Bratches takes the wheel: F1 commercial chief on his plans to revamp the sport... and the future of the British Grand Prix

 
Oliver Gill
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Australian F1 Grand Prix
Sean Bratches worked with Chase Carey during his long career with ESPN (Source: Getty)

After a 30-year career masterminding the growth of American sports channel ESPN from bit-part player to behemoth, Sean Bratches did not take long to realise retirement was not for him.

Sitting on the sidelines lasted just over a year and he was tempted back by Liberty Media mogul Chase Carey in January to take on a new challenge: becoming the commercial head of Formula One.

The New Yorker is one half of the duo charged by Carey with developing the sport in the post-Bernie Ecclestone era. Alongside him is former Mercedes F1 team boss Ross Brawn, in charge of all things racing.

“Formula One to date has been a motorsports company,” Bratches tells City A.M.. “And I’m trying to pivot to much more of an entertainment company and brand, with Formula One at the centre of everything we do.”

Read more: Mayor: London ready to replace Silverstone as British GP host

Since Liberty Media completed its $8bn takeover of Formula One earlier this year, Bratches says he has learnt “there is an extraordinary opportunity at Formula One”, but adds that “there is a lot of work to do”.

The future of this business is ripe to explode and really be detonated in a way that better serves fans.

Bratches is speaking as Formula One cars whizz through the closed-off streets of central London. Wednesday’s F1 Live event in Trafalgar Square is one example of better fan engagement, he adds.

“Right now we have one of the most antiquated digital platforms on the planet. We are going to burn it down and build a digital platform that represents technological excellence,” he says.

F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain
Silverstone triggered a break clause in its agreement with F1 earlier this week (Source: Getty)

He explains each Formula One car spits out 1,500 pieces of data per second. Such information is “laying fallow, he says, revealing plans to monetise it by selling premium packages to data-hungry petrolheads.

For those with more of a passing fancy in F1, clips and highlights will be available free-to-view over social media – an approach illustrated by a new deal with Snapchat, announced on Thursday.

Nevertheless, such high-tech aspirations will not stop Bratches from sprinkling on some old-fashioned American razzmatazz.

I bought 30 T-shirt guns and I’ve given them to the grid girls so they can bang T-shirts into the crowd.

Silverstone

The elephant in the room – here, the sizeable foyer of the National Gallery – is the future of Silverstone. On Wednesday, the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) triggered a break clause in its agreement with F1, meaning the track will cease to host a grand prix after 2019.

F1 hit back at the move, announced just days before Saturday’s race at the Northamptonshire circuit, criticising the timing of the BRDC announcement and accusing it of “posturing”.

“We have an agreement for the next three years,” Bratches says. “We want a deal for a British Grand Prix.”

Read more: A London street race could legitimately replace Silverstone's Grand Prix

Presumably that does not mean it will be at Silverstone. “That is correct,” he says. “We have a luxury of time. We have luxury of interest from many parts of this great country in which Formula One was founded.”

Silverstone’s loss could be London’s gain after Mayor Sadiq Khan this week gave his blessing to the capital taking over as host of the British Grand Prix from 2020.

A move to a city circuit is in line with Bratches' stated preference for races to be held in major metropoles. But despite Khan’s statements, the American refuses to go into the finer details of who he is and is not talking to.

“We’re talking to people around the world about grands prix," he says. "I’ve been in this chair for six months and I’ve probably had 40 principalities come to me with presentations."

For the latest chapter in his career, Bratches has upped and moved to London.

F1 has signed a 15-year lease at the St James’s Market development on Regent Street for its new headquarters, and he reveals that, given the UK’s historical importance to the sport, it may not come down to a battle between London and Silverstone.

He says:

There could be two [grands prix] and not include Silverstone. There could three theoretically. There is no governance that says you can only have one grand prix in each country.

However the UK situation plays out, Bratches says grand prix will not solely be allocated to the highest bidder. “It’s not just about the money. You have to take your helicopter up,” he insists.

Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice
Three wise men: (L-R) Ross Brawn, Chase Carey and Sean Bratches (Source: Getty)

Donald Trump

Some eyebrows were raised by some purists when commercial giant Liberty Media swooped, with former champion Damon Hill quipping that the sport’s new owners knew about as much about F1 as Donald Trump did about the White House.

“I think we have built a very structured and thoughtful team around Formula One," Bratches retorts.

My responsibility is to commercialise the sport and develop the brand. I spent 30 years running the commercial side of ESPN. I’ve seen this before and I know the opportunities.

“Chase Carey is in the pantheon of leaders in media and sport companies on a global basis. He stands pretty much alone. And Ross Brawn is a Formula One legend who we can draw on and relates the nuances of the sport.”

He continues: “Ross, Chase and I we have all had very prolific careers. But we are egoless as relates to this sport.”

This experienced trio know the value of playing their cards close to their chest, preferring to keep grand prix location discussions behind closed doors.

Bratches concludes: “Our objective in terms of managing this business is to work, work, work and then announce what we’ve done.”

Read more: Damon Hill: Liberty Media is learning just like Donald Trump

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