Formula One’s new owner can’t believe Formula One’s sponsorship situation

John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp were shocked by the paltry number of sponsors brought in by former F1 honcho, Bernie Ecclestone.  The company, who bought Formula One for $8 billion in January, were surprised to see just five corporate deals in the entire sport.

Let us put this into perspective. Nascar, by comparison, has 43 sponsors. In fact, the McLaren-Honda team, yes even that poison chalice, has 26 corporate backers, Scuderia Ferrari, 28, of which they count a Russian Cyber Security company and a Thai brewery amongst their partners. So why then, does F1 fall so patently short of the mark?

Much of that is down to the way it was run–almost single-handedly by its longtime former supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

“There was no head of sponsorship at Formula One when I arrived, there was no head of media, no marketing people, no research people,”

Sean Bratches, a former ESPN executive, said in an interview. 

“We sit here today and we have five sponsors, Liverpool has over 30, Manchester United has over 90. I don’t think we’re going to get over 90, but there’s an opportunity to engage sponsors who are looking to activate their brands,”

Bratches went further to disparage the legacy of Ecclestone, a man who once gave his Luddite interpretation of social media with some classic Bernie antiquity:

“I have never been convinced of this kind of communication because I do not believe it makes a good contribution to formula one.”

Breathtaking. What an ode to the Philistine who ate bread by the loaf not the slice; a tribute to the last stubborn horse riding on the Pony Express.

Such pigheadedness was proof that Bernie was no longer up to the job. A fact that was driven home by Liberty Media, “We might be the only company on the planet that doesn’t generate revenue on digital,” Bratches lamented.

Our obvious reflex is to assume that growing corporate presence equates to less F1 heart and soul, a fair concern, but it’s not just about the sponsorship.

In recent years, former owner Ecclestone had replaced traditional circuits in Europe with tracks in far-flung locations like Bahrain, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Sochi in Russia. While those venues earned higher fees for Formula One, they also led to criticism from human rights groups.

So it was beyond hypocrisy for Bernie to complain about social media and more corporate partnerships diluting F1’s brand, especially given how fervently he whored out venues that did just that.  Need I remind you that F1 is now in Baku. Bloody Baku!

“We are going in an entirely different direction,” Bratches said. “We are going to be extremely focused on where we go that has a representation and reflection on our brand.”

Understanding the importance of international sponsorship is just one of the many innovations being introduced by Liberty Media. Snapchat is here and what better representation, albeit superficial, of their positive impact on the sport. Who cares if Bernie doesn’t believe in the wheel…he’s been relegated to the sidelines for a reason.