Bringing fans closer to Formula 1

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Prior to 2017, Formula 1 (F1) didn’t have an insight team. It didn’t believe in data or research and, with the exception of one TV data report, didn’t use or subscribe to any other insight service. F1 didn’t know what its fans looked like, didn’t understand their motivations, and never turned to them to inform decisions.

But it needed to innovate - to grow and change to win the fans of tomorrow, while remaining true to its heritage and without alienating existing fans. When new management arrived, F1’s brand new insight team approached Flamingo to help it understand how to grow in the right way. We first had to understand the true nature of F1’s appeal.

Flamingo needed an approach that would encourage an emotionally honest response from F1’s highly rational fans; one that would allow us to shift the conversation from one about tyre compounds, carbon fibre gearboxes and DRS zones to one about human emotion and motivations, which we knew to be the real drivers of their behaviour, whether they wanted to believe it or not.

So we combined storytelling depths (to tap into emotional drivers of F1 fandom); semiotic analysis (to uncover cultural meanings and associations of the brand) and digital forensics (to access real world behaviours and conversations of F1 fans and to uncover overlapping areas of interest).

A key insight was that, unlike most sports, F1 is not about individuals or teams representing geographic identities and overcoming the limits of biomechanics. F1 is a story of human archetypes battling physics.  It’s about using the most advanced technology in the world as a tool and people risking their lives to explore the limits of physical possibility.

When we spoke to more casual fans, it was clear that this epic drama was hidden from view.  But arguably even worse, many of those closest to the sport didn’t realise that this was the source of its appeal.  They believed they were interested in F1 because they loved cars, danger, loud engines or glamourous lifestyles. 

Our insights fed into activities designed to highlight F1’s appeal among all fans, from the casual to the committed. Since the end of the research and the implementation of the strategy, F1 has seen the following business impacts:

  • Attendance at all races in 2017 increased by 11% year-on-year with an average of 197,000 fans (compared to 176,000 in 2016)

  • TV reach in 2017 saw its first year-on-year increase (+400,000) since 2010

  • TV audience in the top 20 TV markets for F1 saw a year-on-year increase of 6%

  • F1 was the fastest growing sports brand on social media in 2017, with a 54% increase in followers across the season

  • Over 30,000 sign ups to newly-launched fan community within its first month

The work has been shortlisted for two Market Research Society awards, for New Consumer Insights and Business Impact of the Year