If you hold a position larger than a specified threshold in a futures or options contract that is regulated by the CFTC, your clearing firm must report it and classify your position as either commercial or non-commercial (I prefer the clarity of the old “hedging vs speculative” language, but whatever). Futures traders have been tracking these reports for years, but I’m not aware of any studies that analyze the history of VIX futures commitments, with the exception of a comment from Jason Goepfert back in June 2009.
If you insist on the existence of “the smart money,” I can’t think of a better group of candidates than firms and individuals with reportable VIX futures positions (pictured). So it’s probably worth looking into whether changes in the commitments of VIX futures traders bear any meaningful relationship to subsequent market returns, volatility, etc. I’m freely publishing this awesome research idea because I’ve been meaning to follow up on it for some time, and still haven’t.
Historical COT reports are available here. If anyone does the legwork and finds something interesting, I’m happy to provide space here to publish the results.