OPINION: The 'New Wave' of F1

24 May 2017

By: Sport Industry Group

Aled Rees, MD, strategy & consultancy at CSM Sport & Entertainment, asks how a different type of Formula One (F1) fan could hold the key to the future of the sport…

Ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, the motorsport team at CSM Sport & Entertainment has identified six distinct fan segments within Formula 1, including one that is essential for the future health of the sport. 

Our research, which surveyed 18,000 people aged 16+ from 18 countries across the globe, has identified the ‘New Wave’, a segment of fans who, it seems, demand a different kind of relationship with F1.

Who are the ‘New Wave’?

The ‘New Wave’ represents around a third of fans (approximately 260m people). On balance, a typical ‘New Waver’ is younger (more than half are under 35), more likely to be female (M51%:F49% against an average fan base that is M60%) and wealthier (75% ABC1) than the average F1 fan. In summary, a sponsor’s and a marketer’s dream.

The segment is actively investing in F1 in terms of time as well as money. The good news for sponsors is that brands involved in F1 achieve strong cut-through: 42% claim to have become aware of a brand though F1 and 39% say they will consider a brand if they are a sponsor in F1.

However, the ‘New Wave’ is less likely to watch F1 on TV than other segments and is not a big consumer of F1 content on traditional or social media.

In fact, it seems that this segment sees F1 as more of a lifestyle brand than a sporting property, pointing to an opportunity for sponsors within the sport. As early adopters of new products, the ‘New Wave’ approach to life is to truly live it, actively seeking out new experiences and wanting to be part of the show.

As with all the segments, the ‘New Wave’ is present in all the 18 countries involved in our research. However, they ‘over-index’ in the USA as well as developing economies, including China, Thailand and, particularly, India.

What is the opportunity and what are the rules of engagement?

So, what can be done to attract people in the ‘New Wave’ and crucially, keep on attracting them? How does a sport keep the interest of a group of fans for whom the actual core content of the sport is of secondary importance?

It’s important to state that this isn’t a ‘millennial’ segment. Though the ‘New Wave’ reflect some similar behaviours it’s a mind-set not an age group. The ‘New Wave’ engages with F1 on its own terms. The research suggests that truly experiencing the sport of F1 at, and perhaps more importantly, away from the circuit is key for this segment. The ‘New Wave’ wants a different way of engaging with and even shaping F1.

The ‘New Wave’ appears to be the embodiment of the ‘experience economy’, the idea that experiences (often shared) and memories are more important than tangible products.

New races and new markets

On one level, Formula One Group (FOG) could consider locating new Grands Prix in countries where there are more of the ‘New Wave’. FOG has been quite open about its goal to increase the number of races in the USA, which our research supports. Given the heavy over-indexing in India, it’s clear that the sub-continent remains fertile ground for F1 in the (admittedly unlikely) event the issues in that market can be resolved.

Greater utilisation of digital channels and social media

F1 is currently playing a bit of catch up with other sports when it comes to digital and social engagement with fans. We’ve already seen steps taken to narrow this gap, but it will take a little longer to truly make an impact.

According to Jason Steele, senior director, content & social, CSM Sport & Entertainment, the early signs are encouraging, but there’s some way to go: “We have seen FOG casting off the shackles and starting to really embrace the digital and social media worlds, but work is still needed to truly understand what will resonate with the ‘New Wave’. This could be a season long ‘test and learn’ with content themes and formats, understanding the segment’s passion points, engaging with key influencers and opinion leaders will help broaden the fan base and build stronger engagement.”

He goes on: “We can expect the full inventory of new technologies: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR); eSports; and the use of fan data to deliver tailored experiences, but there is a risk that if F1 becomes too focused on the sporting side, it may alienate a large portion of the ‘New Wave’.”

However, the research suggests that taken in isolation, a strong plan for content and social media won’t be enough to quench the thirst of the ‘New Wave’. 

The live experience and working closer with brands

On another level the notion that fandom for many leads towards direct and personal experiences seems particularly true for this segment. To make an analogy with music, the ‘New Wave’ is very likely to be found at a festival or a live gig as well as listening to music at home. Both are relevant of course, but the ‘New Wave’ craves the authenticity of a live experience, particularly one that can be shared with others. And it’s this experience that keeps the ‘New Wave’ interested and engaged not least because there is more emotional involvement.

Translate this to the world of F1 and it makes sense to offer more in the way of potential experiences to the ‘New Wave’. Not everyone can get to a race of course but F1-related experiences shouldn’t be confined to the circuit. Fan zones, concerts, events of all kinds could be run to coincide with each Grand Prix and could extend beyond the city where the race is taking place. It’s crucial that this doesn’t feel too stage-managed or contrived as the ‘New Wave’ has a strong ‘authenticity filter’.

Which leads us to perhaps the biggest and most rewarding opportunity for the rights holders within the sport: working even closer with and leveraging sponsor programmes to partner in delivering this ‘authentic’ experience.

As noted earlier, our research suggests quite strongly that the sponsor brands are the gatekeepers to the sport for most of our ‘New Wave’. The fan zone and concerts among other largely unrealised activations at the circuit as well as city centre takeovers, on/off trade partnerships, content capture and experiences away from the circuit, will all help deliver that immersive ‘F1 lifestyle’ our ‘New Wave’ desire.

Some brands are already active in this space. The ‘Johnnie Walker F1 Pop-Up Bar’ gets its first outing at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and will be at a number of races throughout the season, while the MARTINI Terrazza has been a feature of the F1 scene for several years now.

We also saw in Barcelona that FOG are serious about improving the at-track experience for fans. Fan engagement was among the highest seen at that race with interactive and engaging F1, team and lifestyle related activations. To make this even better they need brands to bring their equity and ideas to the table – the scope is huge. It won’t be long until we see more opportunities opening up away from the track as well, in host city centres and areas with high footfall. Prime real estate for the ‘New Wave’.

What next?

All those involved in F1 must proactively set out to understand the ‘New Wave’ and figure out creative ways to influence and engage. Everything must be up for grabs.

Failure to do this or a reliance on the tried and trusted will almost certainly result in the ‘New Wave’ drifting away from F1 with potentially damaging consequences.

However, get it right and the future prosperity of the sport for rights holders, sponsors and fans is assured.


  • CSM Global Sports Fan Survey: 18,000 people aged 16+ surveyed
  • 18 countries: Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain, UK, USA, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, UAE and Thailand
  • Survey explored fandom for 48 sports and 137 tournaments and events
  • It looked at fan purchase behaviour for 83 different products and services across 10 categories, from consumer electronics to fashion to financial services
  • A focus area in our research was motorsport – 798 million Formula 1 fans in the 18 countries
  • The data provides robust and detailed information that will help us define the right sponsorship and activation opportunities for our clients and prospects.