Sports marketing is like the ultimate game of ‘show and tell’ — the art of turning sweaty athletes into household names, transforming a stadium into a colosseum, and convincing you that buying that team jersey is a life-altering decision. And doing all this while, not so subtly, putting brand names in the mix.

Labelling venues and home grounds like Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium or the Dallas Cowboys’ MetLife is just one of the ways these powerful brands, while providing significant financial support to the respective sports franchises, have also boosted the visibility and recognition for their brands, turning them into household names within the sports world.

In the high-speed world of sports marketing, Formula 1 is like a sleek, high-octane Ferrari. While the pinnacle of motorsports has been able to capture the hearts of millions of fans worldwide, it has also become a lucrative playground for brands looking to rev up their marketing efforts.

Sean Hanrahan, the Senior Vice President of Disney Advertising Sports Brand Solutions, who recently renewed the Formula 1 deal for its channel ESPN, believes no other sport offers better depth, diversity and width of sports offerings than Formula 1. It truly is a global phenomenon, attracting a diverse and passionate fan base.

In the high-speed world of sports marketing, Formula 1 is like a sleek, high-octane Ferrari

With races held on five continents and broadcast by nearly 100 channels, Formula 1 reported 1.55 billion television viewers back in 2021 and 5.7 million people in attendance post-Covid restrictions in 2022.

These jaw-dropping figures make Formula 1 one of the most-watched sporting events worldwide. The sport’s ability to transcend borders and cultures makes it an ideal platform for global brand exposure. It’s not just the brands; even the sport’s economic impact on host cities is immense.

According to a report carried out by Applied Analysis, both the 2022 and 2023 Miami Grands Prix brought in a huge $798 million to the city. Similar races in destinations such as Monaco, Singapore and Austin, Texas, have also seen significant economic boosts.

With the massive viewership numbers of Formula 1 and the eye-watering budgets of global brands, it is a match made in marketing heaven. The sport has consistently enticed some of the world’s most prominent brands, creating synergies that benefit both parties. For instance, after beating major competitors such as Hublot and Tag Heuer in 2013, Rolex became the official timekeeper and official timepiece of Formula 1. The deal, according to Forbes, was worth a staggering $45 million a year.

Sometimes, even when the deals are very obviously murky, in terms of the message they promote, they tend to survive in the sport. After all, cash is king. Famously, Heineken, the Dutch brewing company, has been a prominent figure in Formula 1 since 2016 as a global partner. Their reported annual investment of around $50 million includes branding rights and a presence at numerous Grand Prix events.

With the globally prevalent issue of drunk driving and it being one of the most prominent killers on the road, Formula 1 faced a mild backlash from the community for bridging the link between alcohol and driving cars (read: really fast driving cars). The deal went through anyway but, soon after, Heineken was pushed to make an interesting alteration to their marketing strategy at Formula 1 events.

They shifted from branding their regular alcoholic beer brand to marketing their non-alcoholic version of the drink. The brand survives on the walls of almost all Formula 1 tracks to this day and this deal has contributed to Heineken’s growing global footprint and brand recognition.

Before alcohol, it was big tobacco brands that faced a considerably sustained and a much more serious resistance, with Formula 1 blamed for proliferating cancer-causing habits. It took a good part of a decade and now we can see that no tobacco brand exists anywhere on the grid.

Mission Winnow was a very thinly veiled effort by Ferrari’s long term tobacco sponsor, Marlboro, to greenwash their image. This heavily criticised and scarcely credible effort by a tobacco giant is a true demonstration of how impactful Formula 1 sponsorships can be and that a company as big as Philip Morris International (PMI) had to make such a far-fetched attempt to just exist somewhere in the sport.

More often than not, partnerships with major global brands in Formula 1, mostly technology-focused brands, are more than just marketing deals; they are game-changing technological alliances that are aimed at boosting the performance of teams.

Teams use the knowledge and resources of their partners to gain an advantage. Whether it’s automotive giants providing cutting-edge engine technology, aerospace specialists aiding aerodynamics, or leading technology companies enhancing data analytics, Formula 1 partnerships are a breeding ground for innovation.

Google, while talking to Eos about their multi-year partnership deal with McLaren’s Formula 1 team, emphasise that their partnership is more than just a marketing effort. While it gives Google the opportunity to showcase their products’ capabilities in front of millions of Formula 1 fans across the world, they believe it’s a first-of-its-kind partnership that sees McLaren integrating Google technology, such as Chrome, into its race-day and wider operations, to make the team faster and more secure.

This technical alliance is helping McLaren in several ways, including supporting quick and secure data transfers on race day and providing tools for connections across devices and ecosystems. Google’s Chrome gives the team quick access to critical data on and off the track, with the potential to develop web-based dashboards to help the team make quick data-driven decisions for drivers and their cars, while Google’s Fitbit devices are used by McLaren to monitor their team’s overall health and wellbeing.

With a sport that is global in the truest sense, it is an exciting challenge for brand managers to create marketing strategies that are global yet locally relevant to every country where Formula 1 goes, which is 20 just this year. With two teams out of 10, Red Bull remains one of the major stakeholders in the sport. Being an energy drink brand, Red Bull has been at the forefront of major marketing campaigns that have come out of Formula 1 in recent years.

Talking to Eos, Bilal Jawed Udhi, Red Bull’s marketing manager for the Pakistani market, stresses the bonding strength that Formula 1 culture entails, bringing people from different regions together.

“When planning our brand activations, Red Bull particularly focuses on the local nuances,” he says. “Recently, one of the most popular localised campaigns by Red Bull was when Formula 1 visited the Suzuka Circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix — where Red Bull star drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez engaged with local sumo wrestlers for a fun outing with various challenges in the ring.

“Red Bull believes that, with the emerging culture of carting circuits, motorsports fandom is on the rise in Pakistan,” adds Udhi. “Similar to our localised marketing efforts in other markets, Red Bull is planning on investing further in Pakistan’s motorsports scene, where we want to create a culture around this fast-paced sport, from screening events of Formula 1 weekends to promoting the carting culture with organised races.”

In a country where cricket has traditionally reigned supreme and has been the only sport able to attract sponsors for the past few decades, motorsports is presenting itself as a potential avenue for brand managers.

With brands’ interest in the local fan base, the road ahead for Pakistani Formula 1 enthusiasts can be exciting, with a community that comes together around the thrilling sounds of those powerful cars. Pakistan may not be hosting a race in the near future, but in the hearts of its fans, the Formula 1 excitement has already found a home.

In the realm of sports marketing, winning isn’t just about what happens on the field; it’s also about who has the snappiest commercials, the catchiest slogans, and the flashiest halftime shows.

So, next time you find yourself wearing your favorite team’s cap or humming a jingle from a sports-related ad, just remember that it’s sports marketing working its magic — turning athletes and their gear into the coolest toys in the grown-up playground!

The writer is a marketing and communications professional.
X: @adaffan

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 22nd, 2023

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