Last Wednesday (1 September), Formula One's leading sponsors gathered for the inaugural meeting of the F100 club, an organisation established to promote and represent the collective voice of the motorsport's biggest brands.
While F1 teams have been represented by the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) for years, the sport's sponsors have not had a unified body to represent them until now.
'Wherever Formula One goes around the world, everyone from teams, fans and sponsors is in one venue at one time. So a community already exists, yet the sponsors haven't had an opportunity to have their voices heard,' says Robin Fenwick. His sponsorship consultancy, Right Formula, developed F100 in partnership with event organiser Motorsport Business Forum and trade publication Formula Money.
'The sport is made up of a variety of associations and organisations,' adds Fenwick. 'Its decision-makers simply can't consult everybody about every change they make, as it would take forever, but by coming together as a group, brands now have the chance to speak as one, where previously, individual voices may have been lost.'
F100 will meet three times a year, with the minutes sent to F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone for review. Ahead of the London forum, brands submitted topics that they wished to discuss. These ranged from how the sponsors could benefit from greater global online exposure to investigating potential corporate hospitality solutions in Formula One.
Sponsors in other arenas will be watching the development of F100 with interest. 'I could see it being extremely desirable for sponsors in other sports,' says Pippa Collett, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting.
'LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) hold regular sponsor meetings to encourage brands to work together. It also helps raise issues that they would not want to in a one-to-one meeting with the rights-holder,' she adds.
Collett argues that rights-holders will also welcome sponsors clubs like F100, where they believe they have sold particularly attractive packages. However, those that may have oversold to partners will be more wary.
'It's a balance of power,' she says. 'The divide-and-conquer strategy has been adopted by some rights-holders in UK sports for years, but collaborative efforts are more likely to deliver better results. Where some football clubs may encourage their sponsors to sit down together, others may be less likely to want them to mix with sponsors of other clubs where they could potentially get better value for money.'
At each F100 meeting, four sponsors will be asked to present case studies to delegates. Shell, LG and SAP will be leading the charge in London.
While some, such as Shell, have been in the sport for more than 20 years, the regular forums will also include newcomers like UBS, which first became a sponsor last month. Those with long traditions in F1 can impart wisdom to newcomers, but are also likely to benefit themselves from hearing a fresh perspective.
Following the first F100 meeting, sponsors were asked to submit a one-page case study of a successful F1 marketing campaign. These will now be bound and given to each delegate at the following forum and will act as a Formula One 'marketing bible'.
'Members of F100 collectively have a vast amount of marketing experience, which can only be of benefit to the sport as a whole,' says Fenwick. 'It's a bit like creating a marketing arm for Formula One Management (the company that controls the sport) - it will help generate concepts.'
F100 should prove beneficial for sponsors from both a business-acquisition and a joint-promotional perspective. 'At no previous time have brands felt comfortable about speaking to sponsors from other teams. In this environment, everyone can talk to everybody else, and we will actively encourage openness,' adds Fenwick.
While F100 has been set up by sponsors for sponsors, the organisation's benefits could prove more far-reaching as brands share ideas and work collaboratively. The learnings they take from future F100 meetings should enable sponsors to deliver more for the teams they support, the fans and the sport as a whole.