Following months of speculation about the future of Formula One, the Financial Times has today published the comments of an unnamed senior executive involved with F1 and who is said to be familiar with Liberty Media’s plans for the sport once their takeover is complete.
As has been widely expected, one of the primary aims is to create a marketing arm tasked with improving F1’s reach. While the sport travels far and wide, F1 has long been lacking a sustained and long-term effort to keep F1 in the public consciousness once each grand prix has left the country. Some races are inescapable from the moment you land in the airport, while others may as well be run in secret, so little attention is paid outside the circuit.
Another core element is to improve social and online reach, both to connect with existing fans and to help sell the concept of F1 to those who aren’t already interested.
“There’s no marketing, no research, no data, no digital platforms,” the unnamed executive is quoted as saying. “This sport has unique global content and hasn’t done enough to take advantage of that. We need to build the rivalries and enable people to understand the technology that goes into the sport.”
But the ultimate goal is to make Formula One more than just a race, to turn it into an unmissable event even for those less enthused by the action on track.
Liberty are looking to position F1 as something that is a cultural event as much as it is a sporting competition, in line with global phenomena like the Super Bowl and the World Cup, which are watched by more non-fans than dedicated followers of the relevant sports. “We want to create destination events, not just a race, that people feel they have to be at,” the anonymous exec told the FT.
How that will be achieved remains to be seen beyond vague descriptions of week-long events, but one arm of Liberty’s new approach will be to target new US races in what are termed ‘big media markets’, with New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas all reportedly under consideration. Races in all of those markets have been mooted before, and stumbled for a variety of reasons, but there is the possibility that one of the biggest stumbling blocks — the lack of profit-making opportunities for promoters — could soon disappear.
One of Liberty’s aims is to sell naming rights to grands prix, as is par for the course in US sports, and the revenues generated through such sales should give the sport’s new owners wiggle-room when it comes to negotiating with recalcitrant circuits in desirable markets. With the commercial revenues boosted by naming rights income, there is the option to re-examine both hosting fees and the circuits’ rights to revenue from trackside signage, maintaining overall income while also improving the sport’s long-term viability.
Of course, while growing the sport and improving fan engagement are bound to be popular concepts, Liberty has not invested in Formula One out of the goodness of its heart. The company has spotted both profit and growth potential in the sport, and aims to make the sport stronger with a view to making money out of it. While on the surface that might sound like more of what we became used to with CVC, the fundamental difference between the two is that CVC’s aim was solely to make as much money as possible from their initial investment before off-loading, as a multi-armed media services company Liberty will be able to use a stronger F1 to improve business for their other interests, be it Live Nation or one of their many media companies.