Rush Sport & Entertainment is one of the few agencies to work in both Formula 1 and Formula E series. With nearly 20 years’ experience in motorsport, Managing Director Jonny Odell sat down to talk to the Paddock magazine about the two racing series. Rush’s partnership management team works with brands to ensure they maximise the value from their partnership/sponsorship programmes.
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Jonny, could you tell us what led Rush Sport & Entertainment to get involved in Formula E?
Way back in 2013, Rush was working mainly in Formula 1. We had applied our skills to help the likes of Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Celine Dion secure sponsorship for their live tours, which was fun. We also dabbled in some major exhibition events, but motorsport was where our hearts lay and where we naturally gravitated back to. At that time, Formula E was getting set up; there was a lot of noise around the series, mostly negative in the early days. We met with a number of key stakeholders at Formula E Holdings (FEH) and some of the teams that were signed up, and we felt it was the natural direction for motorsport to move into and therefore a logical place for Rush to be active in. From those early discussions, we quickly started working with a number of teams and to date have brought a number of blue chip brands to the series.
Why, do you think, brands are flocking to Formula E just now?
Formula E has enjoyed a purple sales patch recently. The series has done really well and attracted a number of significant fresh partners, and added some admittedly impressive new races to the schedule. There is a fair mix of sport and entertainment, underpinned by some very relevant messaging. I think the series has great momentum today and success is contagious, of course. Events such as Rome, Zurich and New York are adding to the hype: Formula E is delivering on its promise of sustainable racing in the heart of the cities. Brands coming to the series such as Hugo Boss, Tag Heuer and Allianz add credibility to the series since they’ve been involved in motorsport for many decades. With the arrival of even more automotive names such as Nissan, Mercedes, Porsche, even the most ardent detractors are now coming around.
Mercedes will run the entire team for less than it pays Lewis Hamilton!
What does Formula E offer to brands that Formula 1 doesn’t?
Many people were cautious about Formula E for a long time, but the series seems to have broken its glass ceiling. Previously, brands we spoke to would welcome a conversation around Formula E but wouldn’t pull the trigger because the series was not established enough. This has changed – we’ve passed the point of “will it work?”
Obviously, cynics will say that the levels of investment are lower in Formula E, whilst this was the case, recent deals would be welcomed by the Formula 1 teams and demonstrate the value that brands see in the electric series. OEMs can be involved in the series for a fraction of the price of other series, and be achieving much more. Whilst the cost of running a team is increasing, Formula E keeps a cap on costs and prevents things from spiralling out. Mercedes will run the entire team for less than it pays Lewis Hamilton!
In short, I think Formula E offers value, entertainment, excitement and relevance. All traits that brands are looking for when considering an investment.
What are the under-exploited commercial areas of each series?
So far, Formula E seems to have attracted mainly B2B brands looking to exploit the association between their brand and sustainability, EV mobility and EV technologies. This is a natural course for these types of businesses. We feel the main area for growth is in the B2C sectors, FMCG, household and luxury brands. Once these brands come on board, I expect the series to leap forward again, both from an audience perspective and from a value perspective.
Imagine if the series partnered with Coca Cola or Pepsi instead of ABB, the reach of a B2C brand would amplify the series into a different stratosphere!
The commercial areas that are currently under-exploited in Formula 1 are once again in the B2C space. The issue for Formula 1 is that whilst the new regime tries to take care of things behind closed doors, the sport often washes its laundry in public, which can deter investment.
What can Formula 1 learn from Formula E?
Where Formula E has been strong, almost a pioneer, is in the adoption of fan engagement, of digital activation and embedding entertainment into the heart of the events. Attracting millennial fans and a new demographic has also been a strong element of the success.
Formula 1 has identified that it needs to attract a younger audience whilst maintaining the interest. Formula 1 could definitely take on board Formula E’s flexible and open-minded approach to marketing its product – that’s no secret to anyone. From the app to the novel fan engagement elements such as Fan Boost, e-sports at CES, the new virtual race that’s launching as well as points for pole position and soon points for the most economical performance, all these elements drive greater interest and following by the fans. Another area that Formula E seems to have under control is the relationship with the teams in the series. Everyone is on the same page and pushing to the same end. There does not seem to be the same divisive self-interest between the parties that we’ve seen in the past in Formula 1 (and to some degree still today).
Are there lessons Formula E can learn from Formula 1 then?
The greatest lesson that Formula E can take from Formula 1, in my view, is not to become complacent and not to take the consumer for granted. History has a habit of repeating itself, and as Formula E grows in interest and success weighs heavy on the shoulders of the FEH team, they should remain humble and look to always improve and evolve the sport for the good of all parties, but not at the expense of cost.
With the arrival of even more automotive names such as Nissan, Mercedes, Porsche, even the most ardent detractors are now coming around.”
If you were working with a brand looking to enter a motorsport series, which series would you be more comfortable aligning them with?
Either, or neither! In reality, Rush Sport & Entertainment don’t favour any property over another. We work with our clients to assess all opportunities and advise according to an array of variables. Many factors dictate which property is better suited to helping the brand achieve its objectives. We have on occasion advised a brand not to enter either series and to look at relevant alternative properties, properties that are better suited to achieving success. At the end of the day, a sponsorship, once you removed the glitz and glamour, is a simple marketing decision that should be based on metrics, insight, and some gut instinct.
Are you often asked which series do you prefer?
Absolutely, very often, but this question totally misses the point, in my opinion. It is unfair to compare the two series. It’s like asking a parent to choose their favourite child, I guess. The fact is that they are at different stages of life. One has been going for over half a century, and the other for less than half a decade! Therefore, you can’t say, for example, that one is better than the other.
To our team, they both have their own strengths and their specific weaknesses. However, they can surely co-exist and thrive.
Prediction time. In 25 years, which series will be more popular?
That’s a tough one. It’s hard to know where any of us will be in 25 years. As Toto Wolff recently said, four years ago he didn’t give Formula E a hope of surviving. Now he’ll be entering a team into the series as Mercedes EQ in 18 months. This is proof that it doesn’t pay to look too far down the track, and always reserve the right to change one’s mind.