How local knowledge and data are keys to F1 growth in Asia

As Formula 1 seeks to grow its Asian fanbase, the combination of hard data and local expertise will be key triggers for future growth, says Nielsen Sports, who are working with Sahara Force India partners W66.

Nielsen Sports are known for their in-depth sports research, including but not limited to annual reports on the state of affairs in motorsport: fan engagement, demographics, exposure… If there’s a need for hard data, odds are they can supply it.

Which is why, when new Sahara Force India sponsors W66 elected to boost their global brand profile through motorsport sponsorship – having previously sponsored the Macau Grand Prix – they turned to Nielsen Sports to ensure they were making the most of their investments.

Sergio Perez, Force India VJM11
Sergio Perez, Force India VJM11

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

“The W66 partnership is really interesting for us, because it's probably a showcase of the wider trend in China,” said Guy Port, Nielsen Sports’ Managing Director (Asia). “You have got a really significantly growing market, investing in sports marketing. It’s one of the key pillars of their activity. Now they’re investing in sponsorship, not only domestically but very much around the world. 

“Over the years a lot of bad decisions have been made without insight,” Port continued. “They’ve been made off gut feel and relationships out there in the markets. We’ve really started to see a change in the sophistication of the brand activities, who are aligning more to what you'd expect from a brand in Europe or North America or Australia. 

“[Companies] are starting to lean on us and other data types to really start putting some justification and objective independent data behind their decision-making sponsorship, to understand everything before they go into a partnership, improving performance in ROI.”

Pre-race activities on the grid
Pre-race activities on the Chinese GP grid

Photo by: Sutton Images

ROI was a key driver of W66’s interest in motorsport investment, explained David G. Morris,Head of Operation, W66.

“There are few considerations that come into when choosing Formula 1 as sponsorship partner,” said Morris. “Formula 1 has wide coverage and the healthy image throughout the sports industry, especially the dramatic growth of F1 from the past two years. Since the Liberty Media takeover of the business, the races have been seen through multi-channel broadcasting and has a bigger influence than before. 

“One of the significant changes is that [China’s] CCTV are re-broadcasting the F1 races again after five years. This could help W66 in order to improve brand value – not only limited in Asia but worldwide – and also to increase the opportunity for multi-channel advertising.”

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1, at the drivers parade
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG F1, at the Chinese GP drivers parade

Photo by: Andrew Hone / LAT Images

Having decided to sponsor Force India, W66 turned to Nielsen Sports to improve their awareness of F1 and of F1 sponsorship and marketing opportunities.

“Once [W66] became involved, they really wanted to lean on us to say, ‘okay, we are in this partnership. Let’s learn a lot more around F1,’” Port said. “That includes everything from understanding how people view F1 around the world, which will help inform their marketing strategies: who are they? where are they? how many of them are they? how they behave, down to understanding the most effective branding and integration for their brand.

“Our role is to sit in the market as a somewhat independent player,” he continued. “We provide data and research and advisory service to the brand and properties to better understand their investment and sponsorship.” 

Young fans in a garage
Young fans in a garage

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

Key territory under new ownership

As Formula 1 is seeking to expand its global reach under the sport’s new owners – with recent announcements of three new regional broadcasting deals in China alone – the Asian market is a key territory.

And W66’s expertise of selling to the Asian market – the entertainment hub offers online gaming and hospitality services as part of its wide portfolio – will prove to be beneficial as expansion plans gather apace.

“The Sahara Force India F1 team has the idea to expand the Asian market, especially the Chinese market,” explained Morris. “In this case, the two sides can share their knowledge and advantages with each other to achieve their common goal effectively. 

“For W66, we can utilize the partnership rights to bring their clients different kinds of luxury experiences, such as personal invitations from the drivers. More clients can personally feel the unique culture of F1 and experience the VIP Paddock Club.

“For the digital promotion, there are many online activities for fans – for example, drivers will record videos and [do meet-and-greets] with W66 clients and fans. Besides that, the official W66 Weibo and WeChat [accounts] will run team updates.” 

Esteban Ocon, Force India VJM11, Lance Stroll, Williams FW41 and  Sergio Perez, Force India VJM11
Esteban Ocon, Force India VJM11, Lance Stroll, Williams FW41 and Sergio Perez, Force India VJM11

Photo by: Sutton Images

Engaging Chinese fans on social media has long been a problem for F1 teams, as traditional methods of online communication are officially blocked by the Great Firewall of China, and the largely European teams are not au fait with Weibo and WeChat. 

As the sport continues to try and grow its Asian fanbase, partnerships with local firms are going to become ever more important. 

Support for Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1
Support for Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1, at the Chinese GP

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

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Series Formula 1
Article type Analysis