Race to the future: The TSBA Group on Franchising Formula E’s millennial mission

This time next year, go the hatchings of a plan divulged to Licensing.biz by The TSBA Group’s global head of licensing Stephanie Freeman, Formula E will be making its mark on the toy industry in a big way.

The hope is for the brand to have a major launch at Toy Fair 2020, where Formula E – the next evolution of motor racing – is simply, and according to Freeman, “going to own it.” It’s not inconceivable, these past couple of years, momentum for this emerging sports brand has really been picking up, and toys are right at the top of the agenda.

It was only last month that the Formula One poster-boy and current Mercedes golden child, Lewis Hamilton let slip he was considering a move to Formula E, citing it as the future of the motor sport. Of course, he wouldn’t be the first of the petrol heads to make the transition; following in the footsteps of Formula E’s own ambassador Stoffel Vandoorne, and a number of others, who – as the racing brand gradually builds its international appeal, all add to the growing buzz around this new sporting league.

But this is far from a sport wholly reliant on the big names it can lure over from the world of F1 racing; take a look at its global viewing figures and you’ll see that in just four years since its launch onto the world stage, Formula E is already pulling in half the numbers of Formula 1 – a brand with a 70 year history in spectatorship.

Now, with the BBC signed up to broadcast its slate of upcoming races on a regular schedule – and some you may have even spotted it creeping into your Saturday afternoons, already – and with the E-Prix coming to London for the first time in five years in 2020, Freeman and the team across both TSBA and Innovation First, are adamant that the time for the brand, “is right now.”

Formula for success

“Everything about Formula E revolves around accessibility,” states Freeman as she takes Licensing.biz through the brand’s presentation. “The whole idea is that visitors can just stumble upon one of the races, and get involved with all of the excitement, buzz and activity.”

The premise of Formula E is quite novel. This is an electric-powered motorsport in which tracks are set up around some of the world’s biggest and most famed cities. The idea is that by setting up “slap bang in the middle of a popular city,” visitors can simply turn up on the day, discover it by chance and then watch the action.

“It means they don’t have to seek an event out months in advance, book their tickets and then travel all the distance to races,” says Freeman. This is the ultimate lesson in bringing a brand to its audience.

But then, everything about Formula E is centred around audience engagement. It’s somewhat of a masterclass in how to launch a sporting platform in the modern era. First of all, Formula E is plastered across social media, and its drivers are all active in drumming up support from their fan bases – an element that pays dividends when those fans can vote for their favourite drivers throughout any given race, to supplement their car’s power with a fan-boost. Think Hunger Games tributes receiving packages from sponsors watching the death match… without the killing, of course…

“The fans feel so much a part of the sport,” continues Freeman. “It’s a sport that has found that means of drawing in on today’s digital space, that gamification aspect, and using it to real effect in the race itself.”

But that’s not where the fan involvement ends.

“Formula E is also very much about that race day atmosphere,” Freeman says. “The events have a real festival vibe with bands, street foods from the city’s local food sellers and plenty for families to do. It’s why the audience for the sport is so even between men and women, because it has such a family feel.”

To this end, it’s possibly why Formula E lends itself so well to toys. As well as racing fans, it has a real appeal for kids, with many of the E Villages setting up educational zones for children to partake in race simulation, find out the basics of being a mechanic or an engineer, and championing the encouragement of girls into these topics, too.

On top of this, and to ramp up the Formula E’s wholesome appeal one notch further, comes the whole sustainability aspect it is tapping in to.

Global Impact

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Yvon Chouinard, the eco-conscious founder of the the Patagonia sports brand put bluntly, that “there is no such thing as sustainability. The best we can do is cause the least amount of harm…”

How then, do you even begin to launch yourself onto the global stage with sustainability messaging at the heart of what you do? If you’re Formula E – a brand that takes every step to champion the use of electric cars today – you simply “try to leave each site a little better than when you arrived.”

“The brand is truly international, and it reinforces this by setting up in the heart of cities, bringing with it this message of sustainability,” says Freeman. “Even the charging stations they use for the cars, they leave these set up in the cities for general use for everyone once the race has left.

“As a brand, this is tapping into all of those elements that are becoming more and more important in the consumer mind-set. We have some global partners coming on board for that key reason of sustainability, and some of the conversations I am having is because of the sustainability of the sport.”

And what has the brand got to offer the consumer of today? First on the list are the staple categories of any licensing programme, with toys, apparel, publishing in those final stages of conversation. All of this merchandise is currently being sold on-site at Formula E events across the globe.

“But we are looking at placing it all within the wider retail space, especially with Formula E coming to London next year, that will be a big year for the brand,” says Freeman. “We have restructured the retail team internally to head up this effort, and this is the first stepping stone for us; working with retail directly.”

Following on from this, tech is firmly on the radar for the TSBA and Innovation First team.

Freeman explains: “Formula E immediately lends itself to gaming, app gaming, video games, but also toys and gadgets. These areas are where the money is. By next Toy Fair, we are going to own that. It’s going to be Formula E. You’re probably starting to see us a little bit more now, so the key timing is now.”

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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