Fan Experience Review: F1 Belgium GP
Last weekend, the Formulia 1 Belgium Grand Prix took place. At the sunny Belgian Ardennes, fans gathered to see their favorite drivers compete on one of the most difficult and historic tracks on the Formula 1 program. And where many fans gather, a perfect opportunity arises to engage fans and activate partnerships. Using my personally developed fan experience measurement system, I will provide an overview on some of the best activities in and around the fan zone.
The Spa circuit is known for being one of the best-looking tracks. Hidden in the Belgian Ardennes, it is a guarantee for a lot natural surroundings around the track. Fans made good use of this by climbing rocks and hills to get the best view on the race. And there where many fans gathered, the F1 organization logically placed food and beverage stands. The price per drink coin was with €3,50 quite expensive, but unfortunately that’s what happens when monopolies exist.
On the north side of the track, the Formula 1 organizers put a lot of effort in organizing an entertaining fan zone. Having visited many fan zones around the world, this one definitely made it to my personal top 3. Below I will explain why.
After arriving at the fan zone, the organizers took great care of signage, a crucial element of fan zones design. On key locations, there were sign posts placed directing fans to the many areas on the ground. Also, the welcoming banners were up at the entrance combined with some promotional messaging of the fan shops. This always gives a warm welcome to the visitors and is a relatively easy positive touch point to make.
By actively listening to fans and conducting market research, the organizers continuously work on improving the fan experience. This and other fan engagement activities (such as streaming services) have turned out to become moneymakers for F1. Branding and activating the sport and races has resulted in the biggest increased revenue share for F1 (in the table described as ‘other revenue sources’) in 2018. It shows that putting effort in a fan zone results in satisfied fans, which leads to in an increase in attendance which then results in increased revenues. It is therefore very economically logical to organize a great fan zone.
Fan zone overview
As the video shows, the fan zone housed many partnership activations and relaxing areas for fans to catch their breath. Partnerships with Heineken and Johnny Walker were activated on-site (of which Johhny Walker also is the race’s naming partner) and helped fans to cool off and were actively promoted. More about that later…
As a crucial part of the fan zone, the organizers set up a stage for public viewing. Different than most stadium-based team sports where you can always see the entire play-field, with Formula 1 you can never have a constant overview of the track. Therefore, the organizers facilitated the fans with many screens around the track helping them to follow the race when the drivers went out of sight. And for some reason, public viewing helps to create an inclusive event atmosphere and provides a great central location in any fan zone.
Formula 1 Fan TV
For obvious reasons, F1 Fan TV had a stage at the fan zone. Here, fans were invited for small interviews and could get the feel of being an actual Formula 1 TV reporter. This also provided great exposure for F1 tv as a product. This OTT-service is still quite unique in sports, and by giving it a spot on the fan zone it allowed fans to get introduced to it in a non-commercial way. It shows the innovative mind of F1 after also being one of the first sports organizations to have a dedicated show series on Netflix.
Fan fun games
Any fan zone organizer knows that fans need to be entertained on the moments when they take a small break from watching the sport or when it’s a full-day-event. Therefore, the organizers had put great care in organizing various F1-related activities. As concluded earlier, this does not only provide an entertainment service to your fans and improves the sports product, but in fact can result in increased revenues. Luckily, sports organizers tend to see fan zones now more as a long-term investment.
At the pitstop game, fans could test their own skills and compete against each other and time by changing wheels of a race car. It gave fans the opportunity to feel the weight of the gun, experience the difficulty of changing tires and to have their own personal experience of the intensity of the sport.
Closely following the esports trend, F1 had set up racing chairs and gaming pods. Not only did this provide fans something to do during the games and does it show the innovative nature of the organizer, but it also provides a perfect opportunity for sponsorships to occur. For example, where the official merchandising partner of F1 is Puma, F1 Esports has the opportunity to lock in additional sponsor deals as being a different sponsor property. Here, New Balance is the official clothing sponsor. This strategy is different than football, where clothing sponsor of the offline sport is mostly ‘cost-free’ being transferred to the online sport.
As an important service to the fans (and obviously as an important money-maker), the organizers took great care in strategically placing concession stands. Concession stands were distributed strategically resulting in rarely any queues, fast delivery and a satisfying experience. What also helps with F1 is that the sales of concessions aren’t concentrated to a small amount of time, as it is with sports like football. Als interesting is that they sold 0% beer. This is not only an increasingly popular drink and therefore a logical response to changing market needs, it also supports the promise ‘open to all’, for those moments that do ask for a beer to celebrate but not for alcohol.
An opportunity missed was that of using reusable cups. Where other sporting events and venues like cricket at Lord’s have adopted reusable cups, this fan zone still made use of disposable cups. Where F1 continues to build on its sustainability promise, this could definitely be something to be considered.
Heineken has build on a fantastic sports connection over the years. Since 1994, Heineken sponsors the UEFA Champions League and many other sports with the goal of becoming the preferred brand of beer among their core target; young male professional, talented, witty and connected to their friends. Heineken aims to inspire and motivate those people to step out of their comfort zones and embark on world adventures. Also the sponsorship with F1 ties into this promise and therefore can’t be missed on a fan zone like this.
Johnny Walker bars
Where Heineken tries to be the preferred beer brand for F1 fans, Johnny Walker tries to be the preferred whiskey brand. At the fan zone they created a bar at the center of the fan zone with direct view on the live stage. Also, they promoted the brand with a Johnny Walker statue at the entrance of the fan zone, were the naming partner of the race and actively promoted don’t-drink-and-drive to the fan zone visitors.
007 Bond in Motion
James Bond equals fighting bad guys, dating incredibly good looking women and…. driving fast cars. It was therefore only logical that at some point the James Bond franchise would team up with F1. After the success of their exhibition in London the 007-franchise and F1 teamed up to join on its European tour. With their F1 ticket, fans gained free access to the exhibition of Bond cars used in the movies. Next to the entrance, 007 Bond in Motion also sold an exclusive merchandising line of official F1 007 merchandise.
Belgian Air force
One of the most interesting activations didn’t came from any sponsor of a team or the F1, but from the Belgian Air force. It is no secret that fans of the F1 have a passion for high speeds and G-forces: some elements jet fighter pilots also have to endure. A few years ago, Red Bull already showed this overlap by letting one of their race cars compete against an F/A-18 Hornet (see video below). To personally experience the overlap and to recruit potential jet pilots, the Belgian Air force had set up a jet model and an information stand on what it means to be a jet fighter pilot. A very clever way of taking benefit of the overlap in target groups.
Overall the F1 Belgium Grand Prix Fan zone was a fantastic experience where the F1 had put great effort in organizing an engaging and entertaining fan zone. It shows that F1 believes that an outstanding event experience will support their overall strategy. It is therefore very strong evidence that team sports like football should continue to invest in their fan experience. Especially recurring events within the same venue like football, cricket, rugby and hockey could yield substantial benefits from having their fan experience on par.
Bas Schnater is an international consultant working for sports client around Europe. He consults on fan zone designs, data-driven marketing & fan engagement strategies. If you would like to get in touch, send an e-mail, a message on Twitter via @BasSchnater or visit the website for more information.