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Formula One strikes Zoom deal in bet on virtual corporate hospitality

Formula One is set to unveil a tie-up with Zoom, the video meeting platform, as the world’s biggest motor racing series creates a virtual substitute for the corporate hospitality business it has been forced to suspend during the coronavirus pandemic.

While Zoom has struck partnerships with individual sports teams in the past, including English Premier League sides Arsenal and Manchester City, the F1 deal is its first move into recreating corporate hospitality as a virtual experience.

F1, which has been controlled by billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Media since an $8bn deal in 2016, is trying to emulate the experience of the Paddock Club, its luxurious corporate hospitality arm, which helped to generate $358m of its $2bn revenue in 2019. Paddock Club tickets cost $3,800 for two days at European races.

The six-figure deal will not replace lost Paddock Club revenues. F1 has no immediate plans to charge for the virtual event, although it might do so in future.

$3,800 Price of a 2-day Paddock Club ticket at European races. F1 does not plan initially to charge for the virtual event

Virtual hospitality guests will be able to see various locations, vote in polls and hear from former F1 drivers and current management across the race weekend.

“It’s potentially a lower-cost access point . . . but ultimately we need to make sure it’s additive,” said Ben Pincus, who joined F1 as director of commercial partnerships in March. “One of the inevitable questions is if you developed a virtual Paddock Club offering, how do you price it sensibly?”

In the latest evolution of a broader digital push under Liberty Media, F1 will give a select number of fans behind-the-scenes access through Zoom, whose brand will not be visible to viewers who tune in to watch races on television.

“Not surprisingly, Zoom don’t have a brand awareness challenge,” said Mr Pincus, who joined from Dutch brewer Heineken, one of F1’s main partners. “As we’ve all experienced, Zoom has become part of our vernacular.”

Zoom became one of the biggest “winners” of the pandemic, as businesses flocked to the video conferencing company to facilitate working from home for staff.

Although the delayed F1 season is now under way following two Grands Prix earlier this month in Vienna, the racing series has been forced to impose strict conditions on who can attend in person in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We think that this is a great way to fill the gap while in-person events are not possible,” said Janine Pelosi, chief marketing officer at Zoom.

“In the long run, we see a hybrid model here, with in-person attendees but also opening up these exclusive events virtually to guests who can’t join due to scheduling conflicts or distance,” she said.

The relationship, which could be extended beyond this season, is a test case for F1 as it explores alternative ways of keeping its customers and fans engaged through the pandemic.

It experimented with virtual Grands Prix during the lockdown, with real F1 drivers going up against celebrities, including Manchester City player Sergio Aguero in esports competitions. The events attracted 21.8m views on digital platforms, including Twitch and Facebook.

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