By Steve Madincea | Patrick Henry was a founding father of America representing the state of Virginia. At an extremely crucial point in the formation of the United States, Henry rallied his fellow Virginians, some openly for and some openly against the idea of a new country, to get behind the newly established US government by famously proclaiming “give me liberty or give me death”. In 2018, Formula 1 faces a similar proposition.
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Since Liberty took over Formula 1 from CVC and Bernie Ecclestone, there have been numerous moans and groans in the paddock, in the media and coming from various Formula 1 team leaders about Liberty’s approach to the sport. Coming off the back of the season 2018 season opener in Melbourne, there are perhaps more groans than usual for Liberty to create better racing. Early indications are it will be another Hamilton/Mercedes year, which will further drive down TV and live audiences around the globe. After the Australian GP, Liberty’s Ross Brawn said a “proper fix” may not be achievable until 2021 meaning fans and Bernie supporters will have four more years to moan and groan. It’s strange as many current Formula 1 followers and personnel have marked themselves as a “Bernie person” or a “Liberty person”. But why can’t they be both like me?
I have had a mutually respectful business relationship with Bernie Ecclestone for many years and it continues to this day. I marvel at many of his business accomplishments, building Formula 1 into the sport it is today virtually single-handily. While I count Bernie as a friend, I have had many heated debates with him throughout the years. Many. These disagreements may have been about trivial things I felt he should and could easily do to improve the show (e.g. GridKids, trackside microphone placements and so forth) or even more complex major improvements to better engage fans around the globe (better qualifying format, moving Thursday’s driver media conference to city centres with fans when achievable).
It’s strange as many current Formula 1 followers and personnel have marked themselves as a Bernie person or a Liberty person.
But I also happen to like what Liberty has been doing during their short tenure. To the uneducated, it may seem like many disconnected small moves (three-seaters, digital revolutions including a future OTT streaming play announced). Many have complained, saying that things like zip-wires at the Spanish Grand Prix will never improve the sport. Yet when you add all these “fresh” Liberty Media activities together, it is the same formula used by Formula 1 designers to make a super-fast racecar. Formula 1 designers employ a strategy whereby they continually tweak their original design to make their car faster and faster. Liberty is doing the exact same thing with their continual tweaks of Bernie’s prior package. Formula 1 designers that are new to a team often typically state it will take three years to turn a team around. So how come so many detractors are only providing Liberty three weeks to turn a gigantic sport like Formula 1 around?
Business is a challenge every day, trust me I know that. With my own new venture, Fantastec (www.fantastec.io) I have had to learn patience with our developers, coders, designers, engineers and scientists as they methodically work through the process of design, build, test, learn, refine, rebuild and re-test all of our future fan products. When you come from a Formula 1 background like I do where results are measured every two weeks, this may seem like a slow process, but it is a necessary and measured process that ensures you deliver quality tech products to fans around the globe. I see signs that Liberty Media are following this same winning formula.
I’m imploring the Formula 1 paddock and the global fans to get behind Liberty and all their new initiatives.
I’m imploring the Formula 1 paddock and the global fans to get behind Liberty and all their new initiatives. All right, perhaps not all of them will be successful, but so what? In the tech world where I’m enjoying this new perspective, I can assure you everyone from Amazon to this week’s new start-up will conduct a test and learn exercises like Liberty is doing in Formula 1. We do this precisely because we know everything does not work perfectly the first time with technology. Never. Never! Liberty is doing it because the demographic profile of their fans is perhaps more differentiated than any major sporting championship and so getting the precise fan engagement formula is not straightforward.
Engaging new fans via technology improvements will constantly be the primary business driver for Liberty as they “re-package” Formula 1 in future years. To win new fans globally while also holding onto their old loyal fans year on year is a delicate balance that tech can and will help manage. Today Liberty has tech tools like AR/VR and soon their own OTT channel to reach new fans in smart ways. Tomorrow Liberty will use AI applications, along with machine learning, Blockchain and 5G networks offering new enhanced opportunities to engage and ultimately monetise the vast F1 worldwide following.
So just like Patrick Henry needed his fellow Virginians in 1775 to get behind the newly forming United States in America, so too does the worldwide Formula 1 fraternity need to get behind Liberty Media and their new initiatives. Because the reality is if Liberty does not make it in Formula 1 in 2018, then the Formula 1 series likely dies as the burgeoning United States would have without Virginia’s unwavering support.
Fantastec is a unique blend of scientists, engineers, data analysts, designers, researchers, sports marketing creatives and communication professionals inventing the future of international fan engagement.
Utilising new and emerging technologies such as OTT VOD, VR/AR, wearable tech, AI and Blockchain, their mission is to enable globally distanced fans to engage more deeply with the sports, teams and athletes they love.
Steve Madincea is a recognised international sports industry entrepreneur having created, built and led sports sponsorship teams around the world to serve blue-chip clients such as Aston Martin, Ford, Coca-Cola, Rolex, Subway, Casio, Samsung, PUMA, Jaguar, AT&T, Bridgestone, Red Bull, Land Rover, Shell, the NFL, the NBA, The UEFA Champions League, Formula 1 and FIFA World Cup amongst others. Madincea ultimately bundled these disparate worldwide business units together and sold them prior to starting Fantastec in July 2017.