How F1 and Team GB kept fan engagement through a pandemic

F1’s Joan Carrera Lopez and Team GB’s Tim Ellerton on how they adapted licensing programmes and what the future holds.

There are still huge opportunities within the sports licensing arena, with digital initiatives being just one of the focuses – this was one of the key messages to come from the Festival of Licensing keynote with F1’s Joan Carrera Lopez and Team GB’s Tim Ellerton earlier this week (October 7).

Speaking to Simon Gresswell, md of SGLP, Joan and Tim explained how their teams had been navigating the issues and the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a business it’s been an extremely challenging season for us,” said Joan, senior manager retail and CPG licensing at Formula 1. “F1 is a very fast paced environment but this was a new scenario. The promoter relations team have done a terrific job to move a 22 race season to 17 in these hard circumstances and deliver an unusual calendar, but one that keeps us racing.

esports has worked really well for us – it has helped us to engage with new fans and bring them into the sport and we have seen an uplift in sales in the official online store.”

For Team GB, the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games was clearly a blow. “You’re defined by how you act in situations like that,” said commercial director Tim. “We have an extremely strong agency in The Point.1888 as well as our internal team, and our thoughts were around how we can make this easy and smooth for our licensees, retailers and sponsors. We extended contract terms to include the 2021 Games, were flexible with payment schedules and aimed to protect the programme we’d already started working hard on.”

A TikTok initiative with the Red Cross – the Isolation Games – plus a podcast series with the University of Hull with past and present athletes and look backs at some of the greatest Olympic moments (including London 2012) were among the activities used to continue audience engagement.

When it comes to digital, F1 has been through something of a transformation over the last three years, Joan explained. “Digital has really helped us to stay relevant,” he said. “esports has been the key for us to supersize those events that weren’t happening until the beginning of July. We now have a lot of great content which we didn’t have before.

“We also launched a Netflix TV series – Drive to Survive – which launched just before the pandemic. We see opportunity on any of the digital initiatives that we have. Quick turnaround products, a highlight or something viral from that weekend… and try to make that moment a product that people will fall in love with.”

For Tim, it’s about trying to be as nimble as possible. “It glass half full in these situations,” he offered. “It gave us a chance to look at an evergreen and longer term strategy for our licensing.”

The postponement means that a number of events will now be happening in quick succession for Team GB – the Tokyo Games will begin in July 2021, followed by the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022 and then the focus switches to Paris and the 2024 Summer Olympics from July 2024.

This represents a good opportunity for the Team GB licensing programme, particularly for the Winter Olympics which tends to have a slightly younger demographic due to the types of sports featured.

“We’re constantly looking at how to develop those social content opportunities, too,” continued Tim. “Our online presence gives us 365 visibility and the chance to offer new products for fans. We’ve increased print on demand and have a new store build launch in October to align with (which has also had a refresh). We’re working on new collections for the store and improving the assets available with a refresh of the style guide. Those kind of things probably wouldn’t have happened in such a quick period without the postponement.”

Joan and the F1 team have also been working with licensees on moving product meant for this season into the following season, as well as helping licensees who might not have been set up for b2c business to cope with the shift to online sales.

The team is also working on initiatives for relevant product that makes fans feel like they’re actually at a race track. For example, fans given the chance to have their name embroidered on a chequered flag which is then used at a grand prix. They then receive their name square following the race.

Going forward, Joan says there are a number of new partners signed ready to launch product, while the team is also looking at new categories which weren’t necessarily at the forefront before, citing emobility as one example.

“We also going back to track side and adapting our stores to the new normal, which we started doing at the Russian grand prix for the first time,” said Joan. “Online will be key for us, too, and how we make the official F1 store the place to go and buy merchandise. There are also a lot of products we want to support and make sure they are successful at retail. Our deal with Topps will also help us explore other categories where we are stronger together.”

Tim is also looking for successful product launches – and, of course, a successful 2021 Games for the Team GB athletes. The new collaboration with Peppa Pig also now means that Team GB is set up to meet consumer demand, whatever the age group. It also offers the potential for further growth in the toys and games space, while Tim would also be keen to maximise opportunities such as back to school and other moments where licensed products play a role.

“We want to get consumers thinking about Team GB far more than they perhaps have done in the past,” he concluded.

Festival of Licensing runs until October 29. It’s easy to register – simply head to

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