SBJ/September 17-23, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Planned Formula E series hopes fans will feel the electricity

Terry Lefton
If you put together a wish list for any U.S. motorsports marketer, it would likely include three consistent elements: putting an environmentally friendly face on their sport, attracting a younger audience, and tapping into some of the hundreds of millions of dollars Formula One racing generates outside of North America.
Introducing Formula E.

Using the imprimatur of F1 via a license and sanction from the motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, Formula E is a new electric car circuit that hopes to launch in 2014 with cars that can go as fast as 150 miles per hour for around 25 minutes, which means each team shuffles cars during races akin to a relay race. The plan is for 10 teams with 20 drivers to take part in 15 races across the globe, run in and around cities so that landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge would be part of the race course, without the noise pollution that accompanies other motorsports and prevents many of them from racing within inner cities. Three or four races are planned for the U.S. with the remainder in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America.

“F1 doesn’t succeed in America because it’s perceived as not being much different from IndyCar or NASCAR. We are unique.”
Alejandro Agag
CEO, Formula E
Photo by: FORMULA E
“We want this to be very U.S.-centric,” insisted Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, adding he wants at least three U.S. teams. “F1 doesn’t succeed in America because it’s perceived as not being much different from IndyCar or NASCAR. We are unique.”

In a departure from its normal work, branding/design firm SME is handling U.S. sponsorship and media sales. Media rights are not set, which of course is what any potential corporate sponsor will want to know.

The business plan for Formula E is highly dependent on sponsorship. Agag, a former part owner of the English Premier League Queens Park Rangers, says the circuit is targeting $100 million in sponsorship sales before a single race is run. He sees endemic opportunities among electric car manufacturers, battery manufacturers and power companies. He’s also hoping the likes of Apple, Google or Facebook will want to associate with sustainability and a strong technology play. Beyond that, he says, “so many large companies like Coke have a strong sustainability play now, so we think we can attract some attention there.’’

Formula E expects its electric car will go as fast as 150 mph for about 25 minutes, meaning teams will run multiple cars.
Photo by: FORMULA E
He feels that the circuit’s technology and logistics will be more challenging than attracting sponsorship dollars.

The fledgling series is bankrolled by Formula E Holdings, which is a consortium that includes Spanish real estate developer and billionaire Enrique Banuelos.

Teams will be subsidized by the circuit to start, but “will never cost more than $10 million for a team,” Agag said. That’s the equivalent of bupkis in F1 circles.

Race cities and media rights have to be further defined before a more definitive pitch is launched, but SME Managing Partner Paul Sewards says he has been making quiet inquiries and hopes to have a comprehensive offering this fall. “Cost is a big question and we don’t want to under-price ourselves, so while we are in some active conversations, we still have some time,” he said.

NO FREEZE OUT: Even with a work stoppage apparently inevitable, the party line at the NHL is business as usual.

“We are preparing with our partners to start the season as soon as possible,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing, “but we are finalizing some renewals and filling some open categories.”

Wachtel was mum on specifics. However, we’ve heard from various sources that the league is having some sales success, even with a stoppage that most see costing the league at least as many games as last year’s NBA lockout, which trimmed 16 games off that league’s 82-game regular season. We are also mindful that Sprint signed its four-year NBA sponsorship pact during last year’s lockout and it was one of that league’s largest deals ever.

Sources tell us Pfizer has completed a long-awaited NHL sponsorship deal in which it will leverage its Advil brand of ibuprofen. Here’s hoping there’s already a supply in-house for use during the upcoming bargaining sessions. Bayer has done a nice job leveraging its MLB sponsorship over the past two seasons, and we’re sure that Pfizer noticed.

It is unclear if rights for Pfizer’s other top over-the-counter brands — Centrum multivitamin and ChapStick lip balm — are included in the NHL deal. Meanwhile, the NHL is hoping to use the promise of integration within its video review “war room” in Toronto that reviews disputed calls as a means to attract a consumer electronics technology partner. For those of you keeping score among sports properties, that’s akin to the deal the NFL did not get done after Motorola and IBM’s rights expired after last season.

MITT MASTERS: Rawlings has awarded its Gold Glove awards for fielding excellence since 1957, but it’s Wilson that has the rights as MLB’s official glove, while Rawlings markets MLB’s official ball and helmet. So, Rawlings continues to add marketing muscle to its Gold Glove platform, reprising an ESPN selection show and its gala awards this fall.

The Gold Glove selection show
and awards gala will be back.
Photo by: RAWLINGS
“We feel like we’ve really added some depth to the brand,” said Mike Thompson, senior vice president of marketing.

Rawlings revived the gala last year after an 18-year gap. Also returning is the ESPN2 show in which the winners will be revealed and the show will again use talent from “Baseball Tonight.” The show is scheduled for late October or early November. The New York gala honoring the selections is scheduled to draw 600 and be held Nov. 9 at The Plaza.

Dick’s Sporting Goods is tied in with a sweepstakes offering a trip for two to the event, at which Robin Williams is the featured talent and Henry Aaron will receive a lifetime achievement award. Presenters will also include a number of MLB hall of famers.

Alliance Marketing Partners, Wynnewood, Pa., is seeking partners in the spirits, beer and financial services categories.

HERE & THERE: With a lockout looming, it does not appear that New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will be on NHL ice any time soon. However, he will be getting incremental exposure via an ESPN “This Is SportsCenter” ad scheduled to shoot this week. IMG signed the 30-year-old goalie for marketing representation earlier this year. Other NHLers of note who have appeared in “This Is SportsCenter” spots include Wayne Gretzky, Chris Chelios, Alex Ovechkin (also represented by IMG) and former Rangers goalie Mike Richter. There have been around 375 “This is SportsCenter” ads from agency Wieden & Kennedy since they debuted in 1994 … Former Los Angeles Dodgers, Kings, Lakers and Galaxy sales and marketing executive Sergio del Prado joins Comcast’s Front Row Marketing as a regional sales vice president, based in Los Angeles. Del Prado joked that it was not because he had run out of teams to sell for in the city.
 
Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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