F1 celebrates its 1,000th Grand Prix this weekend, an iconic moment in motorsport history. For almost 70 years, F1 has been the pinnacle of racing – the ultimate battle between man and machine. The 1000th Grand Prix is an opportunity to not only celebrate the long heritage of F1 but also to look forward to what the future of the sport might look like.
We’ve had the privilege to be part of F1 since 2012, and during this time, we’ve seen first-hand – and played a big part in – the sport’s transformation. Together with Formula 1, we’ve tested in action technologies such as live 360-degree and Ultra High Definition video, and – through the F1 Innovation Prize – explored how the Internet of Things and augmented and virtual reality could pave the way for more powerful, immersive viewing experiences.
Over the course of the last seven F1 seasons, we’ve also witnessed a shift in how fans engage with F1 and their favourite drivers: Formula 1 has embraced digital platforms to grow and make each race even more powerful for fans. They’ve innovated with new content on and off the track, from the recent critically acclaimed Netflix documentary Formula 1: Drive to Survive to Twitter Live shows and F1 festivals.
Up close and personal
During the race this Sunday, you will see a huge variety of people coming together at the Shanghai International Circuit, as well as homes and bars thousands of miles away. Some are keenly placing bets on the outcome on their phones, while others are busy discussing tyre strategies or the potential of the rookies. Some might not want to watch every moment of the race, but they enjoy the glamour of F1 and seeing what stars like Lewis get up to on Instagram. In short, what interests someone, might not captivate the other.
That is why in F1 and in any other sport, customisation is becoming crucial, taking into consideration the ways in which different fans consume and interact with it. This is where digital advancements like AR and big data analytics could make a big difference. For example, an AR app with highly interactive, real-time data analytics could make the most technical aspects of motorsports more accessible for racing newbies, which in turn would help convert casual viewers into die-hard fans. Wearable IoT-enabled devices that monitor the drivers’ heart rates could provide an interesting addition to the Grand Prix experience too. The NFL already uses RFID tags in players’ shoulder pads to track their movements, partly to assist coaching staff but also to provide extra information on the players’ movements for fans watching the game.
Wearables worn by fans could also complement F1 races and other major live sporting events by interacting with beacons to trigger location-based experiences on their smartphones. So, this would allow fans to order food to their seats as well as access maps of the venue and find their way back to their parking spot – making the whole experience more seamless.
Banking on digital platforms
Our recent “Show Me the Money!” report explores the evolution of the fan experience in the world of sports. It looks at the potential of digital advancements like online streaming, eSports, social media, VR apps, and so on, to become the new revenue drivers for global sports like F1 – alongside more traditional revenue generators like media rights, event attendance, sponsorship and merchandising.
Not only do new innovative services and platforms help grow sports’ global viewership in terms of volume, they can also boost engagement among fans, creating a more compelling value-proposition for sponsors and advertisers.
However, all traditional and digital platforms should complement one another. To illustrate, broadcasters are increasingly using social platforms to enhance the content on subscription-based/cable TV. Sometimes this could even mean making a highly bankable sporting event, such as the last race of the season, available for free on YouTube. It may sound counter-productive, but it could be a smart business move, as doing so will attract more eyeballs, which will effectively help sell next year’s TV or app subscriptions.
As the world of sports and entertainment continues to be disrupted by digital innovation, the key to success will be how the viewing experience can be augmented for fans, and how fans can be brought the entertainment they crave in different ways. If the experience – on TV, at the circuit, stadium or on digital platforms – takes the viewing experience to the next level for fans, they will feel truly connected to the sport and its stars.
F1’s digital strategy is all about building those emotional connections. The sport’s digital chief Frank Arthofer describes it well in “Show Me the Money!”: “Underdog stories, rivalries… shining a light on these stories makes fans engage more deeply, as they can better identify with key individuals within the sport. Our always-on digital strategy gives us an opportunity to build emotional interactions with people that are invaluable.”
Emotionally charged digital strategies like F1’s could drive new revenue streams for all kinds of sports. Simply put, if fans feel emotionally connected and engaged with a sport, they are more likely to pay to see a match on a streaming platform or live at the venue, and buy merchandise.
F1 has been at the forefront of technology and innovation for 1,000 Grands Prix. Now, its digital ambition is creating more powerful, immersive and unforgettable experiences for fans worldwide – and unleashing new opportunities for its global growth. It’s an exhilarating time to be an F1 fan and to be part of F1’s transformation journey as the sport’s technology partner.
Read more about the digital future of global sports in our “Show Me the Money!” industry report.
Tata Communications was the Official Connectivity Provider of Formula 1® between 2012 and 2019. Tata Communications was also the Official Managed Connectivity Supplier to Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, and Official Digital Transformation Partner to ROKiT Williams Racing until the end of the 2019 season.