Motor racing: New F1 boss touts aggressive growth strategy

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 28, 2017 6:52 AM

By Alan Baldwin

BARCELONA (Reuters) - More teams, more sponsors and more circuits are all on the long-term wish-list for Formula One's new owners, who say fans will see changes already this season as part of an aggressive strategy for growth.

Commercial managing director Sean Bratches says every area of the business is being looked at.

"There will be a point in the season ... where we start to effectuate change," he told Reuters during the first pre-season test in Barcelona.

"It’s not going to be ... where we just drop our vision one day and that’s the vision. It’s going to be a build and we are going to be very aggressive. We are going to try new things, all in the spirit of better serving Formula One fans."

The first small sign of change came on Monday when teams were told they and their drivers could post snippets of video on social media channels from inside the paddock confines.

Bratches, a former ESPN executive who reports to Formula One chairman Chase Carey, said the sport was "replete with opportunities to improve at almost every turn.

"I have been in the office every Saturday and Sunday for the last month since I got here and I don’t see it ending. There’s a lot to do."

The sport changed hands in January, when Liberty Media replaced 86-year-old former commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone with Carey.

Ecclestone, a lifelong deal-maker, was unconvinced by social media after growing the sport into a billion dollar business through television deals and hosting fees from countries in increasingly exotic locations.

The Briton also saw no need for a spokesman or media department, something the new owners are putting in place along with a well-staffed marketing operation.

"We are going to pivot from what has been a very deal- oriented structure to one where we are formulating a strategic plan that we are going to execute on relentlessly over the mid to long-term," said Bratches.

"We’d love to see more teams, we’d love to see more sponsors and we’d love to see more circuits in the right places.

"Places that we believe are growth-oriented and can improve not only from a fan standpoint but improve the overall economics, drive television revenues, drive sponsor engagement and interest, create opportunities for teams and drivers."

FLOATS ALL BOATS

Struggling Manor folded in January, leaving just 10 teams. Bratches said the aim was to put all on a more secure footing.

"In the Premier League or National Football League or Bundesliga, if a team goes up for sale there’s 30 individuals or entities that want to buy it. When Manor goes out, that’s not the case today," he said.

"So we have to make this a better business on the promoter side, on the team side. The rising tide will float all boats."

Bratches said he had been "pleasantly surprised" by strong interest in hosting races from cities, states and countries who currently do not have one and there would "unequivocally" be new races in the United States and elsewhere.

"There’s a huge opportunity out there to reset the promoter base," he added.

Carey has talked about treating each race like a SuperBowl weekend, with events building to the main event, and Bratches concurred.

"We have 20 extraordinary events every single year that happen in 20 different countries. There’s a huge opportunity to amplify the event and really detonate the possibilities," he said.

Liberty have talked about adding more races in North America, where the Texan capital Austin currently hosts the only U.S. round of the championship. Bratches did not give details but Las Vegas is a clear target.

"We have an extraordinary iconic circuit in Austin and I think that race is poised to grow and continue its position as one of our kind of hub races," he said.

"At the same time ... I actually think driving interest in the United States through other circuits will actually amplify the value of the circuit in Austin."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Alison Williams)