The Sports Entrepreneurs Podcast by Marcus Luer

Jim Wright, The Commercial world of Motorsports

April 19, 2020

 

Jim is taking us on a great journey through the commercial world of motorsports from his humble beginnings in UK motorsports to his career in Formula 1 to Formula E now. He is one of the most creative and talented commercial guys in Motorsports I know. His thinking and approach for how to create stories and sponsorship programs works for any sports. As a “commercial guy”, I love this talk.  Anyone can sell a hot property, like the FIFA World Cup, the Team or athlete that just won a big Championship. In that space, it’s less about creativity but about managing the demand and getting top value for the client/property.  When you sell a back/mid-table team or a new franchise, you have to be a whole lot more creative and come up with new angles. Jim is a master of that.  Enjoy the lessons and give us your feedback.

 

Key Highlights

  1. His passion for motorsports from his teens and how he got into it step by step
  2. His knack for the commercial side of the business
  3. His Williams F1 racing days under Sir Frank Williams, incredible learning
  4. BMW and Williams F1 team deal, the learning and stories around it
  5. Hundreds of Millions of Dollars of deals but even the little deals count
  6. Learning how people treat other people
  7. Power of B2B part in sponsorship
  8. Switch to Formula E, difficult start but as usual staying focused on the end goal always works
  9. Difference in budgets between F1 and Formula E
  10. How to sell Formula E, the story book, do your home work on the client
  11. Andretti Autosport, going beyond traditional motorsports revenue
  12. The difference between selling commercial rights for a Winning team vs others (Mahindra Formula E story)
  13. How to sell sponsorships in the new world after Covid-19
  14. Current plans to get Formula E back on the track

 

 

About

A marketing professional with a proven and quantifiable track record for sponsorship sales, particularly in motorsport, Jim Wright is a sports fan with a finely honed talent for creating mutually beneficial opportunities and making partnerships happen using strategic vision techniques.
 
Having started his career upon completion of a Business Studies degree, Wright moved from team management and logistics in to the commercial side of motor sport working for the fledgling ATS F1 team in 1980/81 before accepting an offer from Eddie Jordan to help grow his eponymous team.
 
Through the acquisition of team sponsorship and trade partnerships, Jordan was able to hire race winning drivers and move his team to the forefront of international racing below Formula 1. Wright was the driving force behind this strategy and he also worked with the ebullient Irishman on driver management, starting the Eddie Jordan Management business.
 
After five years with Eddie Jordan, Jim was recruited by Cellnet, then Britain’s fastest growing mobile phone network to set up and manage a strategic motor sport division of their marketing department aimed at creating awareness and commercial opportunity for Cellnet as the mobile phone market emerged in the UK. Alongside this commitment, Wright developed his own agency to service other motor sport clients including drivers, championship promoters and car constructors. This business was a great success, particularly in Japan where Wright delivered the single biggest sponsorship of the booming Japanese F3000 championship with the Promise financial services company and Reynard Racing Cars.
 
Wright’s exploits were noticed by Frank Williams and in 1994 Jim Wright was offered an opportunity to head up sponsorship sales for the Rothmans Williams Renault F1 team, an opportunity that he could not turn down. Having landed his first deal within 10 days of joining Frank’s team, Wright quickly emerged as a real force and within 14 months of joining Williams he was asked by Frank Williams to be the Head of Marketing & Sponsorship, a position that Wright held for the next 11 years. During this term, Williams created the Senior Management Group – a core of five key executives who reported to the shareholders, Frank Williams and Patrick Head through monthly Board meetings and Wright represented the company’s commercial interests at these meetings.
 
Before he left Williams in 2006, Wright was directly responsible for introducing and/or negotiating more than 200 million dollars of commercial income to the team and he built a commercial reputation for the Williams F1 team based upon principles laid down by Frank Williams of fairness, transparency honesty and integrity. Those principles endure today, both at Williams and through the Anglo Svenska operation.
 
Having worked with Gerhard Berger through the BMW partnership with Williams, Wright was recruited by Berger upon his completion of the purchase of a shareholding in the Toro Rosso F1 team and Wright moved his family to Monte Carlo to begin work on this project. When Berger sold his shareholding back to Red Bull at the end of the 2008 season, Jim was asked to work on a CSR programme with Keke and Nico Rosberg which was concluded when Virgin made Wright their first commercial hire for their start up F1 team which was awarded an F1 entry in June 2009.
 
Starting work in July 2009, Wright created a marketing team from scratch and delivered against an ambitious target of sponsorship, mostly from companies new to the sport to ensure that the team formed up on the grid in March 2010. In addition to securing the vital third party investment, Wright was responsible for directing the creation of the look & feel of the team and working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin brand and other stakeholders such as Lloyds Development Capital in developing a commercial and marketing communications strategy and served on the Board of Virgin Racing / Marussia Virgin Racing between September 2009 and December 2011. Wright was responsible for the introduction of more than 35 million USD of sponsorship for the fledgling Formula 1 team over two seasons, a remarkable achievement for a new team with limited on-track performance.
Increasingly disillusioned with the rising costs of F1 and lack of commercial direction from the Commercial Rights Holder ( Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management ), Wright devoted time to pursuing other activities, transferring his skills to the non-profit sector by setting up a commercial structure for Jeremy Gilley’s Peace One Day organisation and mentoring others to achieve commercial goals for Peace One Day.
 
The creation of the FIA Formula E series for electric powertrain racing cars in 2013 proved to be of great interest to Wright who accepted an invitation from the Monaco entrepreneur Gildo Pallanca Pastor to lead the commercial aspects of his fledgling Venturi Formula E team. Wright was instrumental in convincing F1 veteran Nick Heidfeld to switch to the new racing series and Wright was able to introduce a number of technical partners to the team in ZF, Rohm Semiconductor and Farasis batteries as well as other companies such as Delta Auto.
As the Formula E series began to grow, the Teams formed a representative group ( Formula E Teams Association - FETA ) and from 2014, the Teams elected Jim Wright to serve as Secretariat working with an elected Chairman in rotation, a position that he holds to date. As the series expanded and more OEMs came on board and the business model changed from the start of the second generation car and battery, the role was increased to represent the Teams and the Manufacturers ( FETAMA ) and Wright remains in that elected position today. Nowadays, FETAMA is a well-respected stakeholder group working alongside the governing body ( FIA ) and the Promoter ( FEO ) to grow the FIA Formula E World Championship.
 
The Mahindra Formula E Team recruited Wright from Venturi in 2016 as their Chief Commercial Officer, a position that he held through to the beginning of 2019 during which time he personally introduced and / or negotiated a portfolio of sponsorship partners to offset the Mahindra & Mahindra budget spend as well as supporting Team Principal Dilbagh Gill in all commercial matters. Shell, Renesas, Avis, Umicore, Lear Corporation were major corporations which were brought on board during Wright’s tenure as they adjusted their business models for the e-mobility era.
 
In 2019, Wright accepted an offer from Michael Andretti to fill a new role, Group Commercial Director, with a brief to widen the commercial appeal of the Andretti Autosport business and to create new business opportunities for the iconic American racing team. Wright reports directly to Andretti Autosport President J.F.Thormann and he works across the Group’s motorsport platforms.