Historically speaking, U.S. corporate involvement in Formula One has been relatively limited. But since Aston Martin announced its return to the sport after a 61-year absence, a pair of prominent domestic technology companies have made multi-year, multimillion dollar financial commitments in the open wheel racing team. Back in January, Cognizant Technology Solutions signed on as title sponsor of the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team, and later this morning SentinelOne (raised round at a $3 billion-plus valuation in Nov. ’20) will be named its Official Cyber Security Partner. While COVID-19 has undeniably made it more difficult for sports teams to sell sponsorships, Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One (known as Racing Point last season) has found American tech companies—which have largely benefited from the pandemic—more willing to invest in the sport than ever before.
Our Take: To be clear, there are a few U.S. companies associated with Formula One (Coca-Cola, Dell Technologies and Amazon Web Services). But for every American company that sponsors the sport or one of its teams, there are dozens of European partners. The Aston Martin Cognizant team’s managing director Jefferson Slack attributed that phenomenon to F1 having never “been a part of the cultural DNA in the United States.”
While F1 is still largely ignored by the American sports fan, technology has brought on the age of globalization and enabled companies to increasingly grow their businesses abroad. With races in 21 international cities this year (plus Austin, Texas), Slack says Formula One provides “an excellent option [for companies] to expand their marketing footprint. The sport reaches a global audience in a way that a lot of other sports don’t—especially on a B2B, C-Suite basis.”
In addition to having global reach, Formula One is also different from most sports properties in the sense that “it [roots] itself in performance and technology,” the Aston Martin exec explained. That enables corporate partners to use the sport as a platform to tell a global tech story. “If a brand wants to [showcase] their product(s), and they are in technology, [F1] is a really sexy way to demonstrate what [you] can do. In essence, the reason [teams] win or lose is because their technology is better [or worse than the competition]. You wouldn’t say the same thing about baseball, soccer, hockey or basketball,” Slack said.
Sentinel CMO Daniel Bernard echoed those sentiments. American technology companies are gravitating towards Formula One, Bernard said, because it’s “a highly technical sport with a global audience, which aligns with our company makeup and buyer audience.”
One would not think the midst of a global pandemic would make for an opportune time to sell sports sponsorships—particularly not for a brand that has been out of F1 racing for more than six decades. “COVID knocked out a lot of [potential sponsorship] categories. Categories that would [otherwise] be involved,” Slack said (think: hotels or airlines). But the race team executive reminded, “Tech has thrived during the pandemic, and Formula One [has been able to] take advantage of that.” Slack estimated 75% of the Aston Martin Cognizant team’s new top-tier partners are “tech related.”
Considering the number of successful tech companies in the U.S. and the direction Formula One is headed (remember, F1 is owned by the American mass media company, Liberty Media), Slack suggested the trend of American tech companies investing in the sport was likely to continue. In fact, he said, “It will accelerate significantly when [there are] more races in the United States; when [domestic] brands can look at F1 not just as an international play, but as a great domestic play from a marketing and exposure standpoint.” F1 currently has just a single U.S. race on the slate, but there is ongoing talk of adding one or two new races on domestic soil.
While U.S. tech companies are more willing to invest in F1 than ever before, it is undeniable that Aston Martin’s return to the sport after a 61-year absence also factored into Cognizant and SentinelOne deciding to partner with the team. “Continuing to invest in the SentinelOne brand alongside such a storied organization made too much sense not to pursue,” Bernard said. Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team revenues are up 300-400% YoY.