Nik Harta
Nik Harta 16 April 2018

Why F1 needs to fast-track its fan base

The new F1 season has only just started but there are more questions about the health of the sport than positive comments about yet another round of changes. Each Formula One race can have up to 300,000 fans attending, with 80 million people watching live at home. The sport estimates it has 150+ million global fans. There are 10 teams, 21 tracks and one umbrella brand. Yet F1 is underachieving, disengaging fans and struggling to retain audiences.

Fans are customers, and like any business, F1 must retain and grow its customer base to generate the incomes needed to survive and thrive. There are undoubtedly exciting opportunities ahead but there is a clear and overdue need to transform their approach to insights and understanding their fans.

Racing is not only for the petrol-heads. Why has there been little effort to explain to the non-mechanical, non-technical public, what the new season’s changes are and what they mean to the drivers and teams? According to the DVLA, there are more than 45million people who are driving licence holders in Great Britain but how many of those can understand or relate to the cars or racing? Will the technical enhancements and rules impact us and our cars in the future?

Tyres, black things and expensive to replace when you kerb them. So many types, why are they limited during a race, how do they really help? Why aren't Bridgestone/ Pirelli / Michelin / Hankook / Dunlop, etc helping explain? Surely whoever isn't a sponsor should take the opportunity the others are missing. 

Formula One Group claim "The philosophy now is that the fan comes first" but that can only be realised if you understand the triggers and context of their behaviour and emotions.

Formula One’s marketing director, Ellie Norman is said to be working hard to change the sport’s perception, stating her main focus this year is building Formula One an identity with fans “at the heart”.

“For us this is a real step-change from the sport as it was in the past, which fans definitely felt wasn’t there to serve them. Every decision we are making is about how it serves the fan, so if it doesn’t serve the fan, it doesn’t serve Formula One”.

Ross Brawn, Managing Director of motorsports, said: "it will take time to establish all the information we need, to do all the analysis and then start to implement changes that we believe will make the sport greater."

Is it more about poles than polls? There IS a better way for the sport to evolve - carrying out surveys of fans' opinions is great but what are they talking about that you haven't heard? How do you know you're asking the right questions? Success shouldn't only be seen as halting a decline in viewing figures and attendances. 

Zac Brown, Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group, has admitted to losing sponsors so how are they going to attract new ones, what will separate them from their competitors if they are not challenging at the front of the grid against the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull? Apparently, there are more promoters who are keen to get into the sport, so Liberty Media, the teams, and even the individual drivers should look at new and innovative ways to profile their fan base, identifying target audiences to help them align with commercial and complementary partners.

Social intelligence has the potential to help turn around the fortunes of Formula One, providing perspective and insight to all these unanswered questions, driving through the analysis and interpretation of fan debate and discourse. Rather than be held back by the limited information gained from social listening platforms, they need to apply a qualitative research approach on a quantitative scale.

Brown’s plan is to "focus on the fan", get current on social media, embrace digital and social media, get and increase following from young people. Sounds encouraging if there is substance behind the words.

Like engineering for the cars, listening to and communicating with fans is all about testing, modelling and fine-tuning. With the new season ahead there should be optimism, time to reverse fortunes and race ahead of the pack. 

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