A newly-formed unit of QuintEvents, America’s industry-leading travel/event/experience company, QuintEvents International houses the company’s Formula 1 business, and Keith Bruce, a veteran of the sports and event industry, is leading the Formula One Experiences organisation serving all 20 Formula 1 events across the globe. Bruce leads sales and marketing efforts for all QuintEvents International properties. He has agreed to sit down for a chat with the Paddock magazine.
How do you see Formula 1 as an industry today, business-wise and growth-wise?
From my perspective, as someone who has two decades of experience in the global sports business, I think these are very exciting times for Formula 1. While working on global mega events like the FIFA World Cup, NFL Super Bowl and the Olympic Games, I always looked at Formula 1 as a unique and dynamic international property because of the number of prestige events it produced in many of the world’s greatest cities. Now that I’m involved as the new head of Formula 1 Experiences and immersed with the new management team and Liberty Media ownership, I’m truly inspired. Formula 1 management is on a mission to be transformational, period. Their approach is both creative and inclusive with all stakeholders. One example of that is with the host cities. The new Formula 1 wants to be more celebratory. The mandate is to create even more civic excitement and enthusiasm, beyond that which the races organically bring to a city. They are encouraging cities and promoters to take steps to celebrate the occasion of race week and get people from the region be part of the excitement. Formula 1 maybe had become a bit stagnant in some of the markets and this is a clear move toward revitalisation that will also trigger new growth. Our F1 Experiences programme is a great way to apply that strategy because we deliver new and incredibly exciting experiences that bring people closer to the event – closer than ever before.
It’s clear that Formula 1 management is looking to elevate and improve relationships with the event organisers.
Now, that said, there’s also an extraordinary amount of work to be done. The F1 Experiences product still needs more awareness. As the sport’s official travel/experience/hospitality programme, we need to be in the vernacular of Formula 1. One example is our collective desire to attract millennials. We’ve learned that millennials want experiences more than anything else. They don’t necessarily want the best seats or the corporate hospitality. F1 Experiences is ready-made for the millennial market because our packages get fans inside the sport and its people, including the drivers. In many ways that’s more important to them than where they sit.
Another target is the corporate market, and, in particular, American corporates. Major companies that use sports to build relationships, reward customers and promote their brands have had a hard time wrapping their brains around Formula 1. Whether it be unique programs or corporate hospitality or event experiences for their employees and clients, F1 Experiences can help them engage at the event level. In some ways Formula 1 has been an intimidating sport for both American and multinational companies to get involved with. The F1 Experiences approach can help demystify that. We want them to taste Formula 1 intimately through hands-on experiences so they can see how amazing – and different – the opportunity can be.
Do you see any opportunities to improve the relationships between the sport and event organisers?
I’ve only been involved for a few months now, but it’s clear that Formula 1 management is looking to elevate and improve relationships with the event organisers. We all recognise that more fans must be attracted to the sport and it’s also critical to keep the existing fans happy. The relationships with the regional promoters are central to that long-term goal. What is exciting for us is that F1 Experiences has a major role to play in that equation. Our programmes and packages are all about the things fans and corporations can now do at the event to create those memorable moments. Access to the garages, the paddock, pit row, press conferences and other behind-the-scenes happenings are all part of our offerings. We like to say that F1 Experiences doesn’t just get you up close to the sport, it gets you inside. The circuit and the regional organiser are in many ways business partners, potentially participating on the revenue side via venue rentals and sales of packages and new experiential opportunities. Our Champions Club is one example. The venue has to be special and we work with the promoters to help us deliver that. It’s definitely a two-way street and we’re already seeing the benefits.
Formula 1 seems to be gaining momentum in the US, what else could be done to make the sport more popular here? What would you personally suggest?
Everyone knows that this is a primary goal under the new Formula 1 leadership, as well as with other stakeholders. QuintEvents/F1 Experiences couldn’t be more bullish about the prospects. If we can increase the popularity of Formula 1 in the United States, it will have a positive ripple effect across the sport. American consumers have discretionary dollars for sports and entertainment and Formula 1 can compete with any sport in terms of excitement, both onsite as well as on television and digital platforms. And Formula 1 adds glamour and prestige in ways that others cannot. The opportunity is tremendous.
Formula 1 management is focused on making it easier for fans to watch on television and on digital platforms, which is key to attracting new American fans. Formula 1 has been seen largely as a European sport that didn’t have a lot of relevance in the US. We’re now seeing a significant uptick in the amount of American buyers of F1 Experiences packages. In Austin this past October, we had our largest volume since we launched in Barcelona. The feedback was great and now we’ll see some of those buyers looking to find races in other parts of the world. Formula 1 races are “Destination Experiences” that are hosted in incredible venues. They really cannot be duplicated when you factor in all the excitement, entertainment, celebrities and VIP access.
Another target is the corporate market, and, in particular, American corporates.
The popularity of the English Premier League soccer product in the US is a relevant example: it has grown dramatically over the past few years with the increased television exposure and promotion. Formula 1 is now poised to do that, and the growth of the USA Grand Prix at the custom-built Circuit of the Americas in Austin is really just the beginning. Every race has to be available and properly promoted, and it will be interesting to see how ESPN approaches that next year. We will do our part to encourage more engagement with the sport through F1 Experiences. Ideally, internationals will put the United States on their calendars for a pilgrimage to America for Formula 1, and Americans will do the same to any one of 20 great international cities.
Are you happy with the 2018 calendar so far? Where else would you like Formula 1 to go?
We’re very excited about the 2018 calendar, especially because we’ve been able to establish our F1 Experiences brand, company and product with many of the races this year. We’ve been able to listen to our customers and learn from them as well as the regional promoters. We’ve also been able to build our awareness and credibility as an official business of Formula 1, and we now know which are the more effective marketing strategies and tactics. We’ve already introduced some refinements that will take hold for 2018. We are looking at even more enhanced fan experiences, so we’re doing that fine tuning. We’re preparing to deliver on everything that people will want in 2018.
The addition of new races in Germany and France can be huge for F1 Experiences. They are prominent worldwide destination countries with important Formula 1 history. We have already visited Le Castellet in France, and we look forward to visiting Hockenheim, Germany. We’ve already had inquiries about both races from our F1 Experiences constituency and the events will help create even more excitement in Europe, where there is such a strong concentration of events. We think there is still an opportunity to add another event in Europe given the number of great cities available to host a high-end motorsport race.
We are also excited about the goal of bringing a second race to the United States. QuintEvents/F1 Experiences is based in the United States and can play a big role to make it great. As everyone knows, Austin has been a big success, so we know there is an appetite. And once established, we believe the potential for the sport in the United States is limitless.