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Racing for Pole Position

Extreme E and Formula E founder Alejandro Agag

Elisha Chauhan speaks to the man driving Formula E, Alejandro Agag, to find out how he thought the inaugural season panned out and what’s in store for the future of the electric racing series.

Already a politician at the age of 18, Alejandro Agag quickly found himself touring Europe and representing the European People’s Party (EPP) as deputy secretary general. In 1996 Agag became a political aide for the Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar at just 25-years-old.

Despite being elected an MEP in 1999 and becoming EPP secretary general a year later, Agag dropped his political ambitions to focus on sports and business, forming London-based investment management company Addax Capital.

The Middle East and Africa are definitely in our sights for the near future

Acquiring Formula One television rights in Spain with former Benetton-Renault Formula One team leader Flavio Briatore, Agag went on to advise and help secure sponsorship deals in the sport. The business partners also joined up with Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone to buy a stake in English football team Queens Park Rangers in 2007, where Agag was interim chairman.

In 2009, Agag bought former Formula On driver Adrian Campos’ GP2 team Campos

Racing, renaming it to the Barwa Addax. Finishing second at the end of both the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Agag’s team won the 2011 championship. But victory didn’t last very long and, after finishing eighth and twelfth in the next two seasons, the team folded.

Starting over again, Agag, together with real estate billionaire Enrique Banuelos, founded Formula E Holdings in 2012, and subsequently won the tender to promote the new FIA Formula E Championship.

“When I look back at the last 10 months, I feel very pleased, especially if I think back to where we were 10 years ago,” Agag told SportBusiness International.

“Back then, Formula E was little more than a PowerPoint presentation – we didn’t have a car, teams or circuits; it was just an idea that many people felt was absurd and not doable.

“Not only did we bring the championship to life, but today it’s become a credible series, as proven by the fact we can look to the future knowing we can count on a solid base. This is partly due to the arrival of very important investors such as Liberty Global and Discovery Communications, with blue chip sponsors such as Visa Europe joining our initial partners.”

“There’s no magic to all of this, just the work of a fantastic group and the essential support of the FIA, its president Jean Todt and the partners who believed in us.”

But don’t let that lack of sentiment fool you – Agag added that one of the most emotional moments of his life was the start of the first Formula E race in Beijing. Back then, many traditional motor sports fans were sceptical of the authenticity of the electric series, claiming that it was too gimmicky with the use of FanBoost (see pages 34-35) and having to swap the cars halfway through the race because the batteries – up until at least season three of Formula E – do not last long enough to complete the ePrix.

“I think the spectacle we’ve seen on track has gradually brought a very large number of motor sport fans into contact with Formula E, but even more important is the fact that our audience is also made up of people who had probably never shown any prior interest in motor racing,” said the 44-year-old.

“That means we are offering a product that can be of interest to a broad spectrum of people, which was always one of our primary aims.”

Road Trip

With none of the races deemed a failure and the competition for the drivers’ championship remaining close until the very last race in London, Agag admits that he is unsure of what host cities worked best and worst.

“To be honest, it’s difficult to put them in any sort of order. Wherever we went, we enjoyed greater success than we’d anticipated, both in terms of spectator numbers and when it came to interest shown through means of communication such as the television audience and social media,” he says.

“The atmosphere in the eVillage in London’s Battersea Park during the prize-giving was definitely fantastic, but then, I remember the reception we got from the audience of over 50,000 that attended the two races in the United States in Miami and Long Beach, or the backdrop to the event in Moscow where we raced in the shadow of the Kremlin.”

Miami has been dropped from the calendar alongside Monaco, which had a clash of dates with its biennial hosting of the Historic Grand Prix. In their place for next season is Paris and one other unconfirmed host at the time of press. However, SportBusiness International understands that Mexico City is likely to take on the rights, despite the fact that Formula E is yet to host a race in the Middle East and Africa.

“Paris is one of the most important cities in the world and it’s always been one of our dreams to race there,” says Agag. “Furthermore, we have so many French partners and, in fact, it was in France that the first concept for the Formula E cars originated. Paris is also home to the FIA.

“As for the Middle East and Africa, they are definitely in our sights for the near future. We have received various notes of interest and I’m sure that Formula E will also be visiting these regions of the world soon.

“Also from next season, which effectively means as from now, technological competition as far as the electric motor is concerned, is open,” adds Agag. “There are eight international companies that have put forward their candidature.”

This is a change from the season one strategy that partnered French car manufacturer Renault to be the championship’s technical partner, overseeing all the systems integration for the uniform racing cars.

Virtual Reality

Like many other start-up sports properties, Formula E’s media rights revenue was sacrificed in order to secure as wide exposure as possible. With Fox Sports covering much of the Americas, TV Asahi and ITV in respective major markets Japan and the UK, Formula E has had successful global presence. This is hoped to be buoyed in the next rights cycle by stakeholder Discovery Communications and its Eurosport channel (see page 37).

Regardless of those major broadcasters on board, Agag is keen on continuing streaming all Formula E content – practice sessions, qualifying and races – on its official website for free, as well as any other fan engaging content such as behind-the-scenes footage and driver interviews.

“For us, the internet and interaction with the public are essential, so much so that we even have means for the fans to be directly involved in the racing through initiatives such as FanBoost. It’s been possible to watch Formula E live online from the very start and we will continue with that, obviously while working alongside our television partners,” says Agag.

“I am a great believer in integration and convergence between different means of communication: you can no longer exist in isolation and that’s also true for other sporting disciplines.

“One can no longer assume that the public can only follow an event at home in front of a television set, because now they can choose from various platforms.”

 

To continue reading SportBusiness International's Formula E event focus, please click the links below:

1. Electric Avenue: Elisha Chauhan speaks to Formula E’s stakeholders to analyse the successes and failures of its innaugural season.

2.The IT Crowd: When the electric Formula E racing series was first launched, it aimed to plug-in to a new generation of motor sport enthusiasts. Industry experts reveal how successful it was in engaging fans.

 

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