Racing Point recruit Slack sees extra commercial opportunities for tech-savvy F1
By Tariq Saleh
Jefferson Slack, the newly-appointed managing director of commercial and marketing at the Racing Point Formula 1 team, believes the top motor racing series has more pulling power commercially and “a lot of upside” in comparison to other sports because of its vast use of technology.
Slack who was formerly senior vice-president of football at IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, was hired last week to lead the team’s commercial operations in a newly-created role.
He will be responsible for all commercial and marketing activities of Racing Point, which will be rebranded as the Aston Martin works team from 2021 after a £182 million ($234 million) investment into the car brand by a consortium led by the team's current owner, billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
In an exclusive interview with Sportcal, Slack said that, despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, he can see significant commercial opportunities within the sport and particularly because of its relationship with technology.
Asked if Formula 1 still has the same pulling power in comparison to other sports, he replied: “I actually think it has relatively more. Emphasising the tech space, I have been amazed at companies that I certainly had not heard of that are $10 billion software companies, or $15 billion cybersecurity companies, or $20 billion data companies.
“These are big entities and are generally business to business, which actually plays a lot to Formula 1 and certainly to Aston Martin, because the integration between the car manufacturing team is a big opportunity. So that actually plays a bit to our strengths.
“Obviously, football continues to be the global sport and has its appeal just from a numbers standpoint and broader base. Thinking in a way at what is happened in the world, in a relative way it should help Formula 1 in general and I also think [the sport's owners] Liberty Media are really smart people that are recognising that and so they are building the sport in a way that is going to broaden that and take advantage of those positive tailwinds that we have to offset some of the headwinds.
He added: “Then you have what is going on with cost caps, which will make the racing more competitive, the teams have just put in a buy-in of $200 million. As an owner of the team, you have the opportunity to make an enterprise value of these franchises.
“If Formula 1 starts thinking like that, people look at this as actually starting to be a good investment. More capital will come into the sport and more sophistication. I can see that in Formula 1, football is already up there a bit and the NBA are way up there already. So we have a lot of upside where some other sports might have already got there and we are going to get there.”
Upon being appointed last week, Slack, who left IMG in 2014, described his new role as “one of the most exciting commercial opportunities in the whole sports industry, not just in Formula 1.”
Despite 30 years’ experience in sports, which included senior positions at Wasserman Media Group and Italian soccer giants Inter Milan, Slack is taking up his first role within Formula 1 and believes it is the right time as he is attracted by the direction the sport is heading.
He explained: “Formula 1, especially since Liberty has owned it, is modernising itself in an interesting way. There is still a long way to go and it is not easy to do, but ironically, in a world of Covid-19, technology has just accelerated. Formula 1, in terms of a sports industry, is by far the most authentic use of technology. It's just extraordinary and so we are a great platform for that and it's global and from that standpoint, it's positive.
“In Formula 1, even in a world without a lot of fans, races still look good and everyone has done an incredible job of rejigging it and being flexible. It's much harder if it's football, if you are [English soccer club] Manchester United, you have to play at Old Trafford, you can't play somewhere else, whereas we have found new tracks to go to, and we're having back-to-back races at the same track.
“There is a growing market in Asia, in places that the sport itself can grow. It's a sport that has trended older that can go a lot younger and we have some real aspirations next year to be able to do that.”
The impending rebrand to Aston Martin will signal the marque's return to the sport for the first time in 60 years.
Stroll’s consortium took control of the struggling Force India team and rebranded it as Racing Point at the start of the 2019 season, when SportPesa, the African sports betting operator, signed a multi-year title sponsorship deal. However, in February, it was announced that deal was being terminated after just one season.
For the 2020 season, Austrian water treatment company BWT upgraded its principal sponsorship deal with Racing Point to a full title sponsorship.
Slack will be tasked with bringing more sponsors on board in a Covid-impacted market, and he acknowledges that there are hurdles, particularly with competition from other sports.
He said: “It is a huge challenge because if you are the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company today, depending on what sector, you certainly would have seen your revenues go down significantly. You do not know what earnings are going to be, as well as a whole series of things that could affect your stock price, uncertainty for the future etc.
“Forget about it if you are in the airline industry or hospitality industry, so there is no question it has wiped out possibilities in those sectors for us. When you are selling, you need to go and meet people. Zoom [the digital conferencing platform] is okay but it is totally different than going and sitting down and listening to somebody and hearing what they need, and vice versa, and then getting to know people. We cannot do that so that has been a big challenge.
“In the sports industry, everyone, whether you are a football team, a Formula 1 team, or an NBA team, you are looking for partners, so we are all competing out there. The money is less, but the competition is as hungry as ever. So if you are a buyer today, obviously you have a lot of choices and so that is complicated as well.
“There are some big challenges but one of our advantages is we are global, which diversifies a bit and if you wanted to demonstrate technology today, there is no sport like Formula 1. There is no platform like this for storytelling your technology because it's real. It's used by the teams, the factory, the engineers, and by Aston Martin.
“It’s real and it’s authentic. We have got a lot of challenges but we have a long-term view and Lawrence is in this for a while and so hopefully we will get through those difficulties but there are definitely a lot of challenges.”
Slack is the second appointment made by the Racing Point team within their commercial division after Olly Dale was brought in as chief commercial officer in June.
Working with Dale, Slack revealed he is already in active discussions with potential new sponsors ahead of the rebrand.
He said: “We are very aggressive and we have a great sales organisation. Olly, who used to run [English soccer club] Liverpool’s commercial operations, is doing a fantastic job.
"We are having a lot of conversations and it is always a balance between brands that make sense for Aston Martin and money, but we have a longer-term view and we are going to try and build that brand the right way and get to where we want to be. We are in a bunch of active conversations now.”