You won't find many Formula One sponsors who have a bad word to say about their partnerships. Last year F1 had 515m viewers which made it the world's most-watched annual sporting event. It is a platform like no other for brands looking to boost their exposure… however it does have its idiosyncrasies.
Pretty much the only concern which some sponsors have is that F1's marketing decisions are all concentrated in the hands of the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone. Historically, sponsors have had to put most requests for F1 footage or use of the sport's logo directly through Ecclestone as there was no marketing team. Not so long ago the telephone number of F1's London headquarters was even ex-directory and the staff still answer the phone by saying the phone number rather than the name of the company.
It is all part of Ecclestone's strategy of shrouding F1 in a cloak of secrecy which in turn makes it more desirable and exclusive. There is no doubt that it has paid off financially for Ecclestone, the teams, the sponsors and most of the other companies involved with F1. Marketing and promotion seems to run counter to this strategy but it has become unavoidable.
F1's biggest shareholder is private equity firm CVC - a company which uses other people's money to buy businesses and make a profit on selling them. Marketing improves F1's visibility which leads to more viewers and theoretically higher television audiences as well as bigger crowds at races. The former allows the fees to broadcast F1 to be increased and the latter allows the fees to host F1 to be increased. Both outcomes are in CVC's interests as they lead to increased profits for its investors. Likewise, if the planned stock market flotation of F1 takes place, the sport's shareholders will also want to see its profits increase as this boosts their own return. As Ecclestone recently told Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt, "somebody invests in the company to get returns on their money and growth if they want to sell their shares."
Several years ago the respected UK magazine Marketing claimed that F1's sponsors were "urging the appointment of a senior figure to raise the profile of F1." Ecclestone brushed it aside telling Pitpass that he did not need to hire any marketing staff because Patrick McNally, the founder of F1's Paddock Club corporate hospitality outfit, "does the marketing for the whole company."
That all changed when McNally retired last year and was replaced by David Campbell, former boss of London's O2 arena. Despite flawed predictions that Campbell could end up replacing Ecclestone, it was not to be and in March Pitpass revealed that he had resigned due to a disagreement with Ecclestone over the direction he was taking the business in. With the float on the horizon it was inevitable that Campbell would be replaced and, as the saying goes, it never rains it pours: F1 now has two marketing directors.
An article by Sylt in the Express reveals that Ecclestone has hired Michael Payne, former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and one of the linchpins of London's Olympic bid, as F1's chief marketing consultant. In addition, the sport's new marketing director is Christian Vogt who previously handled TV rights for FIFA, UEFA and the IAAF.
Ecclestone has great things to say about both men and he adds that "Michael is a good friend of mine. He is helping us." He explains "I need somebody to help me a little bit with the marketing." Payne was hired earlier this year and once the float is on track he will represent F1 in roadshow presentations to possible investors. He could also boost F1's sponsorship division and it isn't only CVC who will benefit from this.
Over the past six months CVC has sold 21.3% of F1's parent company Delta Topco to three investment funds BlackRock, Norges and Waddell & Reed for a total of £1bn ($1.6bn). It valued F1 at £5.8bn ($9.1bn) and gave the price of the business a minimum floor which is crucial since there are no comparable floated companies to benchmark it against.
By buying into F1 before the Initial Public Offering (IPO), the funds got a preferential price. However, they got no voting rights with their stakes and if the IPO fails to take place, they have no options to sell their stakes back to CVC. The funds' profit comes from an uplift in the value of their shares on flotation and, as Pitpass has reported, it is expected that the business could have a market capitalisation of as much as $12bn. Analysts say that sponsorship is one of F1's most untapped areas. This is what could drive the increased valuation.
F1 currently makes around £142.5m ($225m) in revenue annually from trackside advertising and nine official partners including technology company LG and logistics firm DHL. However, it lacks partners in obvious categories such as food, soft drinks and clothing. Payne could boost this area of the business as he created the IOC's global sponsorship programme which now has 11 brands paying a total of around £650m every four-year cycle of the Games.
He left the IOC in 2004 to become a consultant on a range of projects including a position as Ecclestone's special adviser. In this role he assisted with the TV deal in 2009 when F1 moved from ITV to BBC which currently shares broadcast of the sport with BSkyB.