We like to get to a few different conferences each year to push our thinking. This also ensures we don't settle for anything less than remarkable work for our clients. Being in new environments with new series and new thinking allows us to take insights back home and apply them to our work.
The BlackBook Motorsport Forum is the flagship business event for stakeholders in global motorsport. We enjoy this event because it is the ultimate B2B industry event bringing racing promoters, teams, circuits, brands, OEMs and key services together to discuss motorsport from all the angles required for the entire industry to succeed.
We covered off our thoughts on the sessions listed below by topic.
Session 1: The Tech Powering F1’s Digital Transformation
From the Forum
Since 2018, Formula 1 has undergone an impressive digital transformation with the help of its digital innovation partner, AWS. By tapping into the breadth and depth of AWS and its innovative cloud technologies, Formula 1 has brought fans closer to the split-second decisions on the track, redesigned future Formula 1 cars and helped to understand and harness the power of data.
In this case study session, you’ll hear from Formula 1’s Head of Digital Technology, James Bradshaw, and AWS’ Principal Sports Partnership Manager, Neil Ralph, as they uncover how Formula 1 has unlocked the potential of data to engage fans and transform its digital offering.
Neil Ralph • Principal Sports Partnership Manager • AWS
James Bradshaw • Head of Digital Technology • F1
Thoughts from Team SD
The opening session at the Forum was about the tech running behind the scenes - something that has not gone unnoticed in the industry. The last few years have modernized F1 in more ways than most sports can say they have experienced in decades. We learned that AWS indexes data that F1 uses not only for fan engagement but also at the competition level to inform design changes for tracks, cars, etc. as they look to improve the sport itself.
When people think F1 digital, they think of Drive to Survive. This discussion showcased that F1's digital properties are certainly not limited to the popular Netflix series, and their total digital content is widely accessed by 71 million unique IP addresses in 240 countries. The last four years have seen over a ten-fold increase in engagement and followership across F1 digital property, and the two partners have built the entire digital architecture on AWS platforms at a global level.
We learned how AWS uses AI to improve the fan experience, and a tangible example of this is the closed captions on the F1 stream. This accessibility feature used to require four translators per race to dictate or type the live commentary in native languages manually. After activating AWS’s AI, they require only one content moderator to ensure accuracy. They continually train the AI to use niche language such as team names, drivers, tech, tracks/corners, and other motorsports-specific content.
AI also tracks something called Word Error Rate as a KPI of accessibility and performance that is industry-leading. AWS also allowed for a custom-built user interface where the CC moderators can easily correct or delete incorrect content that is live streaming. F1 actually beats the latency of a stream, and the CC would be faster than the video if not for a manual slowdown.
We have many partnerships around the world but F1 provides the best platform to showcase our tech globally. The other things like branding and hospitality have also been beneficial to the business.
- Neil Ralph, Principal Sports Partnership Manager at AWS
AWS has a global series-level partnership and also a team-level partnership with Scuderia Ferrari. The team partnership pushes the tech differently and, in our opinion, is likely a business development path to the road and sports car divisions of the famed outfit.
This discussion started pulling out some quick themes we would see all day, including referencing motorsports as a platform - something we have long written about here, here and here.
Session 2: Going Global: Motorsports’ Expansion Into New Territories
From the Forum
The global motorsport industry is experiencing huge international transformation, highlighted by the addition of new circuits and races in international markets and the emergence of power bases in regions such as the Middle East and North America.
Martin Whitaker • CEO • Saudi Arabian GP
Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa • CEO • Bahrain International Circuit
Thoughts from Team SD
Sticking primarily with Formula 1 as the primary topic, the second session explored the sport’s expansion into new territories. The global motorsport industry is experiencing huge international transformation, highlighted by adding new circuits and races in international markets along with the emergence of power bases in the Middle East and most recently, the United States.
Many people don’t realize that motorsports in the Gulf region started primarily with Bahrain going back to the 1950s. As we learned from Sheikh Salman, there was a grassroots passion for drag racing in the country’s early days and has expanded from there. This interest originally culminated in 2004 with the 18-month, $150 million construction of the Bahrain International Circuit to host the first F1 held in the region. The circuit has held a Grand Prix each year since and now includes pre-season testing as well.
Others in the region followed suit through various means, the most recent addition being the from-scratch circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This circuit was built in less than twelve months at an unknown cost. The organization in charge of running the circuit is under the larger umbrella of the Saudi Investment Fund as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The same fund is backing LIV Golf and numerous other global initiatives.
In less than twenty years, F1 has expanded with four out of 23 annual events in the Gulf region between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. The series has also added Miami and Las Vegas to the US calendar in that same time frame. When looking at two key regions for F1, the Gulf and North America, they contribute 9/23 events of the year.
That count has doubled compared to just a few years ago.
The leaders from the two prominent circuits describe the strategy their countries are using to use sport to develop industry and jobs and leverage it as a platform (there it is again) to showcase the talent and opportunities available. The long-term goal is to build an industry around these events and increase overall business networking and connection in the region. The emerging regions indicate the need for promoters to work together today rather than against each other. They don’t see each other as competitors but realize they must build the calendar together and move forward together.
There was also plenty of mention of sustainability, DEI, sports washing and human rights records throughout the discussion. Most of these questions came from the audience and were addressed professionally by the panelists. At the surface level, it is easy to see the ironies at play for the world to see. On deeper thought, none of these issues were even brought up without F1 being part of the discussion.
Session 3: Monetization Masterclass
From the Forum
The way by which motorsport series, circuits, teams and brands digitally engage with fans has transformed in recent years. Whether it be the shift to OTT and D2C platforms or the growth and popularity of original content, digital innovation is undoubtedly the key to success in today’s industry.
Ali Russell • Chief Marketing Officer • Extreme E
Philipp Männer • Senior Director Media Rights and OTT • WRC
Thoughts from Team SD
The next session switched tiers a little bit by analyzing more niche-market sports and offerings that are facing different challenges than behemoths like F1 or NASCAR would face. Representatives from Extreme E and WRC highlighted the importance of creating content and building a library as the first step toward monetizing their audiences and products. They emphasized that there is a lot of opportunity to slice and dice content later based on audience preferences and interests.
Extreme E, which is more broadcast-focused at this stage of its development, aims to build awareness first and revenue later, similar to many large tech startups. Männer made this connection and reinforced that their sport uniquely is message and purpose-driven. They are also relying on the power of celebrity involvement with drivers such as Jensen Button, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg having a significant impact on the audience.
For a more established series with different content streams, WRC has recently combined multiple levels of rally racing into an OTT product, Rally TV, which they hope to make the 24/7 live streaming hub for rally fans. During the panel, WRC cited that there are 1 billion counted motorsport fans worldwide - a statistic that caught even us by surprise as we recognize the importance motorsports has within the industry - that they are looking to serve.
Another interesting topic discussed was the potential for motorsports to be viewed as an asset class similar to stocks, bonds, and other investments, given how much new tech is tested and developed in racing. Both panelists reinforced that they view the sport as a platform (again!) for many companies, innovations and initiatives. The pace and scale of innovation in this industry are generally greater than in normal conditions, providing opportunities for companies to use their products inside the active competition.
As with every panel so far, the speakers discussed their efforts towards sustainability, with Extreme E claiming an impressive reduction in event logistics by 70% through their model of sea freight, instructing guests to bring their own utensils, limiting onsite fans, and being thoughtful about where events take place.
Session 4: Oracle Red Bull Racing: Behind the Championship Winning Partnership
From the Forum
Since joining forces at the start of the 2021 season, Oracle and Red Bull Racing have transformed their race-day strategy to win a Formula 1 Constructor title and back-to-back Driver Championships. Away from the track, Oracle Red Bull Racing delivers an unrivaled fan experience that is engaging a new wave of Formula 1 fans.
In this exciting digital transformation session, Red Bull Racing’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Zoe Chilton, and Oracle’s Director of Sports Marketing and Business Development, Amr Elrawi, delve into the Championship winning partnership to uncover how the team are increasing performance both on and off the track.
Zoe Chilton • Head of Strategic Partnerships • Oracle Red Bull Racing
Amr Elrawi • Director, Sports Marketing and Business Development • Oracle
Thoughts from Team SD
These types of discussions are right up our alley. Seeing B2B success on the motorsports platform is what gives us energy. We have facilitated millions of dollars in B2B arrangements in our existence because we look out for this kind of relationship so needless to say, we were excited to pick up some insights from this blockbuster partnership.
It was refreshing to hear how Red Bull Racing approaches sponsorship differently. They do not look for sponsors. They list problems they have as a championship-winning organization and seek to match those problems with brands that can provide leading solutions. On this occasion, they had various computing challenges that required a technical partnership. After months of rumors, many were shocked to see Oracle’s reported $100m per year price tag for title partner of Red Bull Racing.
The value is now blossoming for the company after two years of work together. The partnership started with a focus on a digital fan engagement platform but quickly expanded to include cloud-based solutions for trackside operations and race strategy.
The trajectory of the partnership hits on all of our key points as an agency:
- Know your objective
- Start small
- Test and learn
After finding success with the fairly simple fan engagement platform, the relationship is now a living proof point for Oracle's complex solutions, demonstrating the company's ability to deliver highly sophisticated solutions that effectively address Red Bull Racing's complex requirements in the demanding environment of F1. This includes multiple cloud-based apps that allow the team to scale up computing power between race weekends as needed. This has not only enabled the team to operate more efficiently, but has also allowed them to shift all of their trackside operations to the cloud.
Those apps then integrate to build out the entire race strategy division that keep secure in-house-written algorithms that crunch millions of data points and analyze about 6 billion different scenarios each race weekend. For an F1 team, this is what wins races and what wins championships. With multiple championships since partnering, Red Bull Racing can confidently recommend Oracle to other partners as a best-in-class provider of cloud-based solutions.
Many questions came up around the ROI of Oracle’s massive investment (see how much more than a “sponsorship” it is?). In short order, Oracle recognized that the requirements of F1 are not all that different from those of other industries such as banks, manufacturing, energy, and logistics. Elrawi referenced taking the innovation Oracle has developed in motorsport back to multiple internal work streams to integrate into future business development.
He also referenced the original KPIs for the partnership:
- Generating authentic tech stories featuring Oracle products
- Completing unique projects
- Generating business development referrals
So far, all three KPIs have been achieved and continue to develop. Oracle has already added Red Bull Powertrains as a new customer and is likely already on the way to accessing Red Bull's multi-billion dollar core drinks business that all started with a “sponsorship.”
We loved this session. Ultimately, it was all about activation. By focusing on a targeted and known objective, scaling where success comes from and staying authentic to each other, we feel this is just the beginning of an already exemplary partnership.
We also hope you will look at the stickers on the cars a little differently after this one.
Session 5: Sustainable Transformation: The Race to Zero
From the Forum
The motorsport industry plays an important role in the climate crisis, and with younger sports fans becoming increasingly mindful of organizational efforts to tackle the crisis, industry stakeholders are under more pressure than ever before to play their part.
In this sustainable transformation panel session, you’ll hear from Formula E’s Director of Sustainability, Julia Pallé, and Formula 1’s Head of Sustainability, Ellen Jones, as they discuss the future of sustainability in motorsport and how series, circuits, teams and brands can play their part to reach a zero carbon future.
Julia Pallé • Director of Sustainability • Formula E
David Dempsey • Senior Vice President, Co-Founder • Salesforce
Ellen Jones • Head of Sustainability • F1Thoughts from Team SD
The second to last session positioned motorsports (and its various partners) as much larger players in the global battle for all kinds of solutions. The core of this session focused on the role of business and sports in developing innovations that can be applied worldwide. According to the panelists, faster and smarter innovation is happening in motorsport, so it is important to explore the possibility of using motorsports as a platform for sustainable development.
It was stated that a sub-brand of French manufacturer Citroen had reduced its long-term innovation transfer from track to road down to 4 years from 20 thanks to its involvement in Formula E. We aren’t able to find any details on this claim as most of this development is proprietary, but it was a striking metric illustrating how fast things move in sports.
Although the United Nations Sports for Climate Action has mandated certain objectives, it can come off as vague and overly complex, and the panelists emphasized the need for more concrete steps toward sustainability.
Business is the most powerful platform for change.
- David Dempsey, Senior Vice President, Co-Founder of Salesforce
These clear and transparently shared initiatives will make motorsports highly attractive to sponsors who want to associate themselves with improvements. The panelists called for brands to be 100% authentic and avoid greenwashing, as it solves nothing and does no good in the long run. Not to mention, people can tell when a brand is not being genuine about what it is doing or not doing.
Formula E believes there is still much to be done beyond the surface level of removing plastic, updating lighting, reducing usage, etc. They believe there is a need for a more directly linked incentive model. For example, competition points could be up for grabs for being better environmental actors.
Read Formula E’s Sustainability Report from 2022 →
After the group Q&A opened up, the logistics of motorsports also came up. It was stated that 66% of F1's global footprint is attributed to logistics such as the amount of goods shipped, method of shipment, and distance shipped. Another controversial topic came up around carbon credits. Plenty of questions have been raised on the validity of such credits and how they are actually being applied. Dempsey noted that carbon credits are necessary for net zero claims - because otherwise, the only way to achieve true net-zero emissions would be to shut down all of our businesses.
It’s clear we all have a role in this problem and can do better every day, no matter how small our effort is. There will always be constraints to operate within. Whatever we do, we must all be authentic about sustainability efforts and waste no time with greenwashing that solves for nothing.
Session 6: The Future of Motorsport
From the Forum
Hear from industry leading motorsport manufacturers and series, all at different stages of their mobility development journey, as they discuss what the future of motorsport looks like.
Richard Saxby • Motorsports Director • McLaren Applied
Mark Sibla • Chief of Staff • INDYCAR
Rodi Basso • Co-Founder and CEO • E1
Thoughts from Team SD
We came to our final session of the day and one we were very much looking forward to. We were left wanting a bit more out of this one, given the unique panelists and the kinds of crystal balls they may have for the industry. We believe that INDYCAR has much more to share and be proud of when it comes to what they are doing right now to provide a better overall product, including and especially, around the topic of sustainability.
We enjoyed hearing from McLaren Applied, an organization far more involved in things than you’d ever realize. You’d probably not have any reason to interact with this group as an individual consumer, but chances are you have benefitted from their work every day. Coming directly after the last session, it was great to learn more about McLaren Applied being the sole producer of Formula E battery packs. This makes them a critical link to the manufacturers wanting to improve their offerings through motorsport.
Former Formula E executive Rodi Basso presented the newest racing series we know of, E1, a form of electric speed boat racing that is having its inaugural season in 2023. This portion of the discussion was very futuristic as they have yet to compete - so it was all about taking what the team had learned from previous endeavors and how to integrate the best parts for a new format. All panelists agreed that no matter your plans for the future, you need to focus first and foremost on quality.
And on that note, we couldn’t agree more.
Double down on quality.
Continue to make daily improvements, no matter how small they may seem.