Season Four of the FIA Formula E World Championship resumes this weekend with the third round in the calendar coming from Marrakesh. As the first major motorsport event of 2018, now is a good time to reflect on the success of the championship and explore how Formula E’s approach to partners is changing the face of motorsport sponsorship.
As motorsport goes, Formula E is a Championship still very much in its infancy. When considering the achievements of the championship, this fact is something many forget. Over three seasons Formula E has established a global audience in excess of 200M, this compared to Formula One which using the same metrics reported an audience of 350M across 2017 is hugely impressive. On average, Formula E appeals to a younger audience, with a gender split whilst still leaning towards males is far more balanced than any other form of motorsport. The city-centre, single day format has proven successful, as have affordable ticketing policies. Attendance of an ePrix is successfully positioned as a family event.
The level of manufacturer support Formula E has achieved since its inception has exceeded all expectations. Championship management targeted 4-5 OEMs to have committed to the championship by season five. With DS, Jaguar, NIO, Mahindra, Audi, Renault (set to run as Nissan from next season) Venturi, BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche now involved, the championship finds itself in the position of having the most manufacturer-backed entries in any form of motorsport. Of course championship management acknowledge manufacturer support is cyclical, but Formula E represents a unique platform for manufacturers to showcase Electric Vehicle technology in a cost-controlled environment. The appeal of the championship goes beyond racing, Formula E gives manufacturers access to an audience demographic they would otherwise struggle to connect with. There is every reason to expect the current level of manufacturer support to be sustained.
Season Five will see the most significant change in the championship to date. In a bid to keep team costs under control, Formula E limits the development of components on a season by season basis and in some cases mandates the use of standard equipment across all teams. Through season five, two of the most significant standard elements will be upgraded, in the battery and the car itself. Whilst both elements will remain standard items, significant improvements in battery technology will remove the requirement for a mid-race car change, alongside delivering a sizable increase in performance. With the new car, Formula E promises to amaze fans with a futuristic design incorporating FIA mandated cockpit safety structures in a fully integrated design concept. The new look championship promises to leave other forms of motorsport looking old-fashioned by comparison.
Following the lead of Mumm Champagne, long time partners of Formula One including Allianz and Hugo Boss continue to transition towards Formula E. This shift is due in part to the way in which Formula E engages with its audience and has positioned itself at the forefront of the conversation around Electric Vehicles. The technology demonstrated within Formula E is perceived to be of greater relevance to the future of the automotive industry and as a consequence, has positioned itself as a sport which a broad and diverse audience can engage with. Free from shackles of history, the Formula E message evolves with it’s fans. This open and dynamic approach sits well with the marketing teams behind the championships growing list of partners and continues to attract new partners to the sport.
Formula E and its approach to fan engagement has not gone unnoticed. 2017 saw Formula One announce a partnership with premium partner Carbon Champagne. In attempts to build awareness of the F1 – Carbon Champagne partnership, CEO, Alexander Mea has acknowledged taking inspiration from the Formula E podium celebrations. Carbon have already employed ideas such as the use of a DJ to build atmosphere around the podium (as seen at the Mexican Grand Prix), to branding the cool down room and presenting drivers through the crowds to increase visibility. Formula E and its partners have inspired the established brands to up their game to maximize any return on investment.
Engagement extends far beyond the podium ceremony, for race attending fans the eVillage supporting every ePrix provides an area for championship partners to engage with fans, delivering both tangible sales and the ability to build brand awareness. Formula E encourage championship partners and local partners to embrace the eVillage and its captive audience of fans. Beyond the eVillage is the The EMOTION Club. Formula E’s unique take on the VIP paddock life experience. In contrast to other forms of motorsport where team and championship guests are hosted in separate motorhomes or paddock buildings, Formula E, through the EMOTION Club, have created a shared environment in which all guests and partners are together, facilitating an environment which truly lends itself to the development of new business to business partnerships and allows guests to maximize their experience from both an entertainment and commercial perspective. Formula E has always been keen to ensure all brands and partners involved with the championship have every opportunity to maximize their position in the sport. Success in this open approach is evidenced by the fact that to date, all partners joining the championship have chosen to renew and extend their commitments.
Another great asset of Formula E is its relationship with the media. Of course the sport has it doubters and critics, but media reporting from within the championship hold Formula E in high regard. Motorsport will be criticized irrespective of any decisions taken, but Formula E seeks to balance this by engaging with the media, explaining the strategy of the championship, ensuring a feeling of inclusion and community. Many journalists have been a part of the championship from the very beginning, they feel part of the championship and their value in its continued growth does not go unnoticed by championship management.
With the imminent announcement of title sponsorship of the entire Formula E Championship, Formula E management can be proud of what has been achieved. Formula E continues to outperform rival motorsport championships in terms of its reach and engagement. Founding partners including Qualcomm, DHL, Michelin, and Mumm Champagne continue to be rewarded for their willingness to embrace a new form of motorsport. As the championship grows, so will their return on investment.