Guest Blog by Bridget Schuil (@mma_brij)
A few years ago, Peace One Day (founded by Jeremy Gilley and with Jude Law as an ambassador) sponsored Lotus F1 Team for the Singapore Grand Prix – a weekend that coincided with September 21st, which is when Peace Day is celebrated worldwide. In countries at war, Peace Day is celebrated with a ceasefire, allowing UN, Medecins Sans Frontiers, and other humanitarian bodies to dispense much-needed medical and food aid. But everyone is invited to participate by bringing peace within their sphere of influence.
At times, Formula One – and its attendant blog and social media spheres – resembles a war zone. Fans of the sport love to complain, and often times they raise valid points. However, the sport lacks an official feedback channel, so very few of these discussions are taken far enough to influence policy.
The major issue facing F1 is that we often fail to see the needs of the other side of the argument. While we are getting better at debating respectfully online, we still have quite a way to go. Peace-making requires us to see what needs the other side are trying to meet.
Ultimately, what the sport needs is for people to put aside their differences and embrace the spirit of Peace One Day.
Pirelli do a thankless job. They provide tyres to FOM’s specifications, do their best to take track surface and temperature into consideration, and are still regularly lambasted for their efforts. Very few weekends go by without Paul Hembery giving interviews to defend his rubber in some way.
What Pirelli needs: Pirelli, as a company, need customers to buy their tyres. That’s why they came into the sport – to increase brand awareness, open up new markets, and ultimately make a profit. The constant criticism of their product is bad publicity. Pirelli also need to show that they can make a tyre that meeds their customers’ needs, which again is affected by the ongoing tyre-related debates.
What F1 needs: F1 needs the rubber to degrade quickly enough to force multiple pit-stops. This is in direct conflict with Pirelli’s need to show their customers that they can make a tyre durable enough to put it on a road car. Formula One also needs the tyres to, in a sense, defy the laws of physics in that they need the tyres to degrade in a way that doesn’t affect safety.
Everybody needs a competitive edge in order to score more points, rank higher in the championship standings, and get a bigger portion of the royalties come the season’s end. They also need to place well in order to attract sponsors. In a sport that attempts to push the envelope of technology, the team with the biggest R&D budget wins.
What the big teams need: They need to maintain their position on top to get a bigger portion of broadcast royalties and sponsorship money. This is central to their business model. They need to stay ahead to keep the money flowing in, so they can stay ahead.
What the small teams need: They need to gain an advantage so they can score more points, rank higher in the championship, and boost their R&D budget through increased royalties and sponsorship. Essentially, they need to be more equal. However, in the words of George Orwell, all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.
BROADCASTERS AND PIRATE STREAMS
In order for Formula One to make money, their business model requires fans to watch their events on subscription channels. Not everybody has access to these channels, either because they can’t afford to pay the subscription fees, or because they live in a country that receives standard world-feed coverage. Every viewer who watches a pirate stream is essentially taking money away from the teams and channels they love.
What the broadcasters need: Broadcasters need three things – subscription fees, viewers, and positive mentions (or at least usable feedback) on social media. This forms the basis of their business model, and justifies them paying for exclusive broadcast rights and crews’ salaries.
What the pirates need: In order to watch the sport, fans need the broadcasts to fit into their budgets, many of which have shrunk post-2008. They also need the broadcasts to be of a high enough standard to justify choosing F1 over every other Sunday afternoon pass-time. Given the blandness of the world feed in comparison to what fans outside of Europe and America see on social media, is it any wonder that they solve their problem by resorting to pirate streams?
FOM, or probably more correctly, Mr Ecclestone seems to subscribe to a colonial model of capitalism – when one market is depleted, make a market in a new country. Instead of reaching out to younger generations in existing markets via online tools, he prefers to find new countries to bring into the F1 family.
What FOM needs: They need reverse the trend of their declining audience. They need to at least recover, if not increase, their profit margins in order to keep the sport going.
What the fans need: They need to be recognised, and have their views taken into consideration. They need to feel heard.
WHERE TO FROM HERE
Re-forming FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) would be a step in the right direction. It would provide a forum in which issues facing the sport could be discussed. But FOTA is a toothless bulldog, unless the people participating are willing to work together to reach an acceptable compromise.
Re-examining Formula 1’s business model would be another positive choice. Recessions are good opportunities to have a look at what’s not working any more, what technological advances have been made to help with those problems, and plot a course to a more positive future. Unfortunately, FOM (Formula One Management) seem unwilling to do this.
It’s possible that ‘regime change’ is what’s needed here in order to take our sport in a direction more suited to the current postcapitalist/info-tech economy. However, an organic, team-led, evolutionary (rather than revolutionary) re-direct would be more sustainable in the long run. Evolutionary change allows for small corrections to be made along the way to keep the sport going in a positive direction.
Ultimately, what the sport needs is for people to put aside their differences and embrace the spirit of Peace One Day. The issues facing Formula One can only be solved by the major players cooperating with each other, and fans cooperating with the leadership. If you have suggestions for how we could work together better, I look forward to your comments!
Photos are from Peace One Day Facebook page