Formula One is inevitably going to be in need of constant renovation. Although many will argue that the sport is at the peak of technological advances, there are many segments where the sport falls behind – the slow take to social media for example. Fans, both young and old, spent years online joking about the lack of interest the sport seemed to have on popular media outlets such as Twitter. There was no official YouTube channel and if you wanted to relive that awesome overtake from last time out, you would have to endure the painful 144p footage filmed portrait on someone’s tiny television. The sheer reluctance from the sport to listen to their fans angered many, but can we blame Bernie for not taking an interest in these issues? He is 84-years-old after all.
The reasoning behind this blog isn’t just to rant about Bernie and his little gang of cockalorums. I instead wanted to try and write a series of educated arguments about the issues that the sport has faced in the past few months. Whilst reading Autosport last week, I took a real interest in the fact that F1 had been ‘warned’ to remove and terminate their alcohol sponsorship as the ‘amount [of alcohol sponsorship] is extreme by anyone’s standards.’ The article, which I will link at the end of the blog post, is based around the views and opinions of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance and has received various readings of the message telling F1 that constant publicising of alcohol is inappropriate. This is the theme of today’s blog post.
Understandably, alcohol sponsorship is a huge money-earner for the sport, whether that be through an international partnership or involvement within an F1 team. Mumm champagne is noticeably one of the biggest sponsors in the sport, with it being the ‘champagne of Formula One’ since the 2000 season. The tradition of spraying the champers on the podium is an iconic part of the race weekend and photographs of a driver’s victory will often be published by the world’s media the following day. This coverage, in addition to the 425 million people who watched the 2014 season unfold, is obviously hugely valuable to the brand and explains why in 2012 they renewed their podium partnership.
It isn’t just on the podium we see the alcohol brand, their wine is also poured in the exclusive paddock clubs around the world. PRWeel.com also claims the brand offers a VVIP service – yes, for the ‘very very’ important people! Although the main market audience is a Western one, with the target countries being that of US, Japan, China, France and the UK to name a small selection, this sponsorship deal is worth about $5 million annually.
Having recently been in Monaco, I was able to witness first-hand how much sponsorship for alcohol, as well as other controversial brands such as the iconic casino, there were around the track and track-side. With Monaco being one of the most watched races on the F1 Calendar, it is no surprise that last year it was reported that there was an evident piece of alcohol advertising 11 times on average per minute of the race broadcast. This study, conducted by Eurocare, counted almost 1,200 individual examples of advertising of alcohol and this makes it one of the highest rates in global sport. With Mumm, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Martini all having massive roles in the sponsorship of F1 and teams, it is no surprise that the number is so high. Eurocare were obviously concerned by this huge percentage of airtime for alcoholic sponsorship, they decided to contact the FIA Chairman, Jean Todt, for an explanation or statement. He claimed to have no responsibility of the matter, which angered many as he had recently been named as an UN Special Envoy for road safety. The two don’t seem to be very harmonious, do they?
With the growing involvement of F1 and road safety campaigns, it seems bizarre to be promoting safe driving with the reminder of alcohol on the cars and track-side every few seconds. In the UK there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young drunk drivers and deaths on the road as a case of being over the recommended limit. Although alcohol advertisements warns its audience to ‘drink responsibly’, it is constantly being reported that there is a ‘strong and consistent’ link between exposure to drinks marketing and alcohol consumption. This link between consumption and advertising is popular and easy to find numerous international studies all proving that advertising does have a large impact, especially on the young. I personally have never gone out and bought any of the alcohol featured in the F1 sponsorship deals; my only experience with one of the featured drinks was at a Williams event last year in which I was offered a selection of complimentary Martini drinks. However, just because I am not affected by the sponsors in the sport, it doesn’t mean the other 200 million fans of the sport aren’t either.
I do see the irony of Formula One promoting the idea of ‘safe driving’ whilst advertisements for alcohol are on your television screens every 5 seconds. In a letter to the UN about Todt’s new promotion, road safety and transport organisations likened the relationship between Todt’s road safety role and his reluctant attitude toward alcohol sponsorship as “akin to appointing the head of a tobacco company as a UN Special Envoy for Cancer.” Ouch.
This topic of misleading its audience with its advertising is also addressed by Alcohol Studies UK. Director of this institute, Katherine Brown, says: “Alcohol sponsorship of motorsport generates seriously mixed messages about drink driving and road safety, and contradicts the spirt of current EU roles on alcohol advertising.”
“It is obvious that children growing up idolising sporting heroes with beer brands blazoned across their chests will develop deep-rooted positive attitudes towards drinking. It’s also obvious that high profile alcohol sponsorship deals work to normalise what is in fact an unnatural association between drinking and sport,” Brown added.
With its huge sponsor Alliance being an ambassador of road safety, F1 Boss Bernie Ecclestone has also begun to add the messages about ‘think[ing] before you drive’ around the track – both digitally and in on 15 foot billboards. Once again, hugely ironic we see his message about driving safely and then around the next turn a driver passes a huge advertising board for a neat whisky.
Below is an example of the ‘Bernie says: Think before you drive’ promotional material that has been spotted throughout race weekends for just over a year now.
Many argue that sports in general shouldn’t have sponsorship deals with ‘unhealthy’ brands, and that sport is about being active and promoting a healthier lifestyle, therefore their associated sponsors should have the same objectives. This was talked about in great detail when brands such as McDonalds and Cadburys were announced as sponsors of the 2012 Olympics – McDonalds even identifying themselves as the ‘restaurant of the games’. To me, it doesn’t seem right that a food chain where their Caesar salad contains almost double the calories and triple the amount of fat as their standard burger, can be seen as a responsible partner for the Olympics – but of course it is a transnational cooperation that has a lot of money.
Leading Doctors and A&E staff in the UK have also called on having responsible sponsors for the top sporting events worldwide. In the letter they wrote to the British Guardian paper last year, they demand action as the normality of alcohol sponsorship has become as expected as ‘cereal or soap powder’. A stand-out section of their letter o their letter reads as follows:
“Shouldn’t our national sports be inspiring our children to lead healthy and positive lifestyles? It would be considered outrageous if high-profile teams like Everton or Celtic were to become brand ambassadors for tobacco, so why is it acceptable for alcohol?”
Tobacco was a huge sponsor for the sport for close to three decades with the death of the iconic sponsorship being in 2007. Man countries had already decided to ban the sponsorship of tobacco, for example Australia in 1995 – however this law left loopholes for elite sporting events like Formula One.
In 2001, it was noted that three leading F1 tobacco sponsors invested an estimated £480 million into the sport as they ‘knew it works wonders for their bottom line’. Being associated with the sport made companies look fun, exciting and respectable – a field of words that could easily be associated with the relationship between alcohol and F1. But just as alcohol is related with injudicious decisions and dangerous driving, tobacco is obviously the leading cause of lung cancer. In the same year, it was also made clear by Max Mosley that with the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the sport would try and end all Tobacco sponsorship by the end of the 2006 season. Nick Fry, chief executive of the Honda Team said in 2007 that, “the reality is that a large number of companies did not want to be associated with a team with tobacco logos on the car and indeed some didn’t want to be associated with the sport, which was very tobacco orientated.”
Looking back at the plea for the end of tobacco sponsoring in the early-2000’s, the situation now with alcohol sponsorship doesn’t seem as substantial but is still obviously evident in the sporting world. Here in the UK, the letter I previously mentioned that was sent to the Guardian about alcohol sponsorship has been signed by the representatives of hospital doctors, British Medical Association, College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal College of Nursing – all speaking on behalf of A&E doctors. They want government to intrude and listen to the ‘public’ who also want a decline or ban on alcoholic advertisement in sport. Interestingly enough, there is currently a ban on alcoholic sponsorship in France and this has been in place since 1991. It sees the restriction of alcohol advertisements at events involving France in France and bans them totally at French-based events. The Heineken cup football tournament is known as the ‘H’ cup and whilst looking back at podium images from the past French Grand Prix,
there is a total lack of alcohol sponsorship on the champagne bottles (right).
Then there is obviously the in-team sponsoring like Force India with Vodka brand Smirnoff. Although I wasn’t able to find the annual price for this sort of sponsorship, I was able to dig up the money relating to the alcohol sponsorship with teams McLaren and Williams. According to figures published in the 2014 ‘Black Book’ of Formula One, Williams received $15 million annually for their title sponsorship deal with Martini. The evident alterations to the teams livery and team ware meant that everything was changed to fit with this new title sponsor, but this reasonably small amount for such a huge opportunity for a sponsor was probably because in 2013 Williams suffered their worst ever year in the sport since its founding in 1977. With a bad 2013, and the sponsorship being confirmed for 2014 there is no surprise that the $15 million price tag was so small. With the success the team saw in the 2014 season, their list of respectable sponsors has grown dramatically with the likes of British Telecom and Rexona. This probably means that the amount expected of Martini has also grown, but I am unaware if there was a contracted agreement before the success of Williams in the championship.
Whilst Martini were paying $15 million for a title sponsorship role, McLaren’s partnership with Johnnie Walker was costing the whisky brand $20 million for the 2014 year. This sponsorship deal with McLaren offers less coverage, with a small logo placement on the car and team uniforms.
For me, deciding on whether alcohol should be banned is a hugely open subject and I am struggling to fit it into a blog post. As mentioned, I have never bought a product as it is a sponsor of the sport or even a team. When I asked my twitter followers, many of them had also not deliberately bought an item as it was associated with the sport, but few wanted to, just their banks might not have appreciated it.
It seems easy to just write that Formula One should start welcoming ‘healthy’ sponsors or disown brands because their product promotes a harmful and dangerous lifestyles: if only the world worked that way. The sport needs big names to attract audiences and bring in the huge sums of money Formula One needs to keep going. Terminating the contracts for the tobacco companies obviously caused a financial loss for the business of F1 and that these advertising ‘slots’ would just be filled again – whether that be though another ‘unhealthy but wealthy’ brand or one that has slightly more significance to a motor racing championship, such as Shell oil or Pirelli tyres.
But one must ask that if it has been proven that alcohol sponsorship does have an effect on its audience and how it consumes it, should a sport that has emphasis on speed, racing and driving ability be promoting an intoxicating and addictive ingredient which, although legal to buy, is often referred to as a depressant drug and has a high correlation of fatal health problems?