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How Fans Are Accelerating the Digitization of F1 and Motorsport

There is an increasing awareness of how technology is transforming multiple industries. After learning how Real Madrid was rising to the challenge of engaging with 500 million fans, I turned my attention to the world of Motorsport and F1 to learn more about the impact it's having on the sport.

How do you know exactly what fans of your sport want? Where do they access all of your content and on what devices? You ask them. This is precisely what the Formula 1 Global Fan Survey set out to achieve. The good news was that fans from all over the world are optimistic about the future of their favorite sport.

I caught up with Motorsport Network CEO, Colin Smith to discuss the challenges of broadcasting sport to fans across a myriad of devices. We also discuss what they learned by launching a global survey for their fans.

NH: You reached out directly to your community in 15 languages and 194 countries in a Formula 1 global fan survey. Can you expand on what you learned?

CS: Like any industry, Formula 1 has entered a digital age of change. Data from our 2017 survey revealed that our fans were becoming more diverse and much younger. We were also delighted to find that we had more female respondents than ever before.

One of the biggest challenges we discovered from the survey was that a lack of free-to-air television coverage was having a detrimental effect on our following. The most significant change since our 2015 survey was that people were now watching less sport.

NH: Was there anything that pleasantly surprised you?

CS: The percentage of fans who passionately described Formula 1 as ‘exciting’ tripled. Understandably, we were delighted with this discovery. Interesting, we also learned that Mercedes-AMG was the most popular team in the UK, but ironically, not in its home market of Germany.

Elsewhere, Red Bull’s young star Max Verstappen was much more popular with fans over the age of 45 than the 16-24 age bracket. The results of the entire survey provided some fascinating insights.

NH: Traditional TV viewing is on the decline and being replaced by streaming entertainment across a myriad of devices. Now that viewing habits have changed, how have you evolved with these cord-cutting trends?

CS: started as a traditional cable network across Europe, but for its global growth we are in the process of launching over-the-top content (OTT). This is a wide range of audio, video, and other media content that is delivered over the Internet.

Our team is focussed on a range of initiatives that will give fans more of what they want, when they want it and seamlessly across a device of their choosing with a linear and direct-to-consumer offering.

NH: What are the most significant challenges and opportunities facing motorsport in the emerging digital marketplace to secure your future growth?

CS: We are monitoring tech and industry trends very closely. Thankfully, our approach appears to be working with over 172 million monthly page views across the Motorsport Network. One of our biggest strengths is the global nature of what we do. We work with 81 countries in 17 different languages with the best motorsport journalist talent across the world.

However, we are incredibly mindful of how the automotive industry is evolving. It is crucial that we continue to encourage and provide excitement to young fans about cars and racing. We must never lose sight of the fact that young fans are our readers of tomorrow.

NH: When approaching the digital transformation of F1, where do you begin to engage with emerging digital audiences in both existing and new markets throughout the world?

CS: The F1 Global Fan survey confirmed that mobile content is now preferred in developing markets. All of our content must be mobile friendly. We are also consciously developing our apps and social media content with this mobile-first mindset.

NH: Real Madrid football club revealed how they became the first brand to reach 100 million likes on Facebook. The NFL is also undergoing a digital transformation too. Do you think that the entire sporting industry is taking digital landscape much more seriously?

CS: There is an argument that many of the key players in the industry have been slow to act in recent years. But changes in the ownership at Formula 1 a few years ago quickly ensured that digital became a priority. Traditionally, the F1 business model was geared towards selling content to TV networks and licensing markets.

The internet changed all that forever. Geographical borders and walled gardens in the media landscape have been torn down. So the big question that all sports are facing is how do you leap to digital delivering your content but still maintaining and growing your revenues?

NH: Do you think that removing pain points and simplifying steps are the secret ingredients of any digital transformation?

CS: You have to tear down those traditional barriers of entry to enable fans to access the content they want. We’re continuously developing our platforms and adding free tiers where fans can get the latest news. But we also encourage upgrading to premium levels through our packages at Prime or Autosport Plus where fans can access additional insights into the sport they love.

Our Swiss site a great example of the difference we can make through digital. In Switzerland, German, French and Italian are the most used languages. Armed with this information enabled us to ensure that the Swiss edition of our sites is available in all three languages. By hyper-serving our niche markets we can dramatically increase our global audience.

The digital transformation of all sports seems to be gathering pace, and I feel compelled to explore more examples of the impact technology is creating both challenges and opportunities. You can listen to the full interview with Motorsport Network CEO Colin Smith by clicking on the link below. 

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