Meet the Member: “We are trying to short-circuit our growth path as a sport. That is a real challenge”
February 15, 2023
Last weekend Formula E held their first race in Hyderabad, one of a number of new cities they are racing in this year. Before he flew out to watch the race, Strategy Director Harry Browne sat down with our Content Manager Alex Brinton to talk about the new season of Formula E and where the sport will be in five years time.
To start, let’s take it back five years. What was it about Formula E that so attracted you and made you join the business from Altman Solon?
I was in strategy consulting at Altman Solon for about five years. It was an environment where I learned a hell of a lot, it was quite high pressure and had a lot of tough deadlines. I found that jumping from one business to another was not giving me a lot of in-depth experience. That is why I wanted to go in-house, to get stuck in and take some real ownership.
The opportunity came up to work in Strategy at Formula E, and it was a really exciting one for me because the subject matter is so interesting and the opportunity and room for growth was massive.
Season 9 of Formula E has just started, how has it changed in your time there?
Over the time I have been here investment in the team has increased a lot, and with that expectations and standards have as well. We have really good people who are subject matter experts in their discipline.
That also means that the focus of my role has shifted a bit from leading on a lot of projects to now making sure that the company is all pulling in the same direction.
In terms of the business of Formula E, the popularity and audience has grown hugely, as has the revenue generation, especially from sponsorship.
On track, we are now onto our third generation of cars. When I started the GEN1 cars would only last half the race and then the drivers would have to get out and swap. With each iteration the technology has moved on a great deal, and that has allowed us to do more with the racing product as well.
As we just touched on, Season 9 is just getting underway, what’s new this year?
The short answer is lots! It was the busiest off-season since I started.
We have a new GEN3 car, which is a massive step forward in terms of performance (capable of 200mph top speed) and is the most sustainable electric race car ever. We’ve got new venues: we’ve just raced in Hyderabad, India, next up is Cape Town, which will look fantastic. And then Sao Paulo, which is going to be great. Brazil is obviously a huge racing market, so we are really excited to go there. And we also go to Portland in the US for the first time later on in the season. We also have new teams, McLaren, Maserati and Cupra have all joined bringing huge motorsport pedigree.
Another element of the new car is that it is compatible with fast charging. So that is something that we are looking to implement during the season, and with that an update to the ruleset needed.
Finally, we have a new website and app, and have also been through a whole new brand refresh. The update has a far more entertaining feel and positions us as more of a challenger brand, whereas before if you were being critical you could say that we were coming across as a bit clinical.
So yeah, a lot has changed!
What are the particular challenges that are facing Formula E at the moment?
Firstly, with all those changes we really need to work to maximise each of those opportunities. We really need to make sure we nail every point on the implementation and use data to help us do that.
Secondly, what we are trying to do is to short-circuit our growth path as a sport, that is the real challenge. Most sports take decades to grow and mature; we are only in our ninth year and we are striving to become a tier one sport. The UFC and perhaps the IPL are the best examples in recent years, but not many people have been successful trying to do what we are doing.
We have all seen the extra attention that Formula 1 has got as a result of Drive to Survive, is this something that Formula E is looking into?
Drive to Survive has been a massive success for Formula 1, you only have to look at how much the sport has grown in the US in that time. It has also recently spawned a few sports doing similar with Break Point for Tennis and Full Swing for Golf. For it to be a success obviously the content needs to be great to cut-through, but also you need the right platform partner, promotional strategy and the content needs to fit with the strategy of what you are trying to achieve as a rightsholder.
We have been experimenting with our series Unplugged, which is a behind-the-scenes look at the sport, telling the stories of some of the teams and some of the drivers. As a sport that is so young we are highly agile so we can change things depending on what hits and what doesn’t.
Obviously with an electric sport it is important to be as sustainable as possible and you announced that you were Net Zero Carbon since inception in 2020, how difficult was it to get there?
It has always been so ingrained in the company that we have to set the standard when it comes to being sustainable that it was a natural to become Net Zero Carbon. As a company we are acutely aware of where our emissions are coming from and what we need to do minimise them. Becoming Net Zero Carbon was actually more of an extension of what we were already doing than actually changing a lot of practices in order to achieve it.
We also work with our partners to run local initiatives, including UNICEF and DHL. We want to make ourselves as sustainable as possible, but we also want to make a difference to the communities in which we race through smaller, local projects, for example making drinking water readily accessible in Mexico with the help of UNICEF.
There are so many ways in which you can engage fans digitally, how are Formula E evolving in that space?
Firstly, we have had a complete overhaul of our website and app. We took a step back, looked at all the user journeys and the experience fans would get and then re-designed them with that in mind. We also introduced some gamification elements to the website to keep people coming back again and again.
Secondly, we want to create really fun and engaging content on third party platforms. TikTok has been a great success for us this year, we are up 600% on last year. It is a great example of a platform where you can be more playful with the brand and show a funny, offbeat side to the sport.
Also when it comes to the licensing side of the business we are definitely looking at more games and products to try and introduce Formula E to a new audience.
Looking forward then, where do you see Formula E in five years time?
As I mentioned earlier our goal is to become a tier one sport. I think we can achieve that in five years but we will have to be really on it and nail our execution to get there. First and foremost we need to ensure our race product is top-tier, so that when they watch it once they want to come back again and again. If we rewind to two years ago, we completely overhauled the qualifying format. We went from a groups-based system to a head-to-head knockout system, and our qualifying audience increased 50% – it shows the power of making a positive change to the product, and it’s amazing the impact that that can have.
Fundamentally, we need to get the best teams and manufacturers with the best drivers racing in the best locations with the best coverage around that. That’s how we will become a tier one sport.