Sir Martin Sorrell is the CEO of multinational advertising and public relations company WPP and he’s also a board member of Formula 1. When F1’s official website interviewed him, he shared his thoughts on F1’s future and what he believes could be a complete entertainment package.
As an American website/Podcast, we’ve been pushing hard to cover F1 in the US and bring content to the fans of the sport on this side of the pond. There are other nations with bigger fan bases but America’s F1 fans are dedicated, informed, passionate and truly a unique and fabulous group to be part of. It may sound silly but it does take a lot of commitment to watch most of your sporting event in the wee hours of the morning, that’s a whole different level of commitment when most sports in the US are on afternoons or prime time.
Sorrell believes the sport should focus on becoming a complete entertainment package and uses the Us market as a n example:
“Just take the lack of presence of F1 in the United States. In theory – and logically – you would have an East Coast Grand Prix, a West Coast Grand Prix, and I think you should have a street race in Detroit – it is still the motor capital of the US. You stay in the US for four weeks and could have two to three races, certainly two”.
When asked about F1’s future, Sorrell says he thinks virtual reality could be a great move for the sport. The thought of everyone wearing goggles and headphones to experience the view and sound of the driver would be all the rage. I hate to be a buzz-kill but I’m not interested. I want to see the entire race, not just a cockpit. I get it, VR is the hot thing right now but it’s not the way to make big inroads in F1 in my humble opinion. It’s not that there couldn’t or won’t be a role for it but right now, F1 has other opportunities to capitalize on.
What’s more important is the commentary Sorrell offers about promotion, advertising, and F1’s immediate future, that’s what we really should be reading this article for. There are some very interesting comments about F1’s brand appeal and for sponsors and we’ve asked many times why there are no new sponsors to the sport (even as Heineken comes on board) and I think he offers some real insight to not only F1 but what I see as multinational’s inability to capitalize on their investments.
A very influential marketing person in motorsport (you can probably guess who) told me one time that marketing divisions of companies have become, effectively, check writers. How much do we get for this much? What else do we get if we spent this much more? Sorrell ties that issue together nicely with the question of why F1 doesn’t do a better job of advertising itself:
“Formula One gives a platform to companies like Rolex – and that’s just in media space, watching television or reading newspapers, digital or physical. You see the brand in the context of the competition and bring it to the attention of everybody on a regular basis. But you must not only focus on the consumer, but also on what it does to you internally – getting people aligned to the strategic mission of the company – what it does to the suppliers, governments, all your stakeholders… So you have to see it on a broader level. But you also have to activate it properly. If you pay 50 million for something, you probably pay another 50 to 100 million to activate it. And the more you spend, the better you do. There is no point in just buying rights”.
That is exactly the key I have seen working with sponsors in F1. They make significant investments in the sport but do not spend the additional capital to activate their investment. They get naming rights and brand presence but fail to engage and activate that brand and presence effectively. You may not be seeing that much in the UK and Europe but in the US it is definitely a huge issue.
I’ve given many Formula 1 presentations at motoring events, car clubs and even did a series ahead of each showing of the Senna movie when it came out and I know what the US fans are looking for but current sponsors fall short of providing. Sorrell is spot on here and there is a lot to learn from this comment.
Another key comment is the notion of F1 going where the growth is and it has been a big criticism for a while now about taking the sport to far-flung location but these BRICS and emerging markets are key to revenue generation and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
To me, there is a point here though—the thing that keeps Spa on the calendar isn’t the robust Belgian economy and massive sanctioning fees they pay F1 for the right to hold a race, it’s the track that fans demand to see. They become irate if Spa is not on the calendar. If F1 was serious about taking the show to emerging markets and not being stuck with slow-pay, weak economies they would do a much better job of creating tracks that would rival or beat Spa in character, design and challenge. So far, few of the Tilke designed tracks have given any of the historic tracks a remote challenge for the emotional attachment of the F1 fan. None of them can compare with the likes of Spa, Silverstone or even Monza.
Sorrell says that Indonesia, South America, China, India, Africa and the Middle East are all market F1 should be looking at along with the US. The reason is that F1 is a brand with attached manufacturers and sponsors who have very high interest in these markets so the the sport should continue to be the vehicle and help take these brands to those markets.
It’s a very good interview and one that show Sorrell is certainly thinking about the sport and where it should be in the future. While most of the article I have seen discussing this interview use the VR concept as the headline, it is really the other commentary that is much more important so give it a read over at F1.com.
Hat Tip: F1.com