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Volume 20 No. 41
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F1 players accelerate growth in U.S.

As Formula One starts its first season under new American ownership, several of the series’ entities have made a push to find U.S.-based sponsorship, moves that could clutter an already crowded motorsports marketplace.

Storied F1 team Williams Martini Racing has restructured its sales team within the past year, adding two U.K.-based salespeople who focus solely on North American business development, said Richard Berry, head of commercial at Williams. New F1 owner Liberty Media has spoken with U.S.-based agencies about landing deals with American companies for the racing series, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Liberty also has stated its intentions to grow F1’s footprint in the U.S., from adding races to other elements. And racing technology company McLaren, headed up by motorsports marketer Zak Brown, announced in January that it brought aboard former Just Marketing International salesman Ben Priest to find sponsorship in the U.S.

This is on top of Haas F1 Team, the first U.S.-based F1 team in decades, continuing its efforts to find sponsorship as the organization enters its second year of competition.

Williams Martini Racing sees the U.S. as a growth market for sponsorship and marketing.

“It’s not just the U.S. — we’ll do the same in Asia as well — but we think one of the key markets going forward is undoubtedly the U.S.,” said Berry, who was in New York City last week to attend the Leaders Sport Business Summit and meet with prospective sponsors and agencies. “There’s growth from NBC over the last couple years, Liberty’s spoken in the public domain about growing Formula One’s presence in the U.S., so there’s no question that given the number of major corporations with a global view being headquartered in various parts of the U.S., it’s a very important market for us.”

For many years, F1 teams typically had small business development teams, relying primarily on agencies like Just Marketing to land sponsors, Berry said. But Williams, which counts Martini and Unilever brand Rexona among its major sponsors, decided to grow its business development team from three executives to nine last year. Two team executives, Justin Mountstephens and Alice Richardson, focus on the North American market. They will make four to six trips to the region this year. Williams is considering eventually moving one of them to the U.S. permanently and opening a U.S. office.

For Brown, a native Californian who lives in England and now serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group, adding a U.S.-based salesman when he came aboard late last year just made sense.

Said Brown: “No. 1, Formula One is popular there, No. 2, it’s getting more popular, but then No. 3, there’s a lot of global companies that you need to visit and it doesn’t matter that they’re U.S. based because they’re global in scale.”

Sources say that among the sponsorship targets of the various entities are Apple and other big-name Silicon Valley firms.

Only one F1 race is now held in the U.S., at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, but there is talk of adding races in locations that could include the New York City region, Miami, Las Vegas or Long Beach, Calif.

Adam Jacobs, chief marketing officer of Haas F1 Team, said he’s taking a more-the-merrier approach when viewing the added competition for sponsorships.

“Personally, I think it’s great, because it reaffirms what we’ve already known, which is the U.S. is a very viable market and poised for growth as it relates to Formula One,” Jacobs said. “Especially with the discussion of potentially adding another race in North America, I think it’s smart of teams to position themselves accordingly.”