F1 myth busting: Is sponsorship simply logos and champagne?
Paul Gandolfi, Partnership Development Director at CSM Sport & Entertainment, takes a look at the evolution of F1 sponsorship – from branding and hospitality to performance marketing and storytelling
As a kid, I grew up watching cars race.
Inside, I had posters on my wall. Outside, I’d watch them roll around the streets of Monaco. Boasting big brand logos, gleaming in the sunshine, speeding around a track adorned by yachts and exquisitely dressed individuals.
For decades, Formula 1 has been perceived as an unquestionably elitist sport.
A sport that hasn’t evolved at quite the same pace as new marketing strategies, audiences and consumption habits.
A sport that hasn’t shied away from the glaring truth that the size of your wallet determines the placement and size of your brand’s logo, or the number of guests you can get into the paddock.
With races in 21 countries and over 600 million fans globally, you could be forgiven for opting to spend your hard-earned marketing budget on a simple brand play in Formula 1.
Indeed, the title sponsorship of a Formula 1 team, which can include naming rights and livery change, is a rare asset in the world of sponsorship – and one that can undeniably do wonders from a brand awareness point of view. Many brands have benefitted from this in the past, and even today, with the likes of RoKit at Williams and Rich Energy at Haas.
Nevertheless, for the majority of businesses today, the traditional F1 sponsorship formula of logos and hospitality no longer provides sufficient arsenal to survive the battle of brands, beyond the track.
Senior marketeers are out to win the sponsorship race – and they are demanding more.
More progressive asset classes. More performance-led strategy. More creativity.
This is where Formula 1 has historically struggled.
For many years the lights were out, and F1’s sponsorship offering was stalled on the grid, while other more dynamic sporting platforms took off into the distance.
But is this still the case?
Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport, in 2017, was a breath of fresh air. Shaking up the sport was the aim of the game and lifting the veil of secrecy for fans – pivoting from exclusivity to inclusivity – was priority #1.
Liberty increased fan access both on a physical level – by expanding into new race markets and launching fan festivals in major cities – and on a digital level, dialling up media exposure, and exploding into the 21st century world of social and OTT platforms.
“What we acquired was a hard, true motorsport company. And what we’re trying to do is to pivot this to a media and entertainment brand with the heart and soul of a race car driver at the middle of it” – Sean Bratches, MD of Commercial Operations at Formula 1.
American sports have done this incredibly well. If we take the NBA and the NFL as examples – by creating a media and entertainment proposition, the sport extends into other passion points such as music and fashion thus, reaching new audiences beyond traditional sport fans.
All great news for fans. But what does this mean for brands considering F1 sponsorship?
Quite simply – a new audience to sell to, and new mediums to sell through.
Opening up digital access to the sport, and dialling up the experiential element, has opened up the floodgates to a new wave of F1 fans.
F1’s social media footprint is growing fast – with a 53% year on year increase in followers of official F1 channels. That’s 289k new Instagram followers per month and 169k new Twitter followers in the last six months.*
With new channels, F1 is able to build an emotional connection with the consumer, through rich content and memorable experiences.
The range of asset classes available to F1 sponsors has increased exponentially.
Fan festivals in city centres have provided brands with the opportunity to be a part of the build-up to the race – extending the F1 weekend and sponsorship opportunities, beyond the track and into the entertainment arena.
With F1 claiming that they want their race season to evolve into ‘21 Super Bowls’, the pull of not one, but multiple ‘F1-remixed’ post-race shows could be significant for brands wanting to engage with consumers at through their passion point.
But what about B2B-oriented brands?
Back on the track – the increasing number of value-in-kind (VIK) partnerships have provided a phenomenal platform for brands to demonstrate their capabilities. Indeed, Formula 1 is undeniably one of the most technologically advanced and progressive sports in the world – with the teams functioning at the pinnacle of advanced engineering and human performance.
There are 400 sensors and sensing modules on each car, 50,000 channels of data under analysis from one F1 car during a qualifying lap, 7bn data points across a team’s operations during a GP weekend, and 250GB of data transmitted between the track and HQ during a Grand Prix.**
Enlisting the resource of pioneering tech brands as partners – whether it be telemetry, data storage, IOT or cyber security – ensures that the colossal F1 operation continues to run smoothly and safely, keeping teams ahead of the technology curve, whilst also showcasing the partnering brands’ stories to the watching world.
The opportunity to be a part of the winning mechanics is where the technical element of a VIK partnership becomes incredibly powerful for a brand.
In addition to this, such partnerships can also potentially offer a seat at the table of a wider OEM group, for further product integration.
Entering F1 as a showcase and proof of concept can provide accelerated access to global OEM procurement teams – with line of sight over supply and purchasing, as well as RFPs and RFIs that could lead to significant new revenue streams for a partner – dwarfing initial sponsorship investment and providing very healthy ROI.
One should note that the knowledge transfer within a partnership can flow both ways.
Teams can also monetise their operational expertise within partnership offerings – working alongside brands in a consultative manner, to cultivate more agile, focused and innovative ways of working.
A fantastic example of this is Williams Racing and Unilever’s successful synergy programme – which embedded the best of Williams’ performance culture and technical expertise in to Unilever’s supply chain. The result? Internally, the programme created a more excited and engaged workforce – delivering a huge increase in productivity and efficiency throughout the organisation. Externally, the synergy message created a buzz in the media and trade, through driving experiences and media activations.
But lest we forget the socio-economic objectives of a business…
Although F1 may not have historically been an obvious choice to fulfil such objectives, there is tremendous room in today’s sponsorship landscape for teams to be bold and original in their collaborative effort to support social causes – creating deeper and more meaningful partnerships.
F1 teams work very closely with S.T.E.M organisations, and there are numerous opportunities for brands to be headline partners of initiatives such as engineer exchange programmes – providing work placements at leading F1 teams – or utilise assets such as driver or CTO appearances to carry out talks to aspiring engineers.
So – what does the future of F1 sponsorship look like?
In one word? Storytelling.
In the new world of F1 sponsorship, brands have the power to tell their own story, their own way. Those that have the imagination to look beyond the traditional asset classes – maximising on the creative freedom that the ever-expanding contemporary platforms afford – will undoubtedly be those that see greatest success.
The role of F1 teams? Re-evaluate their offerings to capitalise on this growing hunger for new collateral and access. With a wealth of unexplored – and uncommercialised – content archives, it’s about time the teams started appreciating the inherent value of revealing their own unique stories.
So – you think F1 sponsorship is simply logos and champagne?
Come join us at a race, we’ll show you a different story.
CSM, part of the Chime Challenger Network, is a global integrated marketing agency working across sport, entertainment, media, lifestyle, innovation, social impact and more. Driven by people pursuing the extraordinary, we build brands, work with properties and create meaningful, memorable and measurable live experiences. www.csm.com
Paul Gandolfi is partnership development director at CSM Sport & Entertainment.