Putting fans first in F1

Ian PageI’m a Williams fan, and for my sins I get press releases from them on a wide range of subjects.  From race performance to commercial ventures and everything in between. Earlier in the week, I got one through entitled “Fast Start for Williams in New Fan Engagement Campaign” and it got me thinking about “fan engagement” as we approach the final few races in Liberty’s first year in charge of the sport.

As a fan of the sport and one who has tried – and continues tries to – engage with the sport on many levels, this subject is something I deem very important and have touched on how important I feel this is in my previous articles, because as with every sport, without fans, sport is nothing.

Compared to the difficult and costly world of FOM under Ecclestone, Liberty has breathed new life into the sport and really it has started with Liberty allowing teams to reach out to their fans far more than ever before, allowing teams to create content for their fans in a number of ways.

Relaxed social media rules mean that fans can get a better glimpse of the sport across all platforms. Not only has this been reflected in F1 itself with endless videos stories, small clips of sessions and interviews across the race weekend and opportunities to view diver briefings and other behind the scenes footage but in the teams as well.

Red Bull are providing videos and tutorials from their race day control centre or from the garage, something that was previously not allowed.  Mercedes , in particular Lewis Hamilton, who has really harnessed the power of social media, provided his 4.9 million Instagram followers with videos from inside the Mercedes garage during pre-season testing – even from him sitting inside the car – allowing fans to see and get a feel for what it’s like to be sitting in an F1 car waiting to pull out.

We don’t just have to look at pictures of Rita Ora all the time!

Events such as the recent F1 Live in London are hugely important and proved to be a great success. I attended the event and I can say (aside from proposing to my now-wife at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2015…) was hands down the best F1 experience I have had.  An opportunity to see cars in action and so close-up, with the sound and feel, along with interacting and meeting all (but one) of the drivers was something I won’t forget.  I’ve been lucky enough to see F1 cars in action before but to see other fans who might be experiencing F1 for the first time or people who otherwise wouldn’t  be interested in the sport enjoy the experience was great.

Being able to tap into new fans, fans on the fringes and fans other than the mega rich is vital to the success of the sport.  In F1, Liberty has a global brand with a huge interest and demand and it seems bizarre not to pimp it out to the masses.

The sport had started the F1 Experiences iniative, allowing fans to experience tailor-made VIP experiences during race weekend.   Although still rather expensive, this does allow fans a chance to engage with a world and experience something that in previous years would be totally off the record.

With Liberty exercising greater freedom, of course teams follow.  Following Williams, I get emails regarding competitions and opportunities to take part in experiences with the team.  They have had a big presence in motorsport events such as the Autosport show in Birmingham, allowing fans to have a tour of the motorhome used at race weekends. This has increased Williams fan base by 600% into 140 countries and to the tune of 57 million fans.

I also get similar content from Red Bull and Mercedes, all helping me to really feel part of the sport and this in turn means I’m more willing to give back to it.

I write for blogs like this because not only do I have a passion for Formula 1 and I enjoy writing about it, but because I want to interact with the sport and to be able to be part of it.  I want to go behind the scenes; I want to feel what people who are lucky enough to work in the sport feel.  Otherwise I’m following and writing about something I can’t relate to.  Why invest my time and emotion into something, if it makes me feel like I’m a nuisance?

Results from a fan survey carried out this year show that 84.2% of fans that participated in the exercise believed Formula 1 is now the pinnacle of Motorsport, this is up 44% from 2015. This shows we are beginning to head in the right direction, something that I feel fan engagement is responsible for aiding.  Simply put, if you feel part of something, you are more likely to sing its praises.

Although young fans primarily use social media to follow races, TV is still hugely important, with 40% of fans who took part not bothering with races because they are on Pay TV only: this has increased the decline in the sport’s popularity since 2010. Viewing figures on terrestrial TV has declined by 25%.

Liberty has taken heed of this with the recently announced deal with the free-to-air French channel TF1 to screen four GPs next season.  In the UK there is a similar thing with broadcaster Channel 4, and although in my opinion there is still much more room for improvement, it is at least showing some willing to take note of fans opinions.

For such a business savvy man, it baffles me why Bernie never really embraced the engagement aspect of things.  It could be argued that social media hadn’t really exploded until the end of his time, and that maybe he understood the power of what he was selling, so knew that no matter what people would buy into it at the highest price.  That’s why he is there and I’m here I guess!

…But then it was always Bernie’s way or no way at all. As a fan, I’m so glad Liberty haven’t taken the same approach.


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