The official launch has taken place of Season Five of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. Round One of the 2018/19 race calendar gets underway on 15th December and will see Ad Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, play host to the opening race of the fully electric street racing series, its first time in the Middle East.
The new season will also see the debut of a bold new brand identity, brought to life through the strapline ‘We are fiercely driven,’ as well as new technology and changes to the racing format, including the addition of a new ‘Attack Mode.’
For the first time, every race is to be streamed live on YouTube thanks to a pioneering partnership with the platform, which will see guest appearances from leading vloggers and youth influencers throughout the season. UK viewers will also be able to tune in via the BBC, following the conclusion of unprecedented UK rights deal.
Ahead of the new campaign, Sport Industry Group sat down with Formula E’s recently appointed new chief marketing officer, Jerome Hiquet, to discuss the development and direction of motorsport’s most dynamic global series as it continues to grow in momentum.
What’s driving the momentum behind Formula E?
The organisation has done a great job over the past four seasons to build the product’s foundations. They deserve credit for that, and for its work over the last 12 months too, establishing how we can have a lot more unpredictable races. I think the new Gen2 car and Attack Mode are going to result in a lot of changes in strategies.
Another key element is a change in terms of how we try to innovate for fans, for those that want to watch on TV or digitally. We believe that Formula E is about the race, the driver, but also something that is interesting for the spectators. Elements such as Attack Mode are going to be very cool to watch, creating that drama.
In summary, it’s a combination of a new car, more manufacturers, more host cities, more drivers, more teams, more activation, more broadcaster interest willing to partner and a new type of broadcaster who want to make some unique content in sport with us. It is a certainly a momentum.
We are all about electric vehicle transformation and adaption for the planet. There is a real mission behind us that I’m not sure that all sports can claim so strongly.
What I think is unique for Formula E is that we are disruptive, we are young, we’ll make mistakes, but we are ready to take risks, because the fiercely driven is about that, to build something bigger.
Formula E CEO, Alejandro Agag, described Season Five as the “moment of truth for Formula E.” Would you agree?
During the first few years, people were looking at Formula E thinking, ‘it’s cool, but what is it?’ By Season Four, they realised that we are a real race.
Now with Season Five, they will realise that we are not just a B2B platform about sustainability. We are a platform where you have drivers like Felipe Massa coming in and new manufacturers coming in.
We are going to grow because we have a purpose, because we are not only a sport, we are bringing more entertainment. So, the ‘moment of truth’ is potentially for us to say that we are moving to a new dimension and we have to be ready for that. We know we have something big. With now just one week before the first race, we are excited for it to begin.
To what extent are the new brand and racing developments a reaction to what your competitors are doing?
There aren’t a lot of sports that can claim that they are both a sport and entertainment, whilst also having a social purpose, which is to make electric vehicle adaption faster.
The way we are thinking about this mission in sport and entertainment, Attack Mode, for instance, is a new aspect not only for motorsport, but a new way of thinking for races and sport. It’s gamification, a more entertaining aspect to the race. What makes us unique is to continue to focus on the unpredictability of the race.
Wanting to stay ahead, we are going to push more and more about how we can make it more exciting for both motorsport fans and also those sports fans in any form. If we can entice more people to watch the races, then we’ll be delighted.
Much has been made of your unprecedented BBC deal this season. Why are those traditional broadcasters still so important to a rightsholder like Formula E?
We want to be accessible for everyone. We don’t want people to have to think about what specific channel they have to search for to be able to access. This season you can experience the BBC Formula E aspect, or you can go on the YouTube aspect. As it’s free-to-air and accessible for everyone, that’s important for us to have that diversity and be able to make it something bigger. We want to remain accessible not only live in the city, but also on TV, or digital.
Building on that, another key development is your YouTube streaming partnership, described is a first-of-its kind. What do you hope these influencer-fronted broadcasts will achieve?
I will tell you, we will all have to watch. The YouTube influencer show will be totally new, but this new audience want to understand and engage in the sport in different ways.
We want to prioritise the authenticity of what influencers are doing with the race. We don’t want to be a copycat of what you will see on broadcast. We want viewers to see something that is happening for the audience who are fans of the likes of KSI or other influencers.
What Formula E did was to say we are going to create with influencers a new way to experience the race, a way that I think is unique. We want to create this unpredictability with new influencers for each race. We don’t want to script everything, so it’s certainly going to be fun and an interesting show to watch.
What impact have you seen on your commercial programme?
To start to have partners that have a strong B2C brand, it’s something that, as marketers and someone obsessed with fan engagement, can mean a great deal. Because you can then begin to not only think just about activation with them.
We’ve just announced Moët & Chandon as the official champagne partner and we previously signed with Heineken. Brands like that are powerful, because you’ll then able to think even further about how you engage with fans. It’s great for us. It’s quite unique for a five-year old organisation to see such a big B2B and B2C brands coming in.
Heading to the Middle East for the very first time in the first race, what are other territories might we see Formula E explore in the future?
As we recently announced, we are in good position for going to South Korea (Seoul), which would be fantastic. A new country and another iconic city. The UK, with London, is an interesting potential city, as is New Zealand and Brazil is an interesting prospect as well.
The situation for us is to always remain faithful to what we are about, explore other cities and go where the fans are, whether because of a driver, the team or because of the general interest in motorsport.
It’s interesting for me as a newcomer to arrive in a situation where the sport has so many requests to say, ‘we would like to see Formula E in our city.’ It goes back to that point that we are a sport, are entertaining and have that social purpose.
What would be considered a success for Formula E once the season concludes in New York in July?
I think success would mean more fan engagement, for those both coming to enjoy the races live and watching the show. Our ambition would be for people to realise that we are in a big league now, because of not only our product, but also because of what we can deliver as an experience.
It would also be great to look at the YouTube influencer broadcast as something that we can replicate in any country on any format.
In some aspects, we are ahead of the game, looking at gamification and the new type of distribution of the content. It’s a new age for customer engagement and with Season Five and Season Six, with new manufacturers coming in next year will create more aspects. It’s not just a one season focus.
Now we have a strong product and we have strong partners, we have to continue to aim to bring more to the fans, because that’s what will make the difference. Learn what we did well and we’ll see how we can go further, which is why a lot has been invested in the last 12 months.
My objective is to continue to build. We realise how lucky we are to have this momentum, but we are serious about making it bigger. We want to be a loved brand, and as a business we want to be sure that partners are very happy with us and as an experience we want to be the pinnacle of motorsport. We have strong ambition and we want to try and achieve that.