Understanding Fan Behaviour at F1 with Matt Roberts

September 7, 2020

IT Arena 2020 is fast approaching! To fuel up your interest before the event, we continue our tradition of introducing you to our speakers. Today, we managed to quickly chat with one of Matt Roberts, Global Research and Analytics Director at F1, definitely one of the most exciting brands on our speaker lineup this year. Matt has 20 years in the market research and analytics sector across media and sport brands (including Sky, BT and ESPN). At F1 he has set up a number of new initiatives ranging from global fan behaviour studies to a CRM database, a global fan panel and an extensive spectator experience research programme. Matt talks about COVID-19 challenges as well as opportunities at F1,  F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, and working towards engaging the younger generation in racing sports.

Can you elaborate on what the role of Director of Research and Analytics at F1 focuses around?

I head up the Research & Analytics team. My team’s objective is to produce insight which helps F1 to improve its commercial performance – that insight could come from data analytical projects, from market research or from TV viewing/digital usage data. Our main stakeholders are the sponsorship, TV rights, digital and event promotion teams whilst we also work closely with the motorsport team, assisting them with data and research which help them to understand how we can improve the sport. As part of our role, we work with a range of external agencies and consultancies who help us manage our long list of projects and ensure we meet our goals.

What is global fan behaviour studies? How do you make a traditional sports fan an F1 superfan?

We run a number of global research projects to understand fan behaviour. One of these is a 8 country market research tracker where we interview 8,000 sports fans (in 8 countries) every quarter to understand how they engage with the F1 brand, and understand what we need to do to grow the number of fans in each of these markets. Using this study, we have been able to segment sports fans into 6 distinct groups who all exhibit different behaviour around F1. We have 2 avid F1 fan groups (one younger and more digitally savvy and one older more TV focussed group), 2 casual F1 fan groups (again split by younger digital fans and older more lapsed F1 fans) and 2 groups of sports fans who show very little interest in the sport. Our goal is to move as many fans into the 2 avid fan groups (called Excitables and Purists) and we are finding that new innovations like the Netflix Drive to Survive Series, the new F1 TV OTT product and the esports series are having a significant impact in helping to convert more people into these fan segments.

F1 is often considered a high-end brand, with its fans being significantly older. Is this true? How do you involve younger sports fans in F1 activities?

The average age of an F1 fan globally is 45 years old but that varies by market. On average fans are older in Europe but are younger in emerging F1 markets such as China and the USA where the average age in only around 30 years old. A positive stat to share is that 62% of our new fans from the past 2 years have been aged under 35 (with over 40% of them under 25). This has been helped considerably by the new F1 innovations which I mentioned earlier (Netflix, esports, F1’s OTT product) which all over index amongst younger fans, and are having a significant impact on how the brand is perceived amongst the younger cohort.

How has COVID-19 affected your work and approaches to market research?

Obviously, it has had a huge impact on F1, which the business is taking a significant hit financially (mainly as a result of not having any fans at races). Therefore we have had to rethink our research and analytics budget this year and postpone and ‘nice to have’ projects until 2021 to protect the business through this difficult period. We have, therefore, instead focused on research to understand how F1 should safely return to action as well as trying to understand what fans will expect to see (in terms of safety measures) when we do see spectators return. We have also spent a significant amount of time focusing our studies on the impact of the virtual Grand Prix series on overall F1 fandom and perceptions of the sport. We are hopeful that next year will be closer to a normal year for us in the research team, and we can continue our range of research & analytics studies.

Formula 1 launched a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a record viewership. What are the key takeaways after the event?

We were very pleased with the success of the virtual series. In total, we had over 700m digital impressions and 95m video views globally for the series. Furthermore, 82% of the audience for the series were aged under 35 which is extremely important as it shows that esports is having a positive impact in bringing in a younger audience. We did a number of research pieces around the series and overall 91% of viewers rated the series as 8+ out of 10 with the majority agreeing with the statement that it was ‘exciting to watch’.

What does the future hold for Formula 1 in the post-pandemic period? What are your objectives for a few next years at Formula 1?

The future for the sport overall is very positive. We have just agreed new regulations for 2022 onwards, which should make the sport more exciting to watch. We have also recently launched a sustainability and diversity & inclusion strategy, which will help the sport become much more responsible. We have a great set of younger talented drivers so there is a lot to be positive about. In terms of my team, we will be branching much more into the analytical space to complement the research that we are doing at the moment. We really hope we can be the leaders in the sports market in this area over the next few years.

Were you an F1 fan before joining the company?

I was a casual fan. I knew what was happening in the sport week by week but probably only watched one race a year.

Can you give us a preview of your IT Arena talk?

I will be sharing a case study around how F1 has used wifi analytics and sensors to measure how fans behave when they attend our events. This is obviously a very fascinating topic post COVID as we welcome fans back to our races. We will want to know more than ever about how fans behave and also ensure we can keep them safe in the post-COVID era. Looking forward to sharing it with you.


Learn more about Matt and his upcoming talk.