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F1 racing’s Williams taps 21 million fans

The parent company of the Formula One team has hired Delta Partners to explore new ways to generate revenue

Canadian driver Lance Stroll competes at a qualifying session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in his Williams. Photo: AFP
Canadian driver Lance Stroll competes at a qualifying session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in his Williams. Photo: AFP

Formula One’s Williams Martini Racing is having a disastrous year. The team is stuck at the bottom of the constructor standings with one-third of the season remaining, and its two drivers have fared just as poorly in the individual championship.

One thing the company does have is one of the most enduring and storied names in motor racing. Williams Grand Prix Holdings Plc—the Frankfurt-listed parent company of the racing team—has hired digital consultancy Delta Partners to help it monetize that brand and its estimated global fan base of 21 million.

Williams and Delta are exploring new ways to generate revenue, including partnering with telecom carriers to offer video clips of training sessions and archive footage or live Q&As with drivers Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin. Showcasing the team’s collectible and historical cars when races are held from Australia to Brazil could also be a source of revenue, according to Sam Evans, a partner at Delta. Paid access to racing simulators are among other options being considered.

Formula One is unique among major sports “in that it goes local in 20 markets", Williams’ head of creative services Steven English said on phone. “Formula One has not, historically, commercialized, at a team level, that option to engage with the global fan base," something Williams wants to change with Delta, he said.

Williams and Delta are also considering live streaming and mobile games as possible sources of revenue, which would fit into the team’s strategy of moving into e-sports, Evans said.

Formula One teams still rely mostly on TV rights and traditional branding on cars and racing paraphernalia for revenue, and the former has dwindled with the steep decline in viewership over the past decade. Unlike other teams, Williams isn’t part of a larger car manufacturer such as Ferrari or Mercedes, nor is it backed by a large consumer goods group such as Red Bull GmbH, the maker of the eponymous energy drink.

That independence makes Oxfordshire, England-based Williams’ push to broaden its revenue stream all the more critical for a team that last won the driver’s championship 21 years ago.

Frustration on the track for Williams comes as the seven-decade-old sport faces upheaval after Liberty Media Corp. bought Formula One in 2016. Liberty has pledged to boost the sport’s fan base by moving to more standardized parts, cheaper engines and introducing a cost cap that will help level the playing field between teams.

While Williams waits for those changes to benefit its competitiveness, Stroll and Sirotkin offered fans a small glimmer of hope in Monza, Italy last weekend when they finished ninth and 10th, scoring three points for their team. It was the first time since April in Baku, Azerbaijan, that they made any mark in the standings.

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