Formula One's big fan-based data project

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One of the ironies of Formula One is that -- for a sport dependent on the harvesting and analysis of data -- we have spent years ignoring one of the richest data sources we have: our fanbase.

Each car generates terabytes of data every race weekend, and by studying that data teams figure out how to improve their performances with each successive weekend. But only since the change of ownership has Formula One started to look at the fan as a rich source of data.

Between last year's Austrian Grand Prix and the end of the 2017 season, 18,000 racegoers opted in to post-event surveys on their F1 experience. Ticket-holders at every level from Paddock Club to General Admission were asked to rate their time at the race, and to feedback on proposed future fan entertainments.

"We found from that research that spectators at races in the main, they have a great time," said F1 Head of Research and Analytics Matt Roberts. "A good 97 percent say they have an enjoyable time, not many people say they have a bad time, but there were some improvement areas.

"A lot people say they don't know what time things are on; they don't know necessarily how to find their way round to the fan parks, finding signage, all those kinds of things that we maybe don't do as well as we could be doing."

WiFi-enabled tracking at eight grands prix this year will allow F1 to study the anonymised movements of anyone using WiFi on their phones.

"It's going to track how people move around the circuits," Robert said, "so we will know exactly what time people come in, what time they leave, which areas of the circuits they are accessing.

"We will know 'are they passing sponsor activations?, are they passing our activations?'. How long they spend in those activations. Are there any areas of the site that we are not maximising; can we put more merchants in some areas?"

Preliminary research has shown that fans tend to stay put in one general area when settled, Roberts said.

"People not moving around thing is interesting; in Austin ... a lot of people went sat in front of the fan forum because it had a big screen and they stayed there all day. They had their backs to the track, they weren't even looking at the track or the cars on the track.

"We found that quite fascinating; people do find their spot. At Austin we have one merchandise megastore, which was nowhere near where those guys were sat. For us, it has some implications about 'could we move some of those things closer to the fans?', rather than expecting that they'll walk around -- not everyone does."

Now that the sport has a centralised marketing department, research will be on-going. Improving the fan experience is a core element of Liberty's business plan, but so too is boosting the sport's attractiveness to sponsors and potential race hosts. Research is critical here, and thanks to an ongoing research project into sponsorship valuation helmed by Roberts, F1 now has the data to support its sponsorship value claims.

While F1 has traditionally boasted of the number of global eyeballs exposed to Formula One footage over the course of a calendar year, the sport can now provide its sponsors and partners with hard data relating to the timing and location of their brand exposure, with results split by region and weighted for cultural norms.

"What we do is research on the three markets," Roberts explained. "We show respondents actual footage from the race. The markets are UK, US and China. The different respondents see different types of footage from different brands.

"For example, one respondent might see footage of Gulf Air, another respondent might see footage with logo of a planted brand that doesn't really exist. Then all the respondents are asked about their brand: which sponsors did you see?

"If they say 'I saw Rolex', they are then asked, where did you see Rolex? And they're given an option of a number of different places where they could have seen Rolex. 'I saw it there and I saw it there'. If they don't get it right, we say that they didn't see it because you'll know Rolex, it's a big brand [linked with the sport] and you know that. So, it takes out that misattribution. They have to answer all these questions right to be considered someone who actually saw the brand.

"What we do after that is ask how you saw the brand, how much did that make you likely to consider that brand moving forward? We develop a consideration score and then we understand the quality of exposure. The findings that we had showed that at the first turn, grass signage was actually five times more effective than a static sign.

"The podium is actually half as effective as a static sign. LED is three times more effective than a static sign. You get all these different findings and those different boards have different values applied."

This season is but the beginning of F1's data project -- according to Roberts, the research team are currently working on "ten or fifteen big projects", with more in the pipeline.