It is undeniable that digital media and streaming services are becoming a prevalent part of people’s daily routines and consumption habits in today’s society. Sports organizations and leagues are looking to capitalize through these mediums as new ways of engaging new and existing fans.
Engaging fans through streaming and social media has become a key strategy of most, if not all sports teams and organizations in this emerging digital age. This new form of engagement and its importance has only been heightened since the Covid-19 pandemic, as teams and leagues had to find new ways to connect with and create positive fan experiences for their supporters, all in a virtual setting.
The Power of Gen-Z in the Digital Age
The answer to successful digital engagement and the lifeline of organizations’ success in digital outreach and marketing runs directly through Generation Z. Gen-Z is often criticized for an over-obsession of social media, having short attention spans, being lazier, etc., so why are they the key to prosperous digital outreach and engagement? In their study, Trifecta Research found that teens are consuming media through Netflix and YouTube approximately 59% of the time, compared to just 29% of their media consumption through traditional television. This statistic is a perfect representation of the new trend and shift from traditional media sources such as television to streaming platforms and alternative forms of media.
The importance of attracting these younger audiences is paramount for the success of the sport and individual teams. By attracting new audiences and demographics, organizations allow themselves to build a sustainable and growing fanbase for the future. It is very relevant to engage Gen-Z and younger demographics now, as they have some of the strongest purchasing power as consumers both in the present day and for the future. Research dating back to 2018 found that Generation Z’s direct and indirect spending power reached up to $143 billion, which continues to grow. This extensive command and influence over any market is why it is vital to engage Gen-Z, and new media and streaming services are a perfect way to do so.
Formula 1 and Netflix’s Partnership
A prime example of new media and streaming services having a substantial positive impact on a sport is Formula 1’s partnership with Netflix to create the series Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Prior to the series release in 2019, it was fair to assess that Formula 1 was a struggling sport and in financial turmoil. Many headlines surrounding the sport were discouraging and covered issues of an aging fanbase, lack of representation in the United States, and even questions on whether or not the sport was dying. Many in the sport and surrounding it feared for its longevity for a multitude of reasons, including a lack of younger fans and representation, the difficulty of attracting new fans and retaining their attention because of long race and event times, declining engagement, a lack of fandom in large markets such as the United States, and the plain fact that F1 is one of the most expensive sports in the world.
Popular Streaming Service Aids the Sport
In dire need of engaging new fans and demographics, Formula 1 turned to the streaming service, Netflix, to boost its popularity and generate further brand awareness around the globe.
For first-time viewers, this was an extremely appealing way of engaging with the sport, as the series both entertained and educated audiences of all kinds, and was accessible through a convenient and popular media service. Formula One was able to engage and draw in an audience of individuals who have never interacted with the sport, because of the unique way its content was displayed across this medium.
Why this Form of Fan Engagement so Successful
The series did not just yield positive results for both the sport and Netflix by accident, as there is a multitude of reasons why using a streaming service and new media is an efficient way of engaging fans and growing a fanbase. The popularity of streaming platforms such as Netflix is a major reason why this project was successful, as Netflix’s large consumer base generated an overwhelming amount of awareness and exposure to the sport. In addition to entertainment, the educational factor also is a key contributor in retaining fans. Sure, it’s beneficial to provide content that entertains new markets of fans, but by educating them throughout the process, fans are able to walk away from their experience with a greater knowledge of the sport and subsequently, more of a reason to follow the sport and consume its content.
One aspect that Formula 1 and Netflix worked together to highlight throughout the series was driver interviews and interactions. By following the athletes around in their personal lives, interviewing them about races and key events, and even using footage and recordings directly from the car during the race, the series was able to humanize the drivers. This humanization helped build a more personal connection between fans and their favorite drivers; this effect and result is another example of the benefits of fan engagement through streaming and social media which is difficult to achieve through most other forms of engagement.
Additionally, this form of media provides intriguing behind-the-scenes events, storylines, and emotions in the sport that casual viewers may not even be aware of. This helps bring depth to the sport and is just one more way to keep fans engaged and interested in the development of these events and storylines. Lastly, the series acts as a stepping stone for fans who desire to continue following the sport. The series (which has been renewed for more seasons) concluded in line with the next season of Formula 1, so viewers can hop right into watching races and following along live. The series prepares fans for a better viewing experience and that, included with the above reasons, is why this method of fan engagement has been extremely successful in engaging younger demographics, specifically between the ages of 16 and 35.
Athletes Buying Into the Process
A sizable portion of the success of interacting with fans through media and streaming platforms is the athletes themselves buying into the process and helping to further outreach. Many younger athletes, especially in F1, are savvy and understand how to connect with fans and build strong connections through social media and additional platforms such as Twitch. "F1 continues to benefit from its strategy of expanding its content offering—through additional peripheral and story-telling programming—which appeals to that 16–35-year-old market," said Nielson’s head of rights holder, Tom McCormack. "The current grid of young, social media savvy drivers, like Lando Norris, is helping to reach new consumers through platforms such as Twitch and YouTube." Since the docu-series release, many athletes such as Norris are capitalizing on the exposure from it to build a larger following and fanbase for not only the sport of Formula 1 but themselves. Whether they are playing the Formula 1 video game on Twitch or just interacting with fans over social media, drivers and teams are proactively building their fan bases as a result of the success of the Netflix series.
Quantitative Success of the Drive to Survive
Following its release and popularity, Formula 1: Drive to Survive has contributed tremendously to many encouraging figures for the sport. According to a Nielson forecast, Formula 1 has seen a 20% increase, gaining 73 million fans in ten of the territories the sport most wanted to expand into -- China, France, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, the U.K., South Korea, and the United States. Additionally, Nielsen also believes that due to “a trend of 1.1% monthly growth aggregated across these markets,” that F1 will reach a new peak of one billion fans by April of 2022. I myself have experienced a smaller and more personal example of the positive effects of the Netflix series in attracting new and younger fans. I began watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive with 10-15 friends and as a result, each of us is now following the sport and engaging with it to some degree; this is just a microcosm of the effect the series has had on the sport and how it has been extremely successful in bringing in new fans.
Integrating Pico to Maximize Fan Engagement
Although it is great to have a newfound, strong fanbase, F1, like many other sports, now faces the issue of identifying their anonymous fans and engaging them further. That’s where Pico and its cross-platform engagement can enable F1 to learn who is watching, engage with them further, and create the best possible fan experience for each individual.
A popular form of fan engagement that F1 utilizes is having fans vote in a poll for the “Driver of the Race'' during the race; why not take it a step further with a digital activation to engage them in a new way while learning more about them and own the first-party data.
Engaging younger audiences and bringing in new fans is vital in ensuring any sport’s current success and longevity. Formula 1’s adaptation and use of Netflix to gain exposure to the sport and bring in new fans, provides a perfect blueprint for other organizations and teams in their attempt to engage and in a sense, recruit new fans to the sport. Implementing digital activations to learn more about the fans and uncover “anonymous fans” is the next key step in optimizing and maximizing fan engagement. The educational yet exciting and entertaining format of the series has shown a strong residual positive impact and is proof that utilizing media and streaming is an effective method of connecting with fans.