Heineken sponsorship stirs debate in Formula One

Dutch brewer Heineken’s sponsorship deal with Formula One, announced last week, has led to renewed calls from European campaigners for a ban on alcohol sponsorship in the sport.

Heineken sponsorship stirs debate in Formula One

European Alcohol Policy Alliance network Eurocare, which groups public health and non-governmental organisations, said on Tuesday it wanted stronger legislation from the European Commission and member states.

France, a country without a Formula One grand prix, already bans alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

“F1 should ask themselves if they want to be a motorsport or an alcohol brand event,” said Eurocare general secretary Mariann Skar in a statement that estimated the Heineken deal to be worth $150 million to F1 over five years.

“If both the sport and the drinks producers want to be seen as responsible industries, they should stop this deal and move away from alcohol sponsorship in F1.”

Eurocare also published a letter sent to Jean Todt, the president of Formula One’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA).

Todt, a Frenchman and former Ferrari principal, has made reducing the number of motoring fatalities a cornerstone of his presidency and is a United Nations special envoy for road safety.

“We would like to remind you that drink driving is one of the key killers on the road. It is therefore worrying that F1 is now bringing the link between alcohol brands and motor sport even closer together,” the letter said.

“We would like to request that you take this issue seriously and consider moving away from these sponsorship agreements, as you did with tobacco sponsorship.”

Tobacco companies were big backers of Formula One until the sport kicked the habit in 2008, although the Philip Morris brand Marlboro remains a Ferrari partner without on-car branding.

A report published by Eurocare last year analyzed the 2014 showcase Monaco Grand Prix, one of the most-watched races of the season, for alcohol brand exposure and found viewers received an average of 11 references per minute over two hours.

Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Force India all have alcohol branding while Diageo’s Johnnie Walker has been Formula One’s official whisky since 2014 with considerable trackside advertising.

Heineken branding was prominent at last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Formula One, with most other motorsport series, also has a podium ceremony that involves the spraying of Champagne or sparkling wine — with the exception of races in the Islamic world.

Heineken have said the F1 partnership will promote the brewer’s “If You Drive, Never Drink” campaign.

Meanwhile, the F1 bandwagon rolls into Azerbaijan for the first time this weekend but there is nothing new about the commercial logic that brings the sport to Baku.

‘Follow the money’ has long been Formula One’s mantra and the oil-rich country ticks a fair few boxes, even if the sharp decline in worldwide oil prices has hit the economy and currency of late.

For those willing to part with significant amounts of cash, grand prix racing, with its roots in the European temples of motorsport such as Monaco and Monza, Spa and Silverstone, has cachet.

The sport, which had estimated turnover of $1.9 billion in 2015 according to Autosport magazine, wants to grow its revenues and, increasingly, that means leaving mainstream Europe far behind.

“The challenges some European economies have are such that it makes it very difficult for them. You have to go where the growth is,” Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising giant WPP and a Formula One board member, told the official www.formula1.com website.

“If you run a country and want to put it on the global map you don’t have so many choices,” he added when asked about the rationale for countries like Azerbaijan who lack any motorsport tradition.

“You can get the Olympics, the World Cup or a Formula One race. And the first two are only every four years —and you have them only once.”

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