The title of this post is taken from a conversation with my friend Ayo Ajanaku who is an avid Formula 1 fan.
The 2017 F1 Russian Grand Prix Sochi carnival weekend started on Thursday, April 27 at the Sochi Autodrom. If you recall my last post where I wrote about lack of opportunities to meet drivers inside the city, what I found is that the F1 jealously guards the way its drivers relate with the public.
During this race weekend, drivers did not go into the city to meet fans at public malls, they only met fans in a designated area of the Olympic Park. Only fans that have tickets could enter the park. Still, there were more than 2000 fans at the autograph signings on Thursday. Fans queued up based on their favourite teams: Ferrari, Mercedes, McClaren Honda, Williams, Toro Roso, Force India, Redbull, etc.
The Ferrari team had the highest number of fans, many adorned the team’s red baseball hats. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel promised his fans that he would try to end the victory run of team Mercedes at the Sochi race circuit (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have won the last races).
When Hamilton arrived for his turn to meet the fans, he greeted in Russian and proceeded to tell them he hoped to win again in order to convert the large Ferrari fans into Mercedes fans. The crowd cheered as they surged forward to get autographs.
I was one of those who was lucky to have met Hamilton despite the huge crowd and the jostling. I got his autograph and despite the hassle, I enjoyed the spectacle of F1 fan culture. There were so many nationalities represented as fans chased autographs and photo ops.
The F1 is a massive marketing machine, everything inside the Sochi Autodrome is in one way or the other a part of the attempt to sell you F1 merchandise. There is every attempt to make you buy a merchandise; from key rings, mugs, baseball caps, t-shirts and scarves, everything is on sale for big money. Official F1 team caps cost 4000 rubles ($70) while t-shirts cost 6000 rubles ($105).
Sport is big business and the F1 understands how to market the experience. Fans queued for more than three hours in order to walk through the pits and witness how race car tyres are changed by the team crews.
The food court is closely controlled. Restaurants did not have their names displayed because only sponsors’ brands are allowed to be displayed in the F1 village. The food is also more expensive than in the city. Official sponsors Heineken also sold pints at a higher cost.
There was a lot of money exchanging hands and it is the reason the F1 continues to enjoy big profits.
One thing they did that I loved was giving ticket holders free train rides to and fro the Olympic Park. This should reduce the number of people driving cars to the race.
I stopped by at the Moremall in the evening to buy groceries and found that sponsors Martini had placed a racing car inside the Okei grocery store as part of their activation. There is hardly anyone in the city that would miss the F1 phenomenon that swept through Sochi this weekend. Impressive.
This weekend I will watch more closely to observe the marketing strategy of the F1. I hope to take away important lessons for my career as a sport professional.