CSM hopeful of bigger F1 role with Liberty arrival and prospect of more US races
By Simon Ward
There will be more opportunities for agencies in Formula 1 as a result of the recent takeover of the sport by US media giant Liberty Media, and CSM Sport & Entertainment is best-placed to take advantage of this, according to the UK-based company, which has a significant involvement in motor racing.
In January, Liberty completed its $4.4-billion acquisition of Formula 1, bringing to an end Bernie Ecclestone’s control of the commercial rights, which dated back four decades.
The new owner has since held talks with various agencies as it seeks to revive the profile of a series which has been losing viewers in recent years, in part by building the digital presence, an area that was neglected under the previous regime, which saw lucrative TV rights deals as the priority.
There are also plans to increase the number of Formula 1 races in USA from one at present to three or four.
CSM is confident of playing a significant part in the future development of Formula 1, where most business was previously conducted in-house, as its motorsports arm, previously known as JMI, is a major player in the field, and highly active in the US Nascar and IndyCar series.
In an interview with Sportcal at CSM’s base in Victoria in London, Matt Vandrau (pictured right), one of the agency’s co-chief executives, said: “I think we [agencies] are all hoping there is [more Formula 1 business]. I would say that the agency formerly known as JMI is the number one in that sphere.
“Their involvement has tended to be more around brands and teams. They did a little bit of stuff with Bernie when he allowed them to, but it has traditionally been a closed shop.
“Liberty have come on board and it’s an opportunity for a lot of agencies who are in discussions. We would hope that, given our leading position in motorsport, that there’s going to be a huge opportunity for us. We’re absolutely having conversations with the new management team there.”
Last month, CSM, a subsidiary of Chime Communications, itself now owned by USA’s Providence Equity Partners, announced a restructuring under which the 13 agencies that make up the group are being integrated under the umbrella name, and Vandrau and Jeff Shifrin (pictured left), a recent arrival from Octagon, have been installed as co-chief executives, below executive chairman Sebastian Coe.
The rebranded companies include JMI, the world’s largest motor sport marketing agency, which was acquired in 2013 for around £43.7 million (then $70.8 million).
In the Liberty era, CSM will hope to be able to make the most of its strong connections with Formula 1.
Zak Brown, its former chief executive and the founder of JMI, is now the executive director of the McLaren team, while Sean Bratches, Formula 1’s new managing director of commercial opportunities, was a member of a global advisory board appointed by CSM last March to guide the agency on its performance and growth plans.
The prospect of additional US rounds, on top of the existing US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, is also stimulating for CSM.
Vandrau said: “There’s talk of three or four races in the States, which certainly from our US perspective, would be ideal. [There’s also] something Bernie’s never focused on – the whole digital side of F1 – which is going to throw up some great opportunities I think.”
Unveiling Liberty’s plans for Formula 1 in January, Chase Carey, the sport’s chairman and chief executive, said he wanted grands prix to become “bigger and better,“ with “more engaging, more exciting” race days, and highlighted a desire to increase the exposure of the sport in USA.
He said this could include a street race in a major city such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami or Las Vegas.
Asked if he thought there was space for an expansion of Formula 1’s presence in North America, Shifrin said: “I think so because for the US it will be new. The US likes new. Nascar still has a pretty ardent following, and people will follow F1 also.
“If it [the race] is in your city or within driving distance to your city, I think it will do very well and also the US has a tough time with the different time zones that the races [in other markets] happen in.
“If you have a race in New York and a race in LA and a race in Chicago or wherever they’re looking to put it, obviously the time zones are going to work for television for the US whereas 90 per cent of the time the races don’t work.
“The US market is so competitive, it’s tough enough in the right time zone. When you’re in the wrong time zone it’s almost impossible to get people to focus on it. I can’t wait. I hope these guys [Liberty] figure it out and figure it out fast, and let’s get some more races in the US.”
In the new set-up at CSM, Shifrin will focus on the North American market, where the agency has recently expanded from 80 to 400 staff, in part through the acquisition last October of LeadDog, the New York-based experiential marketing company, which is to retain its individual identity while the parent brand establishes itself in USA.