F1, Sponsors need to think long-form again

Photo by: www.kymillman.com/f1

As an interesting follow-up from watching Amazon Prime’s Grand Prix Driver, I was reading a piece this morning about the quest McLaren is on for sponsors. Christian Sylt spoke to Zak Brown about the lack of sponsors at McLaren.

“I think there is not a lot of value in the naming of a team. I want Vodafone on the car but I don’t want to be called Vodafone McLaren. I want to build the McLaren brand. When I first started, I wanted a ‘title sponsor’ but now I don’t think the market is there for a title level spend so I have created a business model that has more along the lines of a principal partner, a primary partner, a co-primary partner, major sponsors and associate sponsors. If someone came to me tomorrow and said ‘I really want to be the title partner’ we would have that conversation but we are not pursuing that. We are pursuing big brands and big branding.”

In the Amazon documentary, there was a quote that said the lack of a title sponsor has cost McLaren somewhere in the range of $100-200 million since losing Vodafone. I recall reading commentary from Ron Dennis, prior to his departure, that he was holding out for key title sponsors but to Zak’s point, he may have been waiting a long time as those types of big sponsors may not be present in motorsport like they used to be.

As Chris points out in this article, the drop in Formula 1 viewership and several processional seasons with sheer domination from Mercedes hasn’t helped attract sponsors. I can’t recall the impact that Red Bull and Ferrari’s domination of the sport had on sponsor engagement or TV viewership numbers but it wasn’t this large. There is something to be considered in the change of viewer habits and interest in not just F1 but all sports.

McLaren announced Dell last Thursday as a new sponsor of the team and if you watched the Amazon series, you’ll know that the McLaren board brought Zak in for his keen motorsport commercial success and acumen. Zak has to deliver on that front and he’s no stranger to accomplishing major motorsport sponsorship. What Zak does over the next season or two will be a big insight to exactly where F1 sponsorship is, where it can be gained and where it can be effective. He’s an architect of this part of the sport.

Seek the Google fan or build new, invested fans?

If you consider the changing viewing habits of F1, I would suggest that sponsors must be engaged in research trying to determine why sports like the NFL, F1 and others are losing viewers. It may not just be cord-cutters or F1’s processional product and domination by Mercedes. It may be that folks are gravitating to the most exciting, unpredictable and well-packaged sports. Formula E is trying to tap in to that notion with their street-party efforts as is Global Rally and others that put show and spectacle above sport and strategy.

I could be completely off the mark here but if the current demographic of 18-45 can’t be bothered to invest themselves in a sport that requires more than being Googled in order to be an avid fan, then many sports are going to have to weather this current demo’s fickle nature and look to the next generation to invest time and effort into the long form again.

I am a fan because I’ve spent decades watching F1. My knowledge is based on actually living the spectacle, not Googling it. I’m invested in Ferrari’s issues because I can relate to the feeling I had watching Berger and Alesi try to take an errant car and win races. I watched as Schumacher tried to do the same in 1997-98. I watched Hakkinen deliver McLaren two titles after suffering a life-threatening injury. The recovery and title were outstanding.

I love this sport because I’ve lived it as a fan. I can’t Google the emotion of sitting on the edge of my seat watching Jacques Villeneuve try to take Eau Rogue flat out twice and burying his car in the tire barrier.

I love this sport because I have invested myself in it and that means I have not tried to be a Google expert in all sports. I know nothing about Cricket, soccer (Football), Rugby, Darts, Curling, Horse racing and many more. I’ve chosen the sport I love the most and NFL, MLB and Hockey orbit my line of sight, so I am knowledgeable about those and enjoy them but F1 will always be top.

I love this sport for all its on-track action, politics, drivers and inner workings. I love this sport. I think Zak and sponsors would do well to start now and begin re-building the long form and finding more than just Googled interest. They need to start telling the story again and working to invest new fans. Improve the racing, build the drama, engage the emotion of F1 and not be afraid of the long-form investment that it requires to be a real fan.

It is JMHO of course but our own Tom Firth is a perfect example of a young man who doesn’t just Google his motorsport interest, he watches lots of motorsport and lives it. He’s chosen it as his most-favored-nation status and his knowledge is born from living it, not watching highlights or Googling results. He is invested and he loves it.

Hat Tip: City AM

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I simply believed McLaren(and Ron Dennis) were asking far too much money for title sponsorship when those sponsors go elsewhere on the F1 grid or other sports to get equal exposure for cheaper rates. So we don’t know yet if Dell is a title sponsor or just a primary sponsor. Tommy Hilfilger(a former sponsor of both Lotus and Ferrari) became a sponsor to Petronas-Mercedes Benz and it replaced long time(and former McLaren partner) Hugo Boss which bolted to Formula-E. For a variety of reasons, F1, the NFL and NASCAR are losing fans while NBA is a sports league with increasing… Read more »


I hear what you’re saying, NC and I get it but what I am imagining is you waving a wrinkled fist from your front porch, screaming “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!”. Sports must evolve with the population, especially one that is as interconnected, socially open, self-absorbed and active as the potential target audience sought by F1 and sponsors. I see more than just 3-step traveling in the NBA, you have carrying, illegal picks, moving screens, etc. but the refs will call still traveling occasionally and may need help with instant replay to determine a foul. The NBA is… Read more »

Tom Firth

Does Baseball have a quick variety today like cricket does? Whilst also having the historical version


To an extent, baseball has evolved. It now has instant replay and it accepted it begrudgingly It could a few more rules refresh but, like F1 fans, its audience will howl in protest about destroying the “spirit” of the sport and its long-standing traditions. Since MLB clubs have struck broadcast deals with regional cable/sports channels, it doesn’t depend on network television for a large chunk of revenue. However, I understand its MLB streaming app is very popular and highly regarded among such products. I’m not a huge baseball fan and don’t follow it closely.

sunny stivala

F1 TV audience down by 22%.- F1 sponsors down 17%. F1 TV audience numbers is what pulls sponsors or pushes them away. F1 TV audience was driven down by pay TV, and that downturn is what drove sponsors out. It is useless trying to blame this that and the other for the down-word trend in numbers. All this blab blab blab can only worsen the situation because the main problem (things being pushed behind pay-walls) to milk the system better, which the bigger numbers cannot afford are being sidestepped. The direction the situation seems to be heading-in points to LM… Read more »

sunny stivala

NC, pay-wall is not the singular reason but it is for sure the biggest reason.

Tom Firth

It seems pretty standard practice these days for title sponsors to be part of the team name. Zak has done many deals in the past which have placed a title sponsor name ahead of the team/event brand name and so far as I can tell, its become common practice and hasn’t detracted from the team brand. I’m therefore wondering why specifically with McLaren, this would be the case? Clearly is some reason as Zak Brown is extremely sharp with regards marketing, just be interesting to know what’s behind that thought process. On the Google fans, as I see I got… Read more »

Tom Firth

Yeah, I do make a pretty good example and I know you weren’t saying get off my lawn. I’m disappointed the solution isn’t to clone me though, haha.

So on a serious note, is the milestones I mentioned that are pretty generic in getting people invested in the sport. For me personally, most of why I got ever more invested in Motorsport was an escape from reality so hey in these times, F1 should be booming, right? ;-)

Richard Wiseman

Thank you for referencing “Football” after using the word “Soccer”!

If I could award you honoury Englishman status . . I would!

Schumie Toronto

But … do you like Shepherd’s Pie and Yorkshire Pudding – 2 of my favs!


Maybe F1 should add a few 911s like ALMS, or better mufflers, or full color tires or…