Mulling Mullins Musings

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Considering the difficult time that all the employees faced at USF1, it’s with some modicum of grace and empathy that I read AUTOSPORT’s interview of YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley’s advisor, former Ferrari salesman Parris Mullins. It is with a measure of reticence that I looked beyond the words and wording for some insight as to the demise of the once touted “American” F1 team. It was also with a sense of skepticism that I digested the innuendos alleging a Napoleonic Ken Anderson and the general buffoonery of Peter Windsor as to the woes of millions.

No part of running a F1 team is easy. No part of forming a team from scratch in a far away land is a cake walk. Nothing is as it seems in F1 on many levels and we all knew that Messrs. Windsor and Anderson were biting off a large chunk of a dung sandwich. We also knew that Hurley was in for a real ride. Sponsor dollars are fickle and businesses look for the common earmarks for investment: Return on Investment (ROI) as well as Return on Message (ROM). For Mullins, it will take more than aquiline good looks and a Gordon Gekko hair style to be successful.

To invest in sponsorship of a team, a business must look to certain measures for success in their campaign. We are dealing with what some could call static signage but in many senses, this is a new type of effort, a new approach to F1 with the focus on a migration path with technology. The digital world is broken down to many different types of sponsorships and signage campaigns. What Hurley, Mullins and others had suggested was a new way of bringing America to F1—a new social media initiative that will garner investment and fan traction. It seemed logical for the co-founder of YouTube.

Ultimately the world has been reduced to “screens”. The first screen is the Silver Screen or Movie Theater. Second is the Television in all of its colorful glory. Third is the computer screen while fourth is held, literally, by the mobile device. This leaves the fifth screen as digital signage. F1 has its revenue stream squarely planted in the second screen and has only recently ventured in to the digital waters of the third and fourth screen. For sponsors to invest in F1, they need to understand the nuance of what is most effective given the fan base that consumes the sport. How the fan base consumes the sport is crucial, as you can imagine, to understand. It is about Content, Relevancy, Interaction, Schedule, Placement, Refresh and Attraction.

Perusing the AUTOSPORT interview of Mr. Mullins, I was interested in his desire to be Team Principle and that this was driving his life-long dream to be in F1. His role in the USF1 debacle could not be described accurately even by himself. His ongoing role, equally, couldn’t be described and was certainly always positioned as something at arm’s length with Hurley. Is Hurley’s right-hand man still speaking in terms of “we” or is this an “I” endeavor? I got the impression that Mullins is still out there dreaming of F1 aspirations while Hurley is busy licking his wounds and seeking other markets to invest in.

Mullins is right that F1 will be inherited by a younger generation but perhaps presumptuous in suggesting that it is he who will be part of a parade of Gen Y managers. I would argue that men like the incredibly talented Christian Horner or Sam Michael might be the heir apparent and not a Ferrari salesman from Silicon Valley. I appreciate that he likened himself to Luca di Montezemolo but he is no Luca. He is no Horner. He is no Michael, Parr or Tony Fernandes.

At some point, I realized that the article, while expertly done as usual when in the trusting hands of Mr. Noble who authors some of F1 more salient articles, it started to fall like ice on the ground it reminded me that having a desire to be in F1 is something many of us could say. Knowing several people and sponsors and businesses is something I can say as well. But getting there is another story and to be honest, this story ground to a screeching halt and became a non-story. Not due to anything untoward by Mr. Noble, quite the opposite. It was a well-done piece that gave us a glimpse into a young man, his desire to be in F1 and his association with Hurley. If I am honest, it all sounded a bit junior league for F1 and his passion for the sport is duly noted but his exuberant youth and lack of business acumen left me in complete understanding as to why USF1 failed. Two young Millennial’s with a bucket load of cash from selling a late night coding experiment-turned-acquisition-famous and very little knowledge of what it takes in business, let alone F1, to succeed.

Let’s be fair, however, in admitting that Hurley and Mullins had their hands tied as they were investors and applied to the USF1 program from a distance. Not as decision makers or principles of the core business…at least that is my understanding. Mullins may very well have many potential sponsors and I like his thinking moving forward. An American F1 effort is most likely derived from the acquisition on an existing program be it GP2, F2 or small F1 team.

The program must exist and be a going concern. It should mirror an F1 operation on a smaller scale that would lend itself for an infusion of cash to increase that scale to participate on the world stage of F1. Mullins may have drive, passion and desire but selling Ferrari’s is a long way from running Ferrari’s at Monaco. It is presumptuous to assume that a former Ferrari salesman can manage the technical side of an F1 team similar to what Red Bull’s Christian Horner does. Horner is a seasoned professional even at his tender age and Mullins would do well to find another Horner and the team he is attached to to make a push in F1.

If I sound disparaging of Mullins, I apologize as I do believe this man is driven to be in F1 and I very much appreciate that desire. I think he has a head for finding “deals” and making introductions that could be fruitful. I believe he is heading in the right direction. I very much appreciate his character and motivation and wish him all the success in the future.

An American team needs a base of operations that has been proven through adversity and looks to exploit the series through mediums never tried. Using all five screens and making the ROM compelling and irresistible to American corporations. That message is not a difficult one to sell if you have an understanding of the process and how businesses think. Here is to your efforts Mr. Mullins and an equal salute to Mr. Noble for ferreting out the interview of one of F1’s more mysterious characters. By the way, if I had hair, I would wear it just like Mullins. Just saying…

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