How the Grand Prix became Australia’s hottest drinks sponsorship

The Australian Grand Prix is finally back this week after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. F1 cars return to Melbourne from Friday and a swag of drinks companies have scored a piece of the high-octane action.

The Australian Grand Prix was the country’s first sporting event cancelled due to the pandemic, which also prevented racing in 2021. However, CEO Andrew Westacott said there’s a tangible excitement in the air ahead of gates opening on Thursday. Demand for tickets has been huge, with weekend grandstand seats selling out a record 18 weeks before the event.

According to Westacott, the thrilling end to the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship and the runaway success of Netflix series Drive to Survive have created major hype for the event and ushered in a new era of fans. He also credits the show with boosting ticket sales to women by 25-40%.

“Think about your favourite rock band who haven’t toured for three or four years and you want to get along to see them,” he said. “We are going to be nudging 125,000 to 130,000, not only the Sunday but the Saturday of the event.”

In addition to the excitement trackside, viewers can’t get enough of the action on screen. The total TV audience for Formula 1 throughout 2021 was 1,550 million, which was a 4% increase on the 2020 season. The Bahrain Grand Prix alone attracted 84.5 million viewers, followed by the British Grand Prix (79.5 million), the Italian Grand Prix (80.4 million) and the Brazilian Grand Prix (82.1 million).

F1 also grew massively in terms of followers across all social media platforms in 2021, with a 40% increase across all sites, bringing the total number to 49.1 million followers.

That’s a lot of eyeballs on sponsors’ brands.

“With fans top of mind, the last three years have been spent evaluating what works and reimagining what the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix can offer,” he said. “There’s more for everyone across hospitality suites, grandstand passes, and general admission tickets than ever before. We’ve picked the best of what was already there and added to it, and we can’t wait to share it with you.”

Drinks companies have been scrambling to be part of the action. Heineken was announced as the title sponsor of Formula 1’s Australian Grand Prix in January. The coup adds to Heineken’s existing title sponsorships of races in the Netherlands, Mexico and Brazil.

Heineken is using the race to promote its ‘When You Drive Never Drink’ campaign, with Heineken 0.0 trackside branding visible across the circuit.

Westacott said: “Heineken is synonymous with F1, and this collaboration will create some exciting opportunities at this year’s event– fans are in for a real treat. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the world’s best drivers, celebrities and top-shelf brands – as the globe’s most premium beer brand, Heineken is the perfect fit.”

Willemijn Sneep, the Heineken Country Manager – Australia said: “After a challenging couple of years for our industry in Australia, Heineken is very excited to be welcoming the F1 back to Melbourne for what promises to be an exceptional weekend of racing and events.

“The Heineken experience will be bigger and better than ever, and we are looking forward to creating many memorable moments and elevated activations for visitors from across Australia and the world both on- and off-track.”

Heineken 0.0 and Melbourne artist Reko Rennie have also teamed up to produce a one-of-a-kind racing style helmet, unveiled by Aussie eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo.

Rennie’s design is part of works commissioned by Heineken 0.0 for the F1, which can be seen across the race track and multiple Melbourne locations.

“My home-town of Melbourne was my inspiration for the artwork featured on the helmet,” said Reko.

“The use of blue and green honours Birrarung (the Yarra River), which holds enormous cultural significance to the original inhabitants and owners of Naarm (Melbourne). The eye-catching colours result in an urban camouflage pattern that celebrates my Aboriginal culture and identity.”

The helmet, signed by both Ricciardo and Reko, is being auctioned off to enable Australian Red Cross to provide humanitarian support to people and communities in Queensland and NSW affected by the 2022 floods. Fans can participate in the auction HERE.

The Grand Prix has attracted an impressive swathe of drinks partners keen for a piece of the action, including Champagne Taittinger, Jim Beam, Canadian Club, St Hugo and Patient Wolf.

Ricciardo and wine brand St Hugo have extended their collaboration for a second year of fine wine production, releasing a 2018 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2020 South Australia Shiraz under the DR3 x St Hugo label just in time for the Grand Prix.

 St Hugo has also released a hand-blown decanter modelled from Daniel Ricciardo’s racing boot and priced at $700 adding a whole new dimension to the infamous “shoey”.

Patient Wolf has created a racy red spritz cocktail for the race. The drink is made with its Blackthorn gin, Campari, sparkling wine, bitters and soda water.

Australian-owned spirit brand Idle Hour Vodka has been named as the Official Vodka Partner of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix 2022, 2023 and 2024 respectively.

The three-year deal will see Idle Hour provide its ready-to-drink vodka sodas range, inspired by flavours of the Australian bush, across all bars at the event, in addition to a list of exclusive cocktails created by Melbourne’s leading bartenders at its own Idle Hour bar in event’s culture district, M-Lane.

Westacott said: “We’re thrilled to partner with an Australian brand that is reinventing the vodka category in a truly Aussie way. Idle Hour’s flavours and cocktails are the perfect blend of sophistication and experimentation that fans will love.

“This three-year partnership will initially see Idle Hour’s signature vodka available at bars across the Formula 1 Heineken Australian Grand Prix 2022, with an exclusive Idle Hour bar serving a Melbourne, inspired highball cocktail range you won’t want to miss.”

Idle Hour Spirits, Co-Founder Ewen Pettit said: “This marks the beginning of a significant partnership for Idle Hour. The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix has long been one the most important events on the cultural calendar and we are delighted to bring our remarkable vodka to cocktails and drinks across the festival.”

Sports sponsorships are raising more than just brand awareness

Nielsen Sports tracked a 107% increase in sponsorship spending globally in the early part of 2021, with activations increasing as global sports continued to rebound throughout the year.

From a fan perspective, Nielsen said the increased investment is likely money well spent, as consumers view brand sponsorships in sporting events as being very trustworthy. 

In a recent analysis of 100 sponsorships between 2020 and 2021 in seven markets across 20 industries, Nielsen found that the sponsorships drove an average 10% lift in purchase intent among the exposed fanbase.

In the sports industry, sponsorship activations have transitioned from simply raising brand awareness to actually converting consumers into customers. Across 13 industries Nielsen measured during the pandemic, the increase in purchase intent is greater than brand familiarity among fans exposed to the sponsorship.

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