“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” ― Ernest Hemingway
I think there are clear comparisons between the worlds of Cricket and Formula 1.
Both are steeped in tradition and folklore. Both are institutions in their own right. Both command a huge level of respect and commercial attraction. There are many more comparisons that could be drawn however, Cricket, it has to be said, is doing a far better job of navigating the generational change that is swinging like a wrecking ball through both sports.
The arrival of Twenty20 in the past decade and the One Day format in the 70s have shown the willingness of the Cricket to evolve, as the traditional 5 day format started to wain with the cricketing loyalists and with the viewing public on television. Just watch this video and you’ll see what I mean.
Formula One has changed little in the past 50 years. The number of teams has more or less remained the same. The chief protagonists have changed very little too.
At the heart of all the current issues in the sport is the escalating costs of competing in Formula 1 and the perceived unfairness of the distribution of monies between the teams based on pre-existing contracts and the performance across the season.
Highly respected Formula 1 journalist and author Joe Saward recently illustrated the various “flows” of monies inside the sport based on a number of assumptions and knowledge that only his years of experience could provide. It makes for interesting reading because a even a 8th Grade Economics student would tell you that the current arrangement is unsustainable. Add to that, regular commentary from people like Martin Brundle who rightly point out that “…[if you] give a Formula 1 team $1, they’ll spend $1.10.”
But back to Cricket for a moment.
Earlier this week at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the famed and highly respected cricket commentary team from Channel 9's Wide World Of Sports gathered for the 2014/15 season photo.
Assembled in the photo is quite simply cricket royalty. Lead by 84 year-old Richie Benaud, the team, is to a certain degree long-in-the-tooth, however Australian television network Channel 9 have also been very shrewd and assembled a team of commentators who appeal to my cricket tragic father, and my equally cricket loving son.
That’s a fan-base spanning 64 years. Mike Hussey and Brett Lee are gods to my eleven year-old son, and Ian Chappell, Shane Warne and Mark Taylor have enthralled my father from his seat in the M.A. Noble stand at the SCG in the first week of January for as long as I can remember. Not once have I ever heard the cries of despair from Cricket that we are hearing this week from Formula 1.
Formula 1 has I believe a number of crises on its hands at the moment. Putting the fiscal management of the sport to one side, there are still a number of operational and commercial issues to address.
In the Formula 1 coverage from Sky Sports F1 during the recent Brazilian Grand Prix a great piece was put to air where esteemed Formula 1 journalist and former Williams F1 Team Manager, Peter Windsor and former Formula 1 driver Martin Brundle went head-to-head on the subject of the third car being an option in 2015 for some teams. , Martin refers to cost control, an ageing audience, and the need for the sport to do more to leverage new and social media. Martin says at one point, “…three car teams address none of these issues.” He’s absolutely right.
Formula 1 in recent years was an amazing spectacle that even the most ardent fans of anything except motorsport could not help but be impressed by, especially if they were fortunate enough to attend a race weekend. I have longed for years to take my non sport-loving wife to a race just so she could understand what keeps me out of bed until midnight most Sunday nights form April to October. I attended the Melbourne race in 2000 where I spent as much time looking at everything going on around me in the paddock as I did looking at the racing on the track. Watching the teams, the drivers, the media, and the photographers such as Mark Sutton and Darren Heath do their thing was mega-impressive. To properly inhale a race weekend you need 4 pairs of eyes and ears — there’s just so much going on!
Sadly, fourteen years on, that same sensory overload has diminished. Like Martin and Peter, I deeply love this sport and in my opinion as both a fan and a digital business director, there are four areas I think the sport must review and act on as a priority.
The sound of the cars was the signature of the sport. The opening titles of the Sky Sports F1 show each race weekend still presents the glorious piercing 2013 engine noise soundtrack with vision of the cars from 2013 and 2014. That to me is telling.
No one can deny that the sound was deafening — but that was the point. All motorsport is LOUD! NASCAR is loud. V8 Supercars is loud. MotoGP is loud. WRC is loud. Right now, Formula 1 just sounds like my vacuum cleaner.
This broadcast vision of the cars too needs to be addressed. The camera angles are very uniform, the photos of the cars from Sutton, Rose, Heath et al are beautiful, but clearly limited in terms of vantage points. The best shots I see on Twitter and Instagram these days are from the Paddock. That’s not what fans want. We want cars on the ragged edge. We want the cars, drivers, team personnel, grid girls, celebrities, locals — all the colour and personality of the very fortunate countries that host a Formula 1 race today — and we want it performing at 110% of its capacity.
At a time when nearly everything in business and technology needs to be capable of expanding exponentially at break-neck speed, Formula 1 might actually benefit from doing the reverse. This comes back to Martin’s comment — and that of many others — that “controlling costs” is the key to recalibrating the sport to comfortably accommodate at least twelve two-car teams with profit at the end of the season for everyone and additional fiscal upside to those teams and drivers who have performed to the highest standard over the year.
Formula 1 currently travels the globe thanks to six DHL 747 cargo planes chartered by Formula One Management (FOM). Cut that capacity to four planes and give every team the same amount of space on the aircraft. If Ferrari (for example) needs more space, then they can buy unused space from Caterham or Marussia thus generating incremental income for the smaller teams, but the overall capacity for Formula 1 is capped. Teams wishing to charter flights to get personnel or equipment to races or testing should be penalised for doing so. Back in the day, teams would have to “make do” with what they had at the circuit.
Capping aircraft capacity will be ironic to those of you that can remember the halcyon days of Minardi when Australian Paul Stoddart owned a charter airline called European Aviation and flew some of the teams around the world in his Boeing 747 and 737 aircraft. I’m pretty sure some of Minardi’s revenue from year to year was subsidised by a favour here or there.
Another way to cap costs is to limit the number of staff permitted to attend a race weekend. Yesterday’s press detailed Red Bull Racing’s AU$360m budget for 2014. What was more alarming was that covered 675 staff. That’s $533,333 per employee. Caterham went to the wall with a budget of AU$139m! I’m pretty sure if I offered any of the V8 Supercars teams one-twentieth of the Caterham budget it would probably double what they’re working with today.
I’m not suggesting that we introduce a Stalin like attitude to parity, I’m just suggesting that we cap what can easily, and really should be, capped. Reduce the excesses and level the playing field a little more.
Digital Media Technology
This is possibly the main area were Formula 1 is soundly beaten by the likes of the aforementioned Cricket, and NASCAR, V8 Supercars, and WRC not to mention NFL, MLB and even the NRL and AFL. The concept of media today is so much deeper and broader than even 5 years ago.
Yes, there’s traditional TV, press, and radio — and then there’s a whole other world out there where these media are dwarfed by the speed and reach of the likes of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Qzone and Instagram. Qzone is the 3rd largest social media platform on the planet — with more than 800m Chinese actively using the site on a monthly basis.
Formula 1 like many sports with a global television audience controls almost 100% of the content that is broadcast. That’s great from a broadcast perspective, but what about social media? Social media needs only two things to work — content and an engaged audience — both are arguably in abundance in Formula 1.
At present Twitter is the only social platform that has an official and verified Formula 1 presence. The account just rebroadcasts updates from formula1.com/news and never responds to any engagement from its 1.05m followers. A quick look on the other platforms and Formula 1 has no official presence on Facebook, YouTube, Qzone or Instagram — all highly efficient ways of connecting with a new, fast growing, and mobile audience. An audience that boasts monthly active users in the several billions.
The sport needs clear digital leadership to work within FOM with Tata Communications and the social media platforms to build a socially connected media environment for the sport. This will bring new markets and new fans into the sport at a far greater rate than staging new events in strategically relevant markets like Russia and Asia.
All the teams on the grid have incredibly sophisticated traditional and digital marketing resources behind them with the associated brands such as Red Bull, Mercedes-AMG and Martini in full support. Looking at other global sports with a comparable reach, it is only Formula 1 that lacks the leadership in digital media as a sport.
This is an area where Cricket (in Australia at least) has invested heavily the past couple of years. Cricket Australia (CA) now has 3 main pillars of its digital strategy. The first is cricket.com.au where all the news, social media, content, scores, and opinions are available. CA has employed 11 full time journalists to provide round the clock content for the website. Their social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter contain behind-the-scenes content bringing fans closed to the action in the lead-up to a very busy Summer ahead. The content specifically geared to an audience that’s mobile across the stunning Australian Summer.
The second pillar is focussed on the administration of Cricket as a leading sporting body in Australia. The Cricket Australia website is all about the social and geographic influence of cricket around Australia.
The third pillar is all about the kids and their enjoyment of playing cricket. The Play Cricket website is the connection between the sporting administration and the grass-roots development of the sport for young boys and girls in every corner of Australia.
That’s all it takes — three clear digital channels with very clear purposes, aligned under a single sporting philosophy.
As I said earlier in this story, I deeply love Formula 1. I have for many, many of my 41 years, and I now feel that the generational change in my beloved sport — that is a foregone conclusion — must be managed and directed actively.
We cannot wait until it’s too late, or worse.
Jan 7, 2015
I was reminded this morning of the video below from MercedesAMG. It still makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
It’s everything I love about this sport. I’m still passionate in my quest to guide Formula 1 into the present day and beyond.
The simplicity of this two minute clip is the reason why.