Heineken’s Gianluca Di Tondo on F1 in America

Heineken’s Gianluca Di Tondo on F1 in America

Gianluca Di Tondo introducing Heineken as Formula 1’s new global partner at the Canadian Grand Prix

Heineken announced their partnership with Formula 1 this weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix, and Global Marketing director Gianluca Di Tondo shared his thoughts on how the new partnership would affect the sport’s growth in America.  A long time Formula 1 fan himself, Di Tondo grew up in Italy following the sport not as a Ferrari fan, but as a fan of racing.  Following his presentation on Thursday, some questions remained about how he sees the sport’s future in America, and here are some of his thoughts:

[America] is one of the biggest opportunities that I see . . . If you look at a bit of a parallel with soccer, 5 years ago there was nothing in America, when we were pushing our United Champions League activation, and now five years later we are also sponsoring Major League Soccer, because its the sport that is growing the most in the U.S.  I think we can do something similar with Formula 1.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think we are pretty good at engaging with people.  We have two very strong things, on one side, we are a very creative company, so we are going to find a way to intrigue an American consumer around Formula 1.  Second, we are a very good story teller, so we are going to find a way to make this story travel.

Gianluca emphasized a step by step approach in Heineken’s program, learning from the remaining two thirds of this season before a full launch in 2017:

I think 2016 is going to be our warm up, there are a lot of things we need to learn ourselves, as Formula 1 is a completely new world for us.  It is a bit more complex world than UEFA Champions League or Rugby World Cup, because there are different tiers of stakeholders, and we need to better understand how it works.  I’m sure we are going to find ways to start bringing in American consumers to turn into Formula 1 fans.

You know, I am a Formula 1 fan, and I’ve been in the grandstands many times in the spectator area, and other times in the paddock club, and the two are too far apart.  So my job is to open the world of Formula 1 to bring these two worlds closer together.  I think the U.S. is a good example of where by doing this, we are going to start bringing in more people and more consumers.  At this moment we have a big ambition, doing everything we can developing the program as we speak with our partnership in Italy.  We are not 100 percent ready for now, but 90% will be ready for September and we will pilot some of our program in the U.S.

Stressing the connection between American fans and the need for more Americans to be involved in the sport as part of home audience interest, how would Heineken’s involvement help energize the American fanbase?

The key to my job is to build the passion for the sport, and that goes beyond a single driver.  I grew up as a sports fan not attached to one specific team, and I think we should bring a program that makes this sport more attractive for people on it’s own.  Relying on just one team or driver can be a bit risky.  So this is why we focus where we can add value, and we are very good at gathering people together to show the race, creating a program to attract people, possibly for the experience of a lifetime.

Elaborating a little bit, Gianluca went on to describe what could be described one scenario as an example of what fans might expect in Austin:

You come to the circuit for a day, walk around in the paddock with Jackie Stewart, you bump into Niki Lauda, then you’re going to have a Heineken party after the race.

What’s not to like?  As Gianluca further explained, he has a vision of what he and Heineken can create for fans of the sport, and the pathway forward included the following roadmap:

So the first thing for me is going to be activating the city, starting a bit earlier, creating a program to get you to the race.  Joining everyone at the race is going to be the natural next step.  I think the entry point is starting with the city, feeling the Formula 1 fever, like something big is coming to town, and when it’s there, you don’t want to miss it.   

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Peter Habicht is a freelance writer and journalist in Formula 1 and has been involved with the sport’s growth in America since 2005.

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