Formula 1 on the Fast Track to the Future of Sports Fan Analytics

Overview The inception and development of data analytics and research at Formula 1 has revolutionized the team’s understanding of its fans and how fans engage with the sport.

Formula 1 (F1) was largely made popular through word of mouth and passion passed down through generations. And prior to 2017 and the development of the data and research team at Formula 1, decisions about the sport and fan experiences were based on gut instincts.

What fans were looking for, their behaviors and their purchase patterns were conjecture, without solid data backed by more than claims on self-reported surveys.

Formula 1 Director of Research and Analytics Matt Roberts said that, in the beginning stages of his team’s work on data collection and analysis, they had only a single report that accounted for all the available data.

As the team began to curate and collect the data they needed, F1 started to make significant strides in understanding their fanbase. And from launching new experiences to communicating with these fans more, F1 started on the path to change casual fans to avid fans.

Having F1 teams and race promoters across the globe to buy into a new wave of data analysis proved difficult in the beginning.

“Suspicions arose on whether F1 Management  was scoring the race organisers and checking in on everyone when we asked for data,” Roberts noted.  “Whereas in reality, our goal was to simply help improve the fan experience. We needed a lot of education across the board.”

 

From the Ground Up

Through extensive research across eight markets and encompassing 16,000 people, Roberts and his team started to understand how Formula 1 fans behave. They began parsing the F1 audience into six distinct attitudinal segments, identified by their level of engagement with the sport:
  • Excitables.

  • Purists.

  • Sociables.

  • Habituals.

  • Peripherals.

  • Incidentals.

The research also revealed information that even the F1 team didn’t know.

“Many people assume the average Formula 1 fan is a 50 to 60-year-old male, and they have an image in their mind of the F1 fan,” Roberts said. “But in reality, many F1 fans are under 35 years old, especially in the Excitables group.”

Of the markets, F1 discovered that Europe had the most afans from the Purist group (who are generally older and more male than average) — whereas China and U.S. had a greater proportion of Excitables, opening up new opportunities to engage with potential fans in these two countries, where the sport has been less established for a shorter period of time.

“We needed a hook for those markets,” Roberts said, describing how F1-related shows on Netflix pricked the ears of budding American F1 audiences.

Roberts noted that helping these earlier stage fans understand and connect with distinct drivers is a key area that can help push audiences to be more avid fans.

The evolution of data and analytics — and not just for F1 — has helped showcase fan behavior authentically and can help make critical business decisions.

Matt Roberts
Formula 1 Director of Research and Analytics

Bringing F1 to the Fans

Starting to understand its audience, Formula 1 was able to create new ways to communicate and engage with its fans.

“It used to only be fans go to races, sit around for a few hours, and then go home. There was no thought around what these audience members want,” Roberts said. “Now we’ve worked to understand what makes a great experience both at and away from the racetrack to help fans get the most value from each race.”

Key growth and development areas driven by the new data have included the following focuses.

Merchandise

Behavioral data showed Roberts and his team that people rarely moved from the area in which they entered the  race circuit. Given the size of a circuit — where it could take an hour and a half to walk the length — Roberts said it only made sense to increase locations of merchandise stores to better fit the movement patterns of F1 fans, and bring F1 products within easy reach.

From a toy range to even aftershave, F1 has expanded its merchandising offers as well.

F1 Grand Prix App

The Official F1 event App enables fans to navigate each circuit with geotagged points of interest, such as grandstands, shops, food and drink stalls, hospitality suites, and more.

Audience members can find fan zones and information about ongoing or upcoming activities, including driver interviews. Before the app was available, audience members had to wander through the large circuit with limited information about wayfinding and information about when events (such as driver interviews) were taking place.

Sensors

Fifty-five sensors around a racetrack pick up Wi-Fi signals from fans and provide data about high-traffic areas and fans’ movement during a race and improve non-race activities in those areas.

Biometric sensors on 100 volunteer fans (watching on TV) per race help the Formula 1 data team understand the engaging points of each race and how to dial up excitement around those key points of a race.

“We’re shaping the sport around what makes people happy,” Roberts said.

Esports

With the rapid expansion of esports, F1 embraced this new channel to help fans experience what being a F1 driver could be like.

Even though people often become fans of a sport by playing it, in Formula 1, there are only a select few people in the world who are able to really participate. Esports has helped to bridge this gap and build excitement and connection with the sport.

“There are so many opportunities to think about the fans and build great experiences through research,” Roberts said.

“The evolution of data and analytics — and not just for F1 — has helped showcase fan behavior authentically and can help make critical business decisions.”


See Matt Roberts speak at CES 2020 on the panel "The State of Sports Analytics."

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