A few years ago Russia got the green light to host a Formula 1 race marking the end of a century-long hiatus since the first grand prix held in St Petersburg, Russia. A lot of hard work has gone into getting the track and its facilities ready for the race on 12th October 2014. But if we could back-track a little bit, Russia (Sochi) has just hosted a global event which takes place every 4 years with an audience of hundreds of million viewers. The Winter Olympics is dwarfed by its bigger sister, the Summer Games but advertising and marketing opportunities the colder event affords are not to be baulked at.
Aside for the ongoing political/human rights debate (it is not the author’s intention to diminish or ignore the importance of this debate; but this piece relates solely on the marketing aspects of the sports in Russia) and initial teething problems with some venues and ski-run set ups, Russia’s most recent £30billion Olympics have been largely been a success.
A significant new addition to these Winter games is the element of social media and all that it entails. On a positive note, @Sochi2014 twitter account has been keeping thousands of followers all around the world abreast of the games’ events especially as tickets have been prohibitively high for most people to attend the events. Repucom reports that by 14th February 2014, over 9.2million tweets had been sent globally regarding the Games.
Conversely, parody accounts e.g. @SochiProblems (which amassed more followers than the official @Sochi2014 Olympic account) has been exposing deficiencies and problems facing staff, athletes, guests etc. Also, social media interactions have been brutal to some athletes e.g. Elise Chrisie who was forced to close her Twitter account when she became a victim of “cyber-bullying”.
Now imagine commanding a large proportion of the dispersed global Olympic Games’ audience over about 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon. In October, the eyes of the world will return to Sochi for Formula 1. It must be noted that Russia is the last of the “BRIC” countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to host a F1 race and the pressure must be on to deliver.
China and India have struggled to attract fans to the tracks with several grandstands staying empty during race weekends. Also, sponsors would be disheartened to learn that TV audiences in China dropped by about 60% in 2013 compared to 2012; this is likely partly due to the move from state broadcaster to several regional broadcaster, and perhaps also due to the dominance of Red Bull over the past few years. And in Russia, audiences dipped 10% to 12.3million from 2012.
Of the modern races in the current F1 calenda, most would agree that Singapore (night street race) and Abu Dhabi (dusk race) are about the only two that have the formula right so far. So it is not surprising that Bernie Ecclestone wants Sochi to host a night race with the Olympic stadium as a backdrop, as reported by Times newspaper.
Several steps have been put in place by various factions to ensure F1’s rebirth in Russia is successful. Marussia, a team which started life as Virgin Racing, now has Marussia motors as a title sponsor and is gearing up for its “home-coming race”, Toro Rosso’s recent signing Daniil Kyvat and Sauber’s Sergey Sirotkin will be sure to get the younger Russian audience tuning in. Having local talent in F1 is a bonus but it is not the panacea – as the likes of Karun Chandhok and Narain Karthikeyan have found. They helped to raise the profile of F1 in India but this did not guarantee them long-term F1 race-seats or avoid the problems facing the race organisers.
Providing the current situation in Russia is resolved peacefully and quickly, when the world returns to Sochi for the Grand Prix, it will no doubt be a spectacular and lucrative addition to the calendar, albeit the most controversial.