James Allen: How F1 is doing its homework on its fans

Formula 1 has been developed largely on instinct; Bernie Ecclestone expanded the calendar and made TV deals based on his years of wheeling and dealing and on hunches about emerging markets

James Allen: How F1 is doing its homework on its fans

The new owners of F1 have a much more scientific approach and know that, if they are to grow it, they need to understand their fans better. Why have lapsed fans drifted off, for example, and can they can be re-engaged? And they also want to understand why non-fans aren't engaged in the sport.

One of the first hires Chase Carey and Sean Bratches made was Matt Roberts as director of research. He has worked with Sky and ESPN and he set to work immediately on a widescale international audience survey. The work was carried out by polling specialists IPSOS on behalf of F1.

The results were presented to the F1 teams in Sepang at the weekend and also to a group of media, including Motorsport.com and Autosport.

The survey focused on sports fans in seven key markets: UK, USA, Germany, Italy, Brazil, China, Russia

In each country they intensively interviewed 2,000 people - making a total sample size of 14,000.

These people will now be tracked to assess how much their attitudes change with the developments in F1. The contact will be every three months.

Dividing up F1's audience in detail

The broad overview is that 2/3 of sports fans are interested to some degree in F1, making a total potential market of 500million people across these seven markets.

The audience breaks down into six segments: Excitables, Purists, Sociables, Habituals, Peripherals, Incidentals.

The middle groups are the ones of greatest interest to F1 Group at the moment; they will watch F1 and engage with it when it is good. They need talking points to get them engaged and they need the cars to be more closely matched, so it is more about the drivers and more exciting to watch.

Of the markets, Italy has the most avid fans and China, USA the least - no surprises there. The F1 Group therefore sees great opportunity in these two countries and will target effort and resource at developing the fan base in these markets. Hence the important renewal of the race in Shanghai.

There are 'Excitables' in China and USA; there are more purists in Italy, UK and Germany.

What are the fans looking for?

Speed and racing were the two main things that came out on top of what people are looking for and want from F1.

Interest areas:

Racing - 58%

Speed - 48%

Cars and tech - 32%

Driver Awareness

One of the most surprising elements was the data about the drivers and how aware general sports fans are of the big names.

The top five drivers score highly and are well ahead of the others. All the other drivers had below 50% recognition from the sports fans.

In order the most recognised names were: Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa.

That top five doesn't include Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen yet. The top five are all - with the exception of Hamilton - drivers who have featured prominently for Ferrari, which may give some strength to Ferrari's arguments about what the Prancing Horse really means to F1.

Roberts noted that helping sports fans to understand more about the drivers and to get to know them is a key growth area.

What will F1 do with this information?

"If we can bring fans closer they will become hooked, especially if they have a chance to come to a race," was Roberts' conclusion from this research. There is also a strong correlation between people attending races and going on to become more avid fans.

So F1 now feels that it has an idea of what its fans look like and it can now use the segmentation strategy to communicate much more effectively with these fans.

The next steps are to produce a database of F1 fans and communicate with them. For example, F1 will send messages to 'Excitables' about the racing, the cars, the latest tech developments and try to encourage them to attend races. They will be targeted with digital content, especially shareable videos.

The conversation with 'Purists' will be more about details and conversations about the TV coverage.

With 'Sociables' the aim is to get them to know the drivers better and to consume their content and messages.

Not every fan is the same so F1 will segment its communication.

F1 is also doing spectator research at every race, pre-race and post-race asking about expectations and what they thought of the racing.

At eight grands prix there will be more detailed research with fans in the grandstands on event.

The challenge: How to bring F1 to the fans

All of this research backs up what Carey and Bratches have been saying since day one that the best way forward for F1 is to get closer to the fans and to bring the sport to them. So how do they do that?

Bratches has spoken recently about the strategy being to make new F1 races on the calendar street races, to bring the F1 experience into the cities. Races in new venues are more likely to be on street tracks using a Singapore model than a purpose built circuit, a very different philosophy from Ecclestone.

The new owners do not want to repeat the failures of Turkey, Korea, India; white elephant race tracks built at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in unsustainable markets with no promotional plan or support from F1.

Roberts did reveal that this research is central to all of Bratches' decision making on venues, TV platforms, OTT, digital media and the rest.

It is also being used in the ongoing discussions on shaping the future rules of F1, led by Ross Brawn, but only as an element of that process, not the driving force.

The word coming to us from F1 team bosses is that Brawn and Carey are likely to present teams with their post-2020 plans in November.

This will comprise details of a cost cap, framework for new technical and sporting regulations, distribution of FOM money and so on.

It sounds like there is consensus on budget reduction, generally heading towards a $150m/160m ceiling and a glidepath down by $20m a year over five years for the big teams; Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull - perhaps starting as soon as 2019.

There is still a lot of negotiation to come, and the devil is in the details, but the signs are that Mercedes and Red Bull would accept this cost cap and glidepath (as long as the tech and sporting regs are correctly aligned with it) but no-one is clear on Ferrari's feelings. Sergio Marchionne is playing his cards close to his chest. The fear is that he might use the Ferrari veto if things get difficult.

There is clearly going to be a fight, so many teams believe that this should happen as soon as possible, so everything can be sorted out well ahead of 2020.

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Series Formula 1
Author James Allen
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