Tony Fernandes, Caterham F1 Team Principal and aviation entrepreneur, touched upon a lesser spoken about topic a few weeks back when he discussed the sport of Formula1, its attitude and its marketing efforts to reach out to the newer audiences it attracted when it toured newer territories in Asia. This is one particular topic that I have been following personally and writing about for the past few seasons.
Before I proceed, here’s a little bit of how I understand the sport and setup of Formula1 and its primary markets. The sport of Formula1 has multiple stakeholders with different degrees of interests that they need to protect and project. The list of stakeholders starts from the FIA, FOM, FOTA, drivers, media, team’s sponsors and most importantly, the Formula1 fan! The list of interests too is varied and includes all the way from the brand of Formula1, to the various brands (teams, their sponsors, media, etc.) that invest in it. This list of course includes the fan who invests in the Formula1 viewing experience, whether it is on TV or in the stands.
If one were to read Fernandes’ statements on the sport, its attitude and marketing, you would agree that his biggest concern was for the ‘fan’, who has more often than not been neglected and treated as a ‘third world citizen’ (in my opinion). In the last decade, rules and regulations of the sport have witnessed multiple changes (both pre and during the seasons) that have left the fan much confused while dealing with the complexities of the changes. If you were to do a SWOT analysis of Formula1, one of the biggest weaknesses of the sport is that it is extremely complex, though it involves something as simple as ‘racing’, where the driver who finishes first, wins!
The changing economic conditions have led Formula1 to expand its base out of Europe. This is one of the main reasons why historic Grand Prixs like France have been left off the calendar while newer Grand Prixs have been introduced in Asian countries like Korea, India, Singapore and more. The logic is pretty simple; the newer countries are willing to pay Ecclestone a far higher race fee than the European countries that have their own debt related problems to solve. So while it makes complete business sense to take the sport to territories that are paying a higher price to host it, the sport’s marketing efforts too need to complement its business decision and be more focused to attract newer fans in those territories.
I have written about ‘Sports Marketing Around The Indian Grand Prix’ and this is the best example that I would like to cite. Much of the marketing efforts around the Indian Grand Prix were left in the hands of the teams and very little was undertaken by the sport itself. The teams were out promoting themselves and their sponsorship associations, so promoting the sport was never the primary objective. Considering that your product has entered a new market and territory and will attract new fans, Formula1 as a ‘brand’ should have indulged in marketing itself and not rely on the marketing activities of the teams alone.
The new fans that the Indian Grand Prix attracted to Formula1 would surely want to know more about DRS, KERS and the hundreds of other technical aspects of the sport. One must realize that Formula1 is not a natural sport in the new countries that it is visiting and hence the marketing efforts need to be far more to win the continuous attention and following of a fan.
The sport’s official website does explain much of the complexity that one would need an answer to. But going by my experience, direct promotions on TV, print and on-ground should have been undertaken to appeal to the Indian F1 fan. Most media activities and on-ground events were organized by the teams, sponsors and race organisers.
One could ask ‘what is wrong if the teams are undertaking all the marketing’? But one must realize that for the teams, the biggest challenge is to draw the thin line between marketing their brand and marketing Formula1. Given that the Formula1 eco-system has many layers, I would like the sport to speak for itself and establish a direct contact with its fans rather than rely on any of the teams or sponsors.
Maybe this is where there’s yet another lesson to be learned from the Indian Premier League? Read my earlier post: Formula1 Could Learn A Lesson From The Indian Premier League