Formula 1 is in robust shape but needs to attend to the demands of new media, that was the strong message from Monaco this week. And Mercedes team boss Nick Fry indicated that the sport was now ready to take that step.
The Motor Sport Forum has just wrapped up and delegates are leaving with plenty of new ideas and insights.
Over the two days we have heard a lot about the impact of the credit crunch on motorsport, how the Copenhagen climate change talks will impact the sport in future and heard a great deal about the next turn of the wheel with regard to new media and ways the sport can embrace it.
The World Rally Championship seems to be the most advanced on this front, with a dynamic presentation which revealed that they have a wide open approach to how fans use their content, encouraging them to post event content on You Tube and other social network sites and then in turn going out to those communities and drawing them back into WRC. They also have a game in development which will allow players to compete on a stage against Sebastien Loeb or Kimi Raikkonen in real time as the WRC event is going.
But they do not have $450 million a year of TV rights income to protect, unlike F1. This afternoon’s session saw media professionals like Ben Gallop, the head of F1 from the BBC and Jayme Brito, who heads Globo TV’s F1 offering in Brazil, robustly arguing that the broadcast model is not broken and that it has plenty of life in it yet. Gallop said that for all the success of its online services this year, TV is still the way most people consume Formula 1.
There were some interesting voices, such as Jacques Raynaud, vice chairman of Eurosport who warned motorsport in general and F1 competitors in particular to stop generating endless bad publicity about their own sport, arguing about rules like double diffusers or threatening to break away,
“In no other sport do the players systematically bad mouth the rules and threaten to quit, “he said, “My feeling after 17 years in sports broadcasting is that we have reached the tipping point for this. How can we build and invest if motorsport people bad mouth their sport.” F1 is only on Eurosport in France, but his point was not only aimed at F1.
Prior to the Forum I got a quote from LG’s head of sponsorship Andrew Barrett which gave me the in-point for launching this debate this week,
“The challenge for F1 is to evolve a very successful business in new channels, the ones that people are increasingly choosing to consume sport through, especially the internet,” he said. “F1 has been visionary, now it’s at risk of losing it with the evolving markets and media spectrum. The MTV generation watch TV in a different way, but the broadcast needs to evolve to capture that viewer, both on TV and online. That is a challenge. Also this is one of the few professional sports in the world that is not broadcast in High Definition.”
Mercedes F1 boss Nick Fry sat on a panel this morning with Michael Roche who runs the Singapore GP and Marissa Pace from Kangaroo, talking at how to improve the show. Fry, who said Brawn’s website budget for 2009 had been just £18,000, admitted that F1 had been hopelessly slow to embrace the internet, but that is about to change,
“We are guilty of being slow on this, ” he said. There has been a lot of discussion a lot of change, things are more open now. When I started in F1 9 years ago, meetings with the FIA and FOM were appalling. Now it is dramatically different. Business realities are taking over. We have to up our game because our competitors have upped their game.” Now, he said, Bernie Ecclestone was more open to listening to the teams and other stakeholders about what they need for their businesses.
“I think it is a bit of old fashioned thinking to think that by giving people more over the internet they will consume less somewhere else,” Fry said. “In fact, with younger consumers and fans are actually doing both – they are not reducing their consumption of one because you are giving them more in another area. They are doing both maybe at the same time.
CVC have definitely had a hand in this because they know that they cannot rely on earning $450 million per year from broadcasters for ever and need new sources of significant revenue to service their substantial debt on the F1 business.
Newcomers like Gerard Lopes, who is bidding to buy Renault and Tony Fernandes, who owns the Lotus F1 team are also helping to drive that change.
Lopes was seen in discussion with a senior Renault figure here yesterday, the pair were in casual clothes, “blending in”. I hear from colleagues in France that Renault are keen to know whether Lopes is interested in buying the team for himself or as a Trojan Horse for Flavio Briatore, to whom the company would not sell for obvious reasons.
Fry also revealed that most of the potential sponsors, looking at getting involved in F1 are from Asia and the Middle East, illustrating that the model of taking races into those markets does in turn bring new income to the teams through sponsorship. He said that the joint FOTA launch had been agreed by all teams, not what I heard from other team principals, and that it would take place in Valencia in late January. I know that many teams are afraid that Ferrari and Alonso would grab all the coverage and Tony Fernandes pointed out that he would not have a car ready by then!