Sean Bratches – New races, new audiences for the global marketplace

16 May 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

Formula One's Sean Bratches said that Dutch driver Max Verstappen’s popularity “clearly weighed significantly” when taking the decision for the Dutch Grand Prix to return to the F1 calendar after a 35 year absence.

Bratches also referenced the “significant amount of investment” that any new race is obligated to make to create overtaking and excitement on the circuit. The former ESPN executive highlighted how Formula One “wasn’t really a commercially developed entity when Liberty acquired it, and not only did it not have a research department, it didn’t have any research on how fans perceived the sport.” Under the new ownership, a global brand study reinforced the importance of racing and overtaking, and this is now at the forefront of criteria when selecting the races. 

However, Bratches would not be drawn on which of the circuits may drop from the 21 races in the calendar. Amongst all the financial factors, one other consideration highlighted by Bratches when selecting where and how many Grand Prix there are was “the human stress on the participants of the sport, from top to bottom […] so we’re not jumping all over the world.”

The Managing Director, Commercial Operations at Formula One also picked out what he saw as some of unique aspects of the sport from a marketing and brand perspective. He highlighted how “in virtually every other major sport around the world, the teams are not consumer brands. Some of the challenges we have to negotiate and consider in a thoughtful way is that Formula One, for the most part, is comprised of consumer brands like Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Renault and Red Bull.

“So in terms of developing initiatives, we have to take into consideration the considerations that the brands have about their market place and how they want to be positioned. That’s something unique in F1 that we have to deal with, you can’t buy an NFL team and turn it into your name.”

Bratches added that they were placed to make the most of their status as a global sport, something that he said had not been fully maximised under the previous ownership.

“We are the purest of the three big global sports events; you’ve got the Olympics and you’ve got the World Cup which take place once every four years and in one country. We take place every year in 21 countries, across five continents so I think we are in a good spot as the global marketplace becomes smaller. Brands are looking to activate on a global platform, and I think we are a very good partner in that regard.”

The conversation moved to widening the appeal of F1 beyond its traditional audience and when discussing the Netflix series about the sport, Bratches was optimistic about the prospects of a second series. However, he wasn’t able to provide details on whether new or existing fans were being reached by the show, saying: “Netflix are very smart, they don’t unleash a lot of the analytics and data, they want to keep the leverage on their side of the table.”

Nonetheless, Bratches was confident it was having a positive impact alongside their new suite of multiple digital platforms which all were helping “pivot us from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand.”