Chase Carey: Formula One no longer a one-man show

Ian Parkes

A lack of energy. A lack of freshness. That was how Chase Carey saw Formula One when he was handed the reins to the sport three years ago.

Carey insists he is in no way being critical of Bernie Ecclestone, who turned F1 into a global brand during his 43 years in charge.

It is fair to suggest, however, that in the final years of his dynasty, the burgeoning world of social media was lost on Ecclestone.

In one of his more infamous interviews in May 2014 Ecclestone said: "I'm not interested in tweeting, Facebook and whatever this nonsense is. I tried to find out but in any case, I'm too old-fashioned. I couldn't see any value in it."

Ecclestone went on to state he had no desire in attracting a younger audience to F1, that he would rather appeal "to the 70-year-old guy who's got plenty of cash" due to F1's sponsorship portfolio that included the likes of Rolex and UBS.

How times have changed.

The arrival of the Liberty Media Corporation in January 2017 heralded a new dawn for F1 with the sport ultimately recognising that, to survive, it had to embrace everything that was anathema to Ecclestone.

Under Irish-born American Carey, the former executive vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox, F1 has broadened its horizons.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Bernie Ecclestone, Chairman Emeritus of the Formula One Group, looks on in the Paddock before final practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on September 28, 2019 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Ecclestone at the Grand Prix of Russia (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

"Bernie and his team deserve credit for what they built," said Carey, in an exclusive interview.

"But in recent years, they were not doing some of the things you need to do to compete in today's world to really maximise values.

"Here was a sport, a global events business, positioned for success. It is a unique venture.

"There's only one Formula One, just like there's only one NFL, one NBA, or one Premier League, and I think those franchises, run properly, have an opportunity to be winners in a fragmenting, changing world.

"I thought there were things that weren't being done that could be done to strengthen."

Social media and the need to attract a younger fan base, in particular, were wholeheartedly embraced.

"If I look at the 10 years preceding us, you're in an age where you need to engage with fans in ways that hadn't been done before, and that probably starts with digital media and social media," said Carey.

"You have tools today that enable you to do things far more than just put a race on a 60-inch screen and letting it take care of itself.

"People today walk around with today's television in their pocket, a three-inch screen they are constantly following and engaging with, so you have to provide them with the material to continue to do that.

"From our perspective, that's about following the sport, the teams, the drivers or the heroes. They want to be closer to it and that's a great thing they want to follow it in ways they never did before."

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 11: Chase Carey, CEO and Executive Chairman of the Formula One Group shakes hands with Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP before the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 11, 2017 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Carey shakes hands with Lewis Hamilton (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Carey talks about F1 being "a sport married to technology that creates a unique level of interest", and providing "a shock and awe beyond any other sports".

It is no wonder he felt that F1, as a sport, an event, a brand and a business, were all being under-utilised.

"There were aspects of the sport that weren't being dealt with," said Carey. "I don't think we had been energising the events enough. In some ways, bigger is better.

"In this era, you've got to continue to provide fresh energy, fresh perspective. If you're standing still, you're going backwards. I think our events didn't have a freshness to them. Too many of them felt like they had 10 years earlier.

"The events have to be true spectacles. You've got to make them great. We were not energising them to be like that."

It was a similar story with the brand on the whole, with Carey adding: "We have an incredible brand that is truly unique, and it has a power to it we weren't exploiting.

"Whether it was e-sports, fantasy sports, or exploiting other ways to expand, reach a new audience, take advantage of those opportunities and grow the sport."

Carey readily concedes his interest in F1 prior to taking up his role was only casual, on the basis that he felt "the sport never really made a concerted effort to engage fans in the US".

AUSTIN, TEXAS - OCTOBER 31: Chase Carey, CEO and Executive Chairman of the Formula One Group, talks in a press conference to announce the rules for the 2021 Formula One season during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of USA at Circuit of The Americas on October 31, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Carey announcing the rules for the 2021 Formula One season (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

F1 is currently attempting to nail down a second race in the States, in Miami. There are also suggestions of an additional race in China, another of its biggest markets.

Carey, though, insists F1 is doing all it can to assist in growing the sport in such regions rather than just banking the cash from any new deal.

"There are more fans than people realise in the US and China, two of the biggest media markets in the world," said Carey.

"The business model before was one of, sign a contract and leave whoever signed it to their own devices to grow it.

"We need to take ownership of growing the sport in new markets while ensuring it is better than ever in its own market - Europe.

"All those things are what we're trying to do, that I think hadn't been done to the full extent they could have been."

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W10 leads the field at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 01, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
Hamilton leads the field at the Abu Dhabi GP (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

After three years at the helm, Carey and Liberty’s work is far from done.

Crucial is providing a better show on track as Carey feels that F1 is about "three teams (Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull) that compete for a championship and seven teams that compete to be the best of the rest".

New rules that will alter the shape of the cars, supposedly making it easier to overtake, are being introduced from 2021, in conjunction with a cost cap set at $175million.

It is a first for F1, with Carey adding: "Hopefully it will make the competition more one about how well you spend your money, not how much you spend. I think that's a more admirable way to win and it's a healthier way to win."

The 66-year-old believes the surface has only just been scratched when it comes to transforming F1 at all levels.

"You should never be satisfied," said Carey. "We've made strides but I think the real opportunities are still in front of us.

"The sport had been run too much for a short-term dollar and not long-term growth. We wanted to change that.

"We needed to put elements of the foundation in place because there was no organisation beyond financial and legal staff.

"We didn't have a marketing organisation, a research organisation, a digital organisation. We had a one-man sponsorship group, a one-man TV group.

"We didn't have the tools and the resources to engage partners, to grow the sport. We didn't have a motorsports group to figure out how do you make the sport better. We've had to put them in place."

The signs are at least positive as Carey said: "We've had solid growth, in the business, not just financial growth, although we have had solid financial growth, too.

"We've also had a bit of growth in terms of our attendance is up, viewership is up. Our digital engagement is way up.

"We've had real success, but we're not declaring victory, we're not satisfied. We're making progress but, certainly, our work is more in front of us than behind us."

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