Plenty of companies have been eager to associate themselves with Formula One, the world’s most popular racing series.
The McLaren Honda team has 26 corporate backers. Scuderia Ferrari has 28, including a Thai brewery, a Spanish bank, a Russian cyber security firm and a different Italian automaker. The competition’s new US owners would like some sponsors, too.
When billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media — who also owns TV3 and Virgin Media here — bought Formula One for $8bn (€7bn) in January, it acquired a global audience of 400m — but just five corporate deals of the kind that enrich other sports around the world. Much of that is down to the way it was run by its longtime former supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
“There was no head of sponsorship at Formula One when I arrived, there was no head of media, no marketing people, no research people,” Sean Bratches, a former ESPN executive tapped to lead commercial operations six months ago, said. He reeled off a list of other unfilled roles, before comparing the lack of sponsors unfavourably with those lured by top English soccer clubs.
“We sit here today and we have five sponsors, Liverpool has over 30, Manchester United has over 90. I don’t think we’re going to get over 90, but there’s an opportunity to engage sponsors who are looking to activate their brands,” Mr Bratches said.
Mr Bratches said Formula One could take cues from United, which has parlayed its massive global supporter base into a formidable sponsorship model broken down by region and product category. First, he said, the series will focus on growing its online presence. “We might be the only company on the planet that doesn’t generate revenue on digital.”
To secure new fans and business opportunities, Formula One says it wants to bring races to major cities, which may one day include London, where all teams paraded cars and drivers before 100,000 fans last week.
The only driver absent was Lewis Hamilton, who won the British Grand Prix last weekend. The race at Silverstone will end after 2019 unless a new deal can be worked out.
Formula One has had over 40 expressions of interest from potential venues, Mr Bratches said. In recent years, former owner Mr Ecclestone had replaced traditional circuits in Europe with tracks in far-flung locations like Bahrain, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Sochi in Russia.
While those venues earned higher fees, they also led to criticism from human rights groups. “We are going in an entirely different direction,” Mr Bratches said.
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