I was rooting around today in the many articles I have written about the sport over the years, looking for positive ideas about how F1 can do a better job at engaging with the public. It is an odd thought, I know, given that F1 is simply a cash-cow for financial jackals, who don’t give a damn about assets that cannot be stripped out. I came across an article I wrote somewhere last year, highlighting how the world of NASCAR is streets ahead of F1 in its promotional ideas and its willingness to try new ideas. This involved NASCAR stars Danica Patrick and her rival (and boyfriend) Ricky Stenhouse Jr who joined forces with Country Music rapper (yes, there are such people) Colt Ford to promote his then new “Drivin’ Around Song”. The result was an engaging Youtube video in which Patrick and Ford played a couple, stuck in a typical backwoods garage while their car was being repaired. Stenhouse played the mechanic, with whom Danica flirted while stealing the keys to his golf cart so that she and Ford could drive around, gathering up fans in order to hold an impromptu concert before returning to the garage a couple of hours later to pick up their repaired car. It was a feel-good film and inclusive for the fans. And that made it a win-win for everybody involved. There is a lot that could be learned by other motorsport people from work like this, but try to imagine Fernando or Lewis doing the same sort of thing…
And then I went on to read a story about the National Basketball Association (NBA) and how the former boss David Stern transformed it into the sporting powerhouse it is today. His theory was that big (400+) marketing departments was the way to go, to get the message out to the world and to explore new media as it arrived. The result has been impressive numbers on social media and growth.
The following quote sums it up. It is from a former NBA marketing man: “The goal of our marketing department is to get our fans to consume the NBA by going to games, watching on TV, visiting NBA.com, buying a jersey, etc. Our social media platforms offer us a more intimate way to interact with our fans in real time. We try to keep them current at all times on breaking news, scores, milestones, compelling player and team stories, exclusive offers from our partners, and compelling content.”
In 2000 the NBA launched an in-house consulting division for the sport, designed to help teams share business practices and to improve the sometime rocky relationships between teams and the league. The division comprised of around 40 staff who were responsible for developing, compiling, analyzing and sharing among teams ways to drive franchise profitability. When a team was in need of assistance, staff from the Team Marketing and Business Operations department (TMBO) would come in and provide expertise and support. This gave the TMBO staff a proving ground where they were able to see ideas that worked and did not work and gave them a unique perspective on the sport. The result was that it quickly became a place from where the teams went when they were looking for new executives, a school for marketing talent. These days winning a place with the TMBO is tough with the typical TMBO account executive boasting an MBA from a top business school.
“TMBO has been an incredible engine of education for both the league and its teams,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern last week. “As a conveyor of best practices, it is an incubator for extraordinary talent.”
Yes, it cost money, but the overall result in the long-term has been that the sport is richer, healthier and better run than ever before. Of course, this also involved long-term thinking, which is not something that appeals to the powers-that-be in F1.