Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Formula One: The Triumph of Marketing

There was a time, not long ago, when I did follow the Formula One circuit. Not that I ever really understood what it was about. And I couldn't ever sit through a complete race on TV either, but there was nevertheless a sense of awe about cars zipping around at blinding speeds (boys and their toys, huh?). The whole daredevil aspect of the sport obviously contributed to the aura.
And then there were the superstar drivers. No one personified, or so it seemed, the sport more than Ayrton Senna, in life and in death.
So even if I barely understood what a pit stop was, had never driven a car (at the time anyway) and had no idea what the likes of Martin Brundle were rambling on about in terms of strategy, I knew who Schumacher was and which teams were in contention. Being something of a sports nut, I pretty much knew all the drivers and teams, in fact.
Come March of 2005, I got to go a Grand Prix! I was quite excited, although most of my initial enthusiasm was dampened by typically fickle Melbourne weather. The speed of the cars and deafening noise left me awestruck for a little while during the qualifying sessions. Race day, however, was different. The best part of it was probably some aerial acrobatics before the race (and the presence of Narain Karthikeyan). There was even a Qantas jumbo jet that flew quite low over Albert Park. As for the race itself, it was impossible to follow it from the sidelines at the venue. You had to tune in to radio or one of several screens at the venue to find out who was in the lead. When the race was over, so was my brief dalliance with the sport.
As I pored over the sports pages today in The Telegraph (Kolkata), I glanced over two pretty substantial write-ups about the latest GP and that got me thinking once again - who in India follows Formula One? What are they fascinated by? How did television marketing manage to sell it to audiences in India (or anywhere else for that matter)? Along with the English Premier League, Formula One has been the one of two major success stories for ESPN-Star over the years, although one suspects EPL has a lot more viewership. In each case, it is a triumph of marketing. There is an obvious difference however - football is almost universally understood and the EPL has some of the best talent in the world and is a traditional spectator sport. Formula One seems to be all about glitz, glamour and slick packaging.
- NK

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