Grand Prix countdown begins

14 Oct,2011



By Ritu Midha


Countdown to the Indian Grand Prix has begun – the Buddh International Circuit will attract 1.1 lakhracing enthusiasts from India and overseas From October 28 to October 30. The seating capacity, depending on the ticket sales, can be pushed up to 2 lakh.

The response the race is getting can be gauged by the fact that flight tickets from Mumbai for that duration are almost double the usual price on ticketing websites, and most upmarket hotel rooms in Delhi and Noida are booked – in some cases at a 100 percent premium. Gurgaon hotels too are gainers here.

Ticket prices for the event itself are between Rs 2,500 to Rs 35,000.


The target group

It is a young – largely male – premium audiences expected at the race. Defining the target group for Formula1, states Premjeet Sodhi, President, The Collaborative , Lintas Media Group, “Non-Cricket sports in India are quite Niche in India and the current followers of F1 are very small in number. However, in demographic terms, currently, the primary target group for the sport would be Males, SEC A, 15-34 years in the top 6 metros.“This target group is considered to be the most elusive – and hence the brands are interested in catching them on the tracks.


Brands riding on F1

Airtel as known, is ‘Title Sponsor’ for this sporting event, and the official logo of the India Race reads, ‘2011 Formula 1 Airtel Grand Prix of India’. Interestingly, Airtel gave up its title sponsorship of Champions League T20 sometime back, without completing its three-year tenure.

Indian brands, are seeing an opportunity in associating with individual teams as well. The latest to be a part of Formula 1 is Sahara Group – it has bought 42.5 percent stake, at the approximate cost of Rs 500 crore, in the Vijay Mallya-owned Force India F1 team – and now the team has been renamed Sahara Force India. Interestingly, both these brands too are connected with the pace version of Cricket – owning Pune Warriors and Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL respectively.

Hero Motors, meanwhile, has signed a sponsorship deal with Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula 1​ driver – as of now the deal is only for India Grand Prix.

Interestingly Amul too is in the fray. The brand has tied-up with the Sauber Team (Ranked 17th). The brand logo will be seen on the front face of the rear wing, and also on the drivers’ helmets. On Amul’s part, it is an obvious attempt to establish itself as a youthful and ‘happening’ brand.

And then there are brands with a long-standing relationship with Formula 1: like Red Bull and Mercedes Benz. Red Bull showcased its RB3 F1 racing car in Delhi throughout September, and has largely tried to attract the student community in the capital. Mercedes-Benz is looking at a long-term strategy, and plans to launch India’s first motor racing academy next year.

Cafe Coffee Day has associated itself with the event by selling tickets at select outlets at Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Gurgaon. The coffee shop, a favourite hangout of youngsters, must definitely have seen synergies between itself and F1. Or, perhaps, it was the other way round.

The tickets would be available at Mercedes Benz showrooms as well.

As for which brands would derive value by associating with Formula One, Anamika Mehta,COO, Lodestar Universal, states, “F1 is in its infancy in India and will grow from strength to strength with its first ever India Grand Prix. More than VFM its an opportunity to engage brands with the thrill and experience . Over a sustained period of time, it will definitely reap dividends for brands which create an engagement platform. India in that sense is poised right ‑ economic growth, young country that loves technology, thrill and speed.”
It is not only youth brands, but also the Government that plans to reach out to the F1 fans flocking the capital. Tourism Ministry plans to promote tourist destinations close to the circuit, and at other places of interest. Plan, reportedly, is to promote 50 lesser known destinations including beaches, monuments, mountains, sand dunes, festivals and cuisines.


The broadcasters

The broadcast rights, as is known lie with ESPN. DTH service provider Reliance Digital TV (RDTV) has added ESPN HD and Star Cricket HD to its kitty of channels – objective obviously is to enable its subscribers experience the highly charged atmosphere as close to reality as possible.

ESPN states that the spots have been sold out, and also that it is not selling Formula 1 Buddh International Circuit as a separate property. On ground activity too is meant for sponsors alone unlike Cricket. nil Sathiraju, Associate VP & Head-South, Mudra Max, said, “At this point in time, it’s apparently for the sponsors only. Also many of the deals are getting done outside of India because of the fact that it is F1.”

Coming back to Broadcast media, Winners from India has Got Talent and Entertainment Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega will perform live at the race. Bir Khalsa Group, Rohan & Group, Prince Dance Troupe, Reincarnation of Indian Acrobatics, Speed Painter Rabin Bar and several others will perform throughout the day on all three days. Of course, it is in addition to Lady GAGA (who would perform on the final day) and other well known DJs and bands from India and overseas.


The online rush

As a large proportion of racing aficionados are web friendly, there is a lot of activity in the virtual gaming world – where car races, anyway, continue to be all time favourites. Gaming organisations like Ibibo, Zapak and 7Seas Technologies are working towards providing users the excitement of being on the original track – virtually. While, Zapak has launched the official Formula One Game – ‘Vodafone Formula GP Racing, 7Seas Technologies too has a similar game ‘Xtreame’. The game on offers an opportunity to own a ‘high speed racing car’ in the virtual world.


Ambush marketing: the Vodafone way

If all this we not enough, enter ambush marketing. Even as Bharti Airtel is the title sponsor for the event, Vodafone is trying to steal the thunder from under its nose by holding road shows across the big cities. These road shows showcase an exact replica of the McLaren Mercedes racing car to be driven by Lewis Hamilton . And as mentioned earlier – the battle is being fought by Vodafone in the virtual space also – with Vodafone Formula GP Racing.
F1 vs IPL

In this backdrop, can one assume that it would be as attractive or the advertiser as a mini Three-day IPL? Our experts unanimously turn down the supposition. States Sodhi, “The IPL monetized the already existing mass fan following of cricket. It managed to over-night make Cricket a very premium sport despite it being a very mass followed sport. F1 on the other hand is a very different task of actually creating active fans in India. Today, it has the premiumness but lacks the mass appeal. Hence, from the advertising opportunity perspective F1 and the IPL are in a very different class. While F1 is for a very definitive age group and appeals primarily to the affluent and the higher SECs, Cricket is very broad based. Hence, the brands that would patronize F1 would be a subset of the IPL advertisers and then some more.” He adds, “In time, surely F1 will find its core set of advertisers but I doubt if its advertising valuations will come anything close to the IPL in the near future.”

Top of the pyramid is growing in India – the number of rich is growing, and so is the number of young adults. Formula 1 being a race extensively patronized by the young rich surely has the makings of a future success story. A lot would, however, depend on the performance of Sahara Force India, and of Narayan Karthikeyan. Thrill and excitement of Formula 1, just might capture our fancy in a big way – car racing after all is a familiar territory with the kids growing up on a staple diet of virtual races.

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