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Highlights of our Q&A with Sean Bratches in Hungary

At the recent Hungarian Grand Prix, we were joined in the Champions Club by Formula 1’s® Managing Director of Commercial Operations, Sean Bratches, who talked about the new direction of the sport under the leadership of Liberty Media. Here’s the highlights of our Q&A!

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On why Liberty Media acquired the Formula 1® brand

Number one, it’s a global brand with 500 million fans and a decent balance sheet. Secondly, technology is disintermediating the way consumers ingest content. We believe that live sports are the last bastion of content that can aggregate large audiences on a predictable basis, which you can then monetise. Third, we believed it to be an undermanaged asset.

Unleashing the greatest racing spectacle on the planet

One of the first things we did after taking over Formula 1® was conduct a global brand study. We went to four continents and spoke to ten avid fans on each continent for seven hours over two days. We also conducted six focus groups comprised of ten people on each continent; avid fans, former fans, motorsport fans, spectacle fans etc. We panelled that against digital platforms and we learned a lot about how fans perceived us. Our mission statement came from that, which is to unleash the greatest racing spectacle on the planet. The key words being “unleash” and “spectacle”.

A more competitive grid

Since 2015, only three teams have won a Grand Prix. If you look at the Premier League by comparison, since the 2014/2015 season, the bottom three teams have either beaten or drawn with the top six teams 29% of the time. If you are a West Ham fan, you probably know you are not going to win the league, but you do know your team has the opportunity to beat an Arsenal or Chelsea or Manchester City. That doesn’t happen in Formula 1®. What we are trying to do is create a much more competitive grid. We are not trying to turn it into a stock car race. We like the experimentation and the ingenuity aspect of Formula 1, but at the same time we need to get the back of the grid closer to the front.

Racing is key

In the research we did, one of the key things people told us they liked about Formula 1® was racing and overtaking. Ross Brawn has created a team that is going to all the circuits, identifying opportunities to increase overtaking. He is also looking at the design of the cars. The current cars lose about 50-60% of their downforce when running behind another car. The cars that Brawn is designing for 2021 only lose about 20% of their downforce behind another car, which should deliver more opportunities for passing and more excitement.

On Miami

Dealing with a multiplicity of local entities in Miami is complicated. We feel very good about the prospect of racing in Miami, but it’s taking a long time to construct a race there. We got timed out for next year.

New destinations

We are in advanced conversations with a number of places around the world; Vietnam, we’d like to have another race in South America, we are talking to South Africa, Copenhagen. We are the truest of global sports. The Olympics and the World Cup take place every four years in one country. We take place every year in 21 countries on five continents, and we are trying to add a sixth continent. We are excited about it.

Rationalising the calendar

We are also trying to rationalise the calendar. Right now, we go from different continents and all over the world. What we’d like to do, and not necessarily in this order, is to have all the Grands Prix in Europe in one 2-3 month time period, the same in the Americas and in Asia. This would be much more efficient in terms of getting this circus around the world, but also from the fan standpoint. We can tell people that for the next 3 months, you are going to have to get up early to watch, or the races will be on at midday or in primetime. From a marketing standpoint and how it relates to the fans, this would provide a lot more continuity.

Bringing the show to the people

We’d like to see more street racing. Even here in Hungary, we are pretty far outside the city. Not as far as somewhere like Silverstone, but the point is that we want to bring this show to the people. We want to increase our fan base. We want to pay close attention to the avid, hard core Formula fan and not alienate that group, but at the same time we want to attract new and casual fans. We are doing four fan festivals this year. We did one in Shanghai, one in Marseilles, we will be doing them in Milan and Miami. Running cars in the street and bringing the show to the people. The heritage circuits are ridiculously important to us and we want to retain those. We also have a number of purpose-built tracks, from Austin to Bahrain and Shanghai, that we want to keep. Right now, we only race truly in the streets in Singapore and Monaco. Looking at places like Miami or London, the iconography from a television standpoint is absolutely extraordinary.

On being relevant

One of the things we are trying to do is pivot Formula 1® from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand. At the same time, we want the heart, the soul and the passion of a race car driver in the middle of that. Every conversation that we have at Formula 1, we put the fan in the middle of the table. How will this decision impact the fan experience? If we are not serving our fans or growing our fan base, we are not being relevant. We compete for fans attention, for their pocket books, for their eyeballs, for their share of voice, every single day. Whether it’s against a movie, the World Cup, or the opera, we want to be relevant in an environment that is much more entertainment-driven. People will pay and invest in experiences, provided that the value we are giving them is commensurate with the investment.

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Topics: 2018 Formula 1 season, Sean Bratches

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