commercial Revenue (via sponsorship or TV rights revenue)
F1 has really set the trend in terms of investment in this area. Not only do we have a fairly sizeable budget to carry out global projects, but we are a team of 6 (one of the biggest sports rights holder research teams in the UK). We also have the advantage of reporting into the Managing Director of the Commercial Division, meaning that we have a seat around the table for management meetings and a great chance to positively impact the sport - which rarely happens at other organisations when the research guys are usually part of a marketing or sales team.

4) Monitoring Fans Usage and Interactions With F1  
Whilst we do use traditional research methods (surveys, TV viewer panel analysis, sponsor logo exposure analysis etc.), we constantly strive to use innovative ways to measure and improve fan engagement across touch-points. For example, WiFi analytics enables us to track (anonymously) fans’ behaviour (measuring how long they stay, which areas they visit and for how long etc.), whilst biometric testing TV viewers’ galvanic skin responses helps us to measure the value of Intellectual Property to F1 sponsors.

5) Statistics and Data Are Appreciated 
Having worked across a number of sports for the past 11 years, I’ve seen first-hand how regardless of the sport itself a common theme existed: research and analytics were considered unimportant and, thus, given very little investment. There was an attitude of ‘I know best’ from senior execs who didn’t feel the need to consult fans about their sport despite the fact that the everyday fan’s experience couldn’t be further away from what they experience at the top. However, for many, budgets for research projects are increasing. No longer considered a cost to the business compared to a commercial sales team that brings in revenue, over the past few years, increasing numbers of insight functions have sprung up at major sports organisations including the NFL, ECB, Premier League, Man City, Chelsea and a number of other PL teams. An investment trend most definitely set by F1.

But actually, all of the above are important, but the real reason F1 didn’t engage as well before is simple. Prior to 2017, they did not have a research division and never carried out market research amongst fans. It wasn’t that that they couldn’t do it, it was that they didn’t do it.

Fast forward… And in the 15 months since I took over, we’ve implemented a number of new research initiatives, which are shared regularly with the F1 commercial team and wider F1 community (teams, partners, promoters etc.). Open-minded and supportive, the freedom that they’ve given us means that we now understand much more about who F1 fans are, their motivations, how they consume F1 on TV and digital platforms, and how they engage with our races as spectators at live events.

Then we act on it.

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