Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle believes that Toto Wolff’s claims about Mercedes pulling out of the championship due to low viewership of the series are not the only reason. The Canadian revealed that the reasons given to him by the Mercedes board were based on a different analysis based on the popularity of the sport.
Countering Wolff’s comments to a question by Sportskeeda in Mexico, Reigle said:
“I can’t comment specifically on Toto’s comments, I read the article and I’ll give you my view. But what is very true, and I’ll go away from Toto and reference other Mercedes board members I spoke with. What they always said was, they have such a big audience with F1 with the success they have had with the last seven or eight years. It’s not about Drive to Survive. Drive to Survive was like a little notch above but Formula 1 has always had whatever it has had with half a billion people watching it. I think Bernie use to claim half a billion people watch every race, definitely not true.”
“The point is they’ve always had a huge audience compared to Formula E. What they (Mercedes) always said was, unless you can demonstrate to us that you are helping us reach new audiences that we are not otherwise reaching through Lewis (Hamilton) and F1, then there is less importance to Formula E for Mercedes Benz. They were super clear and they had a lot of data to show that actually that a lot of people watching Formula E were already watching Formula 1, which is sort of like counterintuitive.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff claimed that Formula E's low viewership was one of the prime reasons his team did not benefit from the series and decided to withdraw. Countering the claim, the sport’s CEO Reigle acknowledged the statements but explained that the explanation the Mercedes board had given him was slightly different.
The Canadian believes the reason behind Mercedes choosing to discontinue their Formula E participation was twofold: their inability to tap into audiences beyond the existing motorsport ones that followed F1, as well as those beyond what Mercedes already had with its F1 team and drivers. Reigle revealed that Mercedes presented an analysis where they were not gaining traction into newer audiences that befitted their sales or brand beyond the existing ones.
Although Formula E audiences have doubled since then, Reigle feels they are still a small series compared to the F1 audience. He explained that the new audiences that they strive to tap into are general sporting fans who do not identify particularly as motorsport fans but don’t mind following a sport like FE. So, although he felt Mercedes' reasons were valid, he suggested that Wolff’s claims are not an indicator or verdict of the sport’s progress.
Explaining the situation with Mercedes and their fan base further, the Formula E CEO added:
“And then there are people who say it’s not that they are against motorsport but they don’t identify as motorsport fans and are sporting fans maybe like cricket, hockey where I am from but they care about the environment and then they say this is like a new thing, I’ll look at that. That’s a really interesting market, but there are a lot more of those people than these people but they are not naturally associated with sports and we got to work harder to bring them.”
“So I think when I read Toto’s comments I think he was referring to that analysis, so that wasn’t like a surprise to me. Now what I said before our live audience is up 2x but the reality is if you’re measuring it in context with how big Lewis’ social channels are and Mercedes’ TV audience are, of course, we are small. Now Zak Brown (McLaren CEO) took the opposite decision, he’s in Formula 1, he came in, ask him why he came in, but I have my view. But just because Toto Wolff says it, it isn’t true.”
Formula E CEO agrees that the sport needs a creative social media and branding strategy in place to grow further
Upon being questioned by Sportskeeda, Jamie Reigle conceded that Formula E needed a more creative branding and digital promotion strategy similar to the one adopted by their gasoline counterpart F1. The electric racing series' CEO revealed that he strongly believed that the sport needed a change in its sporting format and promotion, and not enough was done on the social media or digital front.
On whether Formula E needs a creative media strategy, Reigle spoke to Sportskeeda in Mexico, saying:
“A couple of thoughts. Like a short answer to your question is Yes, and that’s what we are trying to do. I was a big believer that we didn’t address our sporting format, we didn’t do much social media promotion such as influencers, etc, and whatever it took. At the end of the day, this sport is incredible and isn’t perceived to be top tier it’s not gonna help right? So that was really important for me.”
Since last season, Formula E has tweaked its qualifying format and made further changes to its sporting format. The introduction of Gen3 cars has ushered a new era into the sport on the technical front, but on the digital front, they also have their own behind-the-scenes series called "Unplugged," featuring their eighth season and is similar to "Drive to Survive," which helps fans understand their series better.