Formula 1: We are the Fan-tastic Formula

With Formula 1 trumpeting that more than 4-million fans in total attended the 21 grand prix races on this past season’s schedule, claiming “an 8% rise year-on-year” to the live fan base of the sport at the highest level.

In a Q&A released by the F1 Media office, Global Research Director Matt Roberts provided insight into the season past from a fan and media perspective.

What were the best-attended races in 2018?
MR: The biggest race in terms of attendance this year was Silverstone 340,000, followed by Mexico with 334,946, both of which were slightly down 1% year-on-year. However, the total attendance across the season saw an impressive 8% rise year-on-year, with almost 4.1m fans attending globally. Average attendance was also up 3% from 190,000.

What about fan satisfaction last season?
MR: Fan satisfaction at our race events is a very positive story for us this year. We only began tracking races halfway through the 2017 season as this data wasn’t available before then. However, where we can compare like for like races, we have seen a 4% increase in fan satisfaction from 71% to 75% which is a great uplift. This number is based on people who say they had a 5-out-of-5 experience, which is incredibly impressive scoring.
Following on from fan satisfaction, we have also seen that value for money perceptions at races have increased by 3%, with fans feeling they receive more value for money on race day. A large factor in this has been the improved Fan Zone pictured – where we are increasing activations, like pit stops, reflex tests, fitness challenges and eSports simulators.

Formula 1 conducted a lot of research into fan experience in 2018. Overall, what did we learn?
MR: We conducted over 50,000 interviews across 16 races, with the remaining five conducted by the retrospective promoters. We spoke to fans on the ground and also sent them a longer survey at home after the weekend so they could reflect on their experience.
We also used technology to understand how people are moving around the circuit, putting sensors around that pick up signals from mobile phones to understand where fans go around the track and when.
Following this year’s analysis, we know that we need to improve information for fans at races and to help them navigate the circuit. From the research conducted, 40% of fans are not aware of the Fan Zone on site and therefore we need to signpost better and ensure that fans are aware of points of interest. Satisfaction with signposting/wayfinding has improved year-on-year from 30% to 34%, but there is more room for improvement.
We also learned that fans don’t tend to move around the circuit much. They enter through one gate and go to their seat, and they don’t tend to move from that area. Therefore we need to ensure fans know about the different activities across the circuit and improve awareness, be it via better signage or the F1 Grand Prix App.

How important is it to know fans’ behaviour in order to improve the Grand Prix experience?
MR: It’s really important, as we find fans have an amazing time at the races with 95% positive feedback. However, when you look deeper into the research there are nuances and therefore it’s vital to have the most accurate research to really improve the customer journey.
We can use the work we are doing to make sure we are putting the Fan Zone in the right areas. For example, if we know 50% of our fans at a certain race come in at a certain gate we can ensure our fan activations are centralised around that point. We can also work with promoters to ensure retail outlets are in the right place so that fans don’t have to hunt around for food and drink.

What about TV viewers?
MR: TV viewers are a very different kettle of fish, as there are so many of them, and you can’t say one TV viewer is the same as another.
Some viewers, avid fans, may watch all the races, while other, more casual fans may tune in three to four times a season. But what we have been doing to get a better insight into our TV audience is some work around asking viewers what they thought of the viewing experience.
Beyond that, we have also been doing some galvanic skin response tests. The tests analyse viewers response to the race through their engagement levels, using a small device on their hands. The device measures sweat levels and records engagement levels throughout the race.
What is most interesting about the test is that we can look at and identify what points in the race, from the TV feed that viewers are less engaged and minimise those moments in the broadcast making the overall experience more impactful and engaging which is great for everyone, including sponsors, broadcasters and our viewers.

How do you currently track viewer numbers?
MR: Historically the way we measured and recorded unique TV viewers was by taking someone who watched F1 for 15 minutes or more across the whole season. These are non-consecutive minutes, therefore they could watch one minute of one race and one minute of another, and as long as those minutes add up to 15 over a season, the viewer would counted as a F1 viewer. It is this metric that we used to identify we had 352 million TV viewers in 2017.
However what we have found from the research is that our main competitors – i.e. NFL, NBA, Premier League, other motorsport series, are using a different methodology and measuring viewers by looking at just those who watch for one or three minutes (consecutive viewing) across the whole season. Therefore if a viewer watches three minutes across the whole season, you are counted as a Premier League viewer. This is a massive difference between the ways we record unique reach and the recommended reach metric is in fact 3 minutes when consulting with BARB and Nielsen.
In order to compete on a level playing ground and align with other sports in the marketplace, we need to start looking at the three-minute number and share this new reach number with our sponsors, partners and promoters.
From the start of 2019, we are going to introduce three-minute consecutive unique viewers. We are also going to give a 2017 number as well, so you can see a like-for-like number. This does mean that the numbers for last year will change, but we will have a more accurate number for 2018. That number will be available from January.

Why is it important to align with industry standard?
MR: It is important that we have a consistent methodology with other major sports, for example if a competitor sport announces that they have 300 million unique viewers and are looking at three minutes and we are looking at 15 minutes it gives them an unfair advantage. So it’s really important to use the industry standard to compare views and also to give the sponsors, promoters and partners are clearer and more concise number to use.

What other changes have been made to unique reach in the last year?
MR: Following the change of ownership of F1 we found that the numbers we had in 2017 didn’t match up to the numbers Kantar and Nielsen were publishing around F1. They were publishing 351 million viewers for 2016 and the only numbers we found from the previous owners was 390 million. What we identified was that the Nielsen/Kantar number had 10% added on for unmeasured markets which was inaccurate as the unmeasured markets were already included in 351 million, so we were actually counting twice. Now we are much more transparent, as we are on the stock market and it was important that we have you the audited number supplied by Kantar and Nielsen when we provided the reach numbers last year (351m in 2016 and 352m for 2017). As mentioned above, this will be changing for 2018 given to the move to 3 minutes consecutive reach.

F1 is increasing the number of markets it monitors. How will this affect overall numbers?
MR: When we looked at reach last year we only used 10/12 markets and we extrapolated that to a global number. This year we are looking at 36 markets, so a much more robust figure, with more actual numbers rather than estimations. We feel it is a more insightful and a more real number. Estimated numbers are less trustworthy, and by using 36 markets, we believe that over 85% of our reach will be calculated using actual numbers.

F1 recently won ‘Best Business Impact of the Year’ and ‘Best In-House Research Team’ at Britain’s Market Research Society Awards. What would you identify as the key elements in those successes?
MR: We were nominated for five awards and won two: best in-house research team, which is the one we really wanted to win and best business impact.
The reason why we won was because the judges felt that we had made significant progress compared to 18 months ago when we had nothing in terms of data and research. We are now working on a number of research projects, with most of our decisions informed by using F1 research and data. We now know much more about who fans are, what they look like, what markets they are in, as well as who are our non-fans and their barriers/triggers to F1 fandom. None of this work had been done before, so we have really progressed our knowledge around research and this has been recognised by our peers in the industry.
The best business impact award was for the work we did 18 months ago for the F1 brand with Flamingo when we looked into what the F1 brand stands for, and how can we transform the brand into one that is appealing to more people.
That work was the basis for a lot of what the Marketing team used for the logo change, the new marketing campaign ‘Engineered Insanity’ and the new look and feel of the brand. It was felt that it had such a big business impact so we won the award. It’s great to be recognized. We are doing something right if the industry thinks we are the best team!