Revolutionising Formula One

31/01/2019By Matt Roberts
Matt Roberts, Global Research Director at Formula One, reveals how the use of market research has revolutionised the way the sport interacts with fans, and how changes in media consumption have influenced engagement. 

How has the use of market research changed the way Formula One interacts with its audience, and what key insights have you discovered about the fans of F1? 

Before our team was formed in June 2017, Formula One had never had a research team nor had they used data or research to inform decision making.  This is no longer the case, research is now at the heart of all strategic decisions made by the business. We know our fans better than ever before thanks to the research we’ve been conducting. Due to a number of new research initiatives, we understand fans’ motivations – how they consume F1 on TV and digital platforms and how they engage with our races as a spectator at live events. All this insight is being used to improve the F1 fan experience on TV, on digital and at our 21 races across the season. These insights are also used by the wider F1 community, such as teams and race promoters.

We have found out so much about F1 fans, but I think the most surprising and myth-busting revelation is that F1 fans are not all white 50+ males. In fact, in markets such as USA and China, F1 is one of the youngest sports in terms of fan demographics. The younger fans in particular engage with all F1 media platforms, particularly digital and social media (which now has much more content since the Liberty takeover).  It is essential we keep this group engaged to ensure the next generation of F1 fans come through. We call this group ‘The Excitables’ segment, as they are interested not only in consuming F1 on TV and digital but also about going to race events and buying merchandise.

“Media consumption” in sport is a hot topic; what consumer behaviour trends have you seen in this space?

This is a very interesting topic and there is a clear generation divide between younger and older sports fans. Sport is a unique sector as it is still overwhelmingly consumed live on TV.  Only 4% is recorded or watched on demand compared to more than 50% of movies and TV content.

It is clear that younger sports fans behave much differently from older sports fans. Younger fans are less likely to watch a sports event in full, many preferring to consume sport in bite size chunks on digital and social platforms. This creates a challenge for sports rights holders who need to start considering content that works on digital platforms (not just repackaged TV content) in order to engage their fans of the future. This was a problem faced by F1 before the Liberty takeover. There was limited information on web and social media channels and as a result the F1 fan base rapidly grew older – particularly in traditional F1 markets like UK and Italy.

What does Formula 1 have to do to ensure it meets the ever changing demands of how fans are viewing sport?

As mentioned before, F1 has never really had a digital offering before 2017 and was primarily a TV sport. This has all changed in the last year with a 3-fold increase in videos viewed on F1 social media platforms in the last year, and our social media followers growing from 9 million at the end of 2016 to almost 18 million today.

We are relaunching our website and app this autumn to increase appeal of our digital products and launched F1 TV early this summer – F1’s first ever OTT platform. On F1 TV, fans can consume live and archived content as well as having access to a number of different camera angles and commentary options. On top of this, we have launched a Fantasy F1 game as well as an F1 e-sports league to try and drive consumption amongst the younger demographic. We feel that all these new additions make us fit for the future in a competitive sports market.

What does the future of how fans engage with live sports, and in particular F1, hold?

Sport is still primarily a live TV event and we believe it will remain this way for a number of years. However, I feel that ‘dual screening’ will become more and more prevalent with fans consuming other content on other devices during the action. This highlights the importance of driving awareness of other F1 properties and products as we are competing for share of time of sports fans in a very competitive market.

Finally, having launched “F1 fan voice” earlier this year what have you learnt so far, and how have you used this insight to make changes?

This has been a great initiative for us. In just 4 months, we have 53,000 registered members of the community with these fans happy to do polls and surveys on a weekly basis. The insight from this community has fed into the F1 TV, F1 e-sports and our Fan festival strategy (thanks to surveys which had over 7,000 responses in these areas). We have also used the site to understand what fans think about the current weekend format. This had very interesting findings which were fed back to the Motorsport team and FIA, and are being used to determine how the sport will look in the future.


Matt Roberts

Global Research Director, Formula One

Matt Roberts had 15 years’ experience in market research and analytics, working across Radio and press before moving into world of sport in 2008, when he took over as Head of EMEA Research at Eurosport. He headed the insight teams at ESPN, BT Sport and Sky Sports before joining Formula 1 as Global Research Director in June 2017. At F1 he is responsible for all data and insight which helps drive fan engagement and commercial revenue opportunities within the sport.