Five years ago, Formula E burst on to the racing scene at the Olympic Park in Beijing. The concept, scribbled on a napkin back in 2011, was for a sport that could demonstrate the potential of sustainable mobility to help create a cleaner world.
Fast-forward to January 2018 and Formula E has increased TV viewing by 42% year on year to 330 million and more than doubled attendance to 476,000 in the same period.
It is attracting big-name brands including Jaguar, Nissan, BMW and Audi, and Formula E secured global technology and robotics company ABB as its first title sponsor from 2018.
The number of brands getting involved with Formula E has "escalated", according to Crispin Bolt, TRO’s head of partnerships: "You only have to look around and you see Hugo Boss [along with] the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] like Porsche and Mercedes. They’re all entering this now and there is obviously a clear reason behind that."
That reason can perhaps be found in the scale of the Berlin event's fan park, which has a variety of brand activations, food stalls and a large gaming area. But Bolt explains that the growing concerns around climate change may also have an impact.
He says: "Everyone cares about the planet, so if you can combine entertainment with something that’s sustainable, that can only be a good thing."
Ben Taylor, head of Cassette, TRO’s tech division, adds that Formula E is the "perfect platform" for displaying new tech. "Formula E is all about pushing boundaries, it’s all about technologies, complicated messaging," he says. "It’s a perfect place to help tell that story and bring it to life and make it engaging."
Jaguar piqued interest with a speed tapping game, while Nissan simulated the velocity of the cars by blasting air in visitors' faces. DHL also had a presence, showcasing a drone that could be the future of parcel delivery.
In a crowded marketplace, Bolt thinks experiences is one way that brands can stand out. "There's a lot of brands, but that's always the challenge that you have," he says. "But for us at TRO, we always see about creating the most immersive experience and the most engaging experiences."
Bolt believes that the values of sustainability and innovation has helped to create a platform that brands want to see themselves aligned with. Motor sport also offers opportunities that are not at your typical music festival, allowing brands to deploy activations that are becoming larger in scale.
For example, TRO client BMW, which is also a title sponsor of Formula E, used the Berlin weekend to unveil its largest activation of the season, with a race car, a rally car and a motor bike on display, as well as a "vision walk" (an insight to the brand’s vision for the future of car manufacturing), a joystick-controlled game played across a huge screen and virtual-reality headsets for a simulated drive in an autonomous car.
"We’re really trying to showcase a lot of the trends in the automotive industry," Kristina Schmaderer, head of co-operation and brand partnerships at BMW, explains. "If you take the 'vision walk', it gives you an insight into what we mean and what we think the future of mobility could look like."
For Nissan, its presence has been driven by its global brand strategy around zero emissions. The brand worked with TRO to set up a VR experience so that visitors can understand what it’s like to be in a Formula E car.
Formula E is only just starting to make a big noise in sports and, as Taylor says, there is plenty more to come. "From bringing the races to the people and helping to further understand the technology, I think there’s a long way for it to go."