If I Ran F1: Garry Sloan

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By Garry Sloan | At a time when the world faces a challenging and unprecedented situation due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Formula 1 has instigated changes to the regulations including a budget cap for 2021 and beyond.

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Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing commented: “A uniform budget cap, in concert with more even distribution of revenue among the teams, will ensure greater competition and more people wanting to watch live and on TV, driving more sustained revenues to underpin the long-term financial health of the teams and the sport. Ultimately the fans win, and if the fans win, the whole sport wins too.”

Well, my point is the fans may win but were they involved in the decision-making process. If I ran Formula 1, I would put fans centre stage and give them a stake in what is after all their sport. For decades now all the stakeholders, the FIA, the commercial rights holder, the teams, circuits, and sponsors have all worked to individual agendas which are often conflicting. Did nobody step back and ask, “What would the fans want?”

We know there is an appetite among fans to be involved and a report commissioned in 2017 by Formula 1 surveyed more than 14,000 people in seven different countries – the UK, US, Germany, Italy, Brazil, China, and Russia – in a bid to understand just how much sports fans are invested in the sport.

Matt Roberts, Head of Data and Research at Formula 1, noted: “Formula 1 is an incredibly rich sport, mixing many elements, including technology, human interest, heroism, and glamour into a really exciting package. However, different elements appeal to different people and while some are entranced by the technology others focus on the human story of the driver rivalries or the glamour of the location, the personalities, and the celebrities. What this survey confirms to us is that no two fans are the same. Everyone interacts with the sport in different ways and it’s our job to deliver a sport that appeals to the particular interest of all of our fans.”

In conclusion, fan response to the survey revealed that if people can be brought closer to the sport, they are likely to become invested in it. Following on from this, Formula 1 launched F1 Fan Voice to indeed ask the fans opinions through a series of polls. Recent polls include:

If Formula 1 were to race at tracks outside of the initially announced 2020 calendar, which track would be your favourite pick?

Ideally, and if possible, from a health and safety perspective, how many Grands Prix would you like to have in the 2020 season?

Do you think Formula 1’s new aerodynamic rule – referred by some as “sliding scale of ATR” (aerodynamic testing restrictions) – is good for the sport?

Would you have preferred to have a reverse-grid qualifying race for the second leg of the Austrian and British GP this season instead of the normal qualifying sessions?

This is a great step forward, but the question remains, “Are the fans opinions acted upon?” This is a question that can only be answered by Liberty Media.

If I ran the sport, I would definitely make sure the FIA was closely involved with fans, mandating them to organise fan forums either directly or through its members, and the answers should inform the decisions making process.

It is often assumed fans would not readily engage with the FIA, but in fact, the FIA’s various social media channels have approx. 2 million followers.

Fans should also become engaged directly with the teams. The teams are all under financial pressure, but are they missing a trick here? Why not offer the fans a “stake” through crowdfunding?

It would be relatively cheap for the teams to produce an offering. Once signed up, fans would have the opportunity to vote on the issues raised above to guide their team when decisions are reached. The “stakeholder fans” could vote on team-specific issues for example new livery or even driver choice. The teams could create a range of “stakeholder” merchandise, which could be worn with pride.

A team T.V. could be created with a camera crew following the team on race weekends to offer exclusive “stakeholder” only online footage aka Netflix style. Sponsors could become involved especially the consumer brands in Williams case the likes of Crew Clothing and Lavazza offering special deals to the “stakeholders”.

All that is required is imagination and creativity something the teams marketing personnel have in abundance.

If I ran the sport, I would definitely make sure the FIA was closely involved with fans, mandating them to organise fan forums either directly or through its members, and the answers should inform the decisions making process.

If we take the team currently under the most financial pressure – Williams – and apply a rather crude analysis of 955,000 twitter followers and then calculate an offer at £95 per year (less than £2 a week). Well, if optimistically 30% signed up that equates to over £27m per year, a substantial and relatively stable source of income.

Crowdfunding could become part of a new business model post-COVID-19.

If successful, the scheme could introduce different levels of “stakeholders” with Gold and Platinum options.

Other companies have tapped into this, for example, the brewer Brew Dog who has created “Equity Punks” to finance the growth of the company. The most recent crowdfunding saw more than 47,000 people invest £8.7m before the offer was closed.

Fans want to take part, and no greater example is the Verstappen effect. After Max burst onto the scene, his fans have become enthusiastic followers witnessed by the sea of orange t-shirts at race weekends.

Formula 1 is a sport, unlike many others, where if a fan watches on free to air and does not attend a race, then the sport does not cost them in terms of equipment or membership fees, unlike golf for example.

When the fans are engaged and interested, they will absolutely spend their money. That is why more than 1m Verstappen fans applied for tickets to the 2020 Dutch GP.

A passionate Formula 1 fan with a curious and often cynical mind, Garry has used his investigative talents and forensic analysis to explore the world of F1. “In the pit lane – F1 exposed” is his first book in the series which he hopes will spark discussion and maybe positive changes within the sport. Check inthepitlane.com!

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