A look behind the scenes at FOTA: Part 1

One of the biggest Formula 1 stories to occur over the Winter break was the disbanding of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA). The association aimed to “promote the development of Formula 1 and enhance its worldwide image and reputation” whilst also promoting a united front towards the FIA when debating future rules, sporting and technical regulations.

Sadly though, after nearly six years, self interest soon got in the way of the greater good, and on February 28th, FOTA announced its intention to officially disband. So what good, if anything, came out of FOTA? I caught up with Oliver Weingarten, who was the secretary general of the Formula One Teams’ Association, and is currently in the process of trying to dissolve FOTA. Weingarten previously worked for the Premier League, where he was General Counsel responsible for commercial and IP issues for 7 years. Over two parts, Weingarten talked to me about social media, the controversial double points plan and whether FOTA did really make any change for the better, amongst other subjects currently surrounding the world of Formula 1.

I began by asking Oliver about the FOTA fans’ forums and his opinion on how they went.

The F1 Broadcasting Blog: One of the success stories of FOTA were the fan forums that were held periodically. How easy were these to set up, and also did any broadcasters ever show an interest to televise these forums?

Oliver Weingarten: If I am honest, these were very stressful generally to organise. From finding a date that suited the teams, to ensuring there was the right mix of team personnel and ex-F1 personalities, to finding the correct venue, advertising and managing the registration process, seeking funding, and liaising with broadcasters, procuring branding for the forum, organising AV (audio/video) companies were all very time consuming.

F1B: Sounds like that you were very glad then when the day itself came around!

OW: To be fair, on the day, I was always concerned namely in respect of two issues. Will the teams turn up? How many fans will attend? I was always relieved when they concluded, and the feedback from teams and fans alike was generally very positive, which provided a genuine sense of satisfaction and achievement. My aim was to bring the fans closer to the sport, therefore [that was] the reason for introducing live streaming, and the Twitter interactivity, where on numerous occasions, we had #FOTAFORUM trending worldwide on Twitter, and fans watching on-demand after the Forum.

F1B: It’s funny you mention Twitter, because from an outsiders point of view, it feels like Formula 1 is behind the bend with new technology. The move to high definition was several years later than other sports including the Premier League, whilst Formula One Management (FOM) are still in 2014 running an automated Twitter feed. Do you think some within the paddock are ‘old school’ and don’t appreciate the value of social media?

OW: I can see why that might be the view, but [I] actually believe that F1 has tried to keep up and satisfy the broadcasters’ demands, and you only need to look at Sky’s output to see this. The second screen has become a phenomenon, and the use of virtual advertising is at the heart of technological developments to enhance revenue via tailored territorial advertising. I do not disagree that FOM should be more embracing towards social and digital media, and inevitably this will have to evolve, but concentration on the live output is the core principle that is enshrined, and anything else has to complement that and ensure the broadcasters and consumers receive the requisite offering.

F1B: Whilst on the subject of social media, I want to ask about double points. Over the past few months we have seen the backlash concerning double points, however it feels that fans view points are being ignored. If anything the loss of FOTA has meant that one of the last bridges between the paddock and fans has disappeared.

OW: During my tenure, when there were issues affecting all teams, we would generally try and discuss them in a cordial manner ahead of the respective meetings. Sometimes there was an agreed position, and often there was not. Unfortunately double points was presented by the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH) initially to the Strategy Group and thereafter to the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC). The reasoning was presented to the teams and they had their own reasoning for voting in favour. This was not an issue we discussed at FOTA level, given the status of FOTA at that point in time, when most discussions were focused on the requirement (or otherwise) to retain an association. Time will tell if the reasoning to introduce double points is strong enough to outweigh the fans’ voice, which as you point out, was a severe rebuke for the Teams. There was a plan for a series of fan “surveys” to be conducted globally online in 2014 under the auspices of FOTA, and this is certainly one issue which could have been addressed.

F1B: If we may just for a second go back to the new technologies point above, video sharing websites such as YouTube have been around for a decade. MotoGP has a YouTube channel, the IndyCar Series has a YouTube, yet Formula 1 doesn’t.

OW: Why don’t they have a YouTube channel? I know from my Premier League days that they wanted to prevent their content being uploaded and this was to protect the value of the broadcasters’ rights. There is an argument that there should be more tailored content available, whether that is on FOM’s website or YouTube. You have to also remember how the broadcasting deals are structured.

Interestingly, since I chatted with Weingarten, there have been a few interesting developments concerning FOM. The premium version of the official F1 Timing App includes exclusive team radio and English commentary. Furthermore ‘Formula One Digital Media Limited‘ was registered as a new company at Companies House on February 27th, whilst a video explaining the rule changes and giving a season preview was uploaded to the official Formula 1 website on March 10th, with archive footage included. Are FOM finally beginning to realise that the digital future is here, and now? I hope so.

In part two, myself and Weingarten continue chatting about Formula 1, as our focus switches towards the current television broadcasting model and whether FOTA was doomed to fail from the get go.

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