It’s 9am in the United Autosports hospitality area and the team’s American joint-owner is tucking into that British breakfast delicacy — the bacon roll. Not just any bacon roll but one generously garnished with brown sauce. Hardly surprising perhaps for a man who adds the financial spice to motorsport worldwide.
Zak Brown is the founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, whose clients include some of the biggest global brands around. UBS, UPS, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnnie Walker, LG, Mazda to name but a few. The deals which put many of these names together with Formula One, for example, are down to the firm started by the man sitting to my right.
This mover and shaker on the global motorsport stage is a bloke you can get on with easily. No airs or graces, he’s straight forward and straight talking with a most refreshing clarity of thought. He lives, eats and breathes motorsport for business and for pleasure. He’s been touted as a possible successor to Bernie Ecclestone, who he greatly admires.
So would he like such a job if offered? “I’m moving to England, I love Formula One — I like all forms of motor racing. I’m not sure how I’d feel about being married to one form — I like to date! I have a sportscar team so I don’t think it’s anything that I’m seeking but we take it one day at a time and see what happens in the future. Open-minded, of course.”
I was fascinated to know what he’d bring to Formula One, where in particular he feels it might be lacking right now and how this circus, which corners one quarter of the four billion dollar annual sponsorship budget motorsport generates worldwide, might be improved.
“I think it still has room to improve in the whole digital environment….I think the license merchandise element. If you look at NASCAR and how much business it does and Formula One and how much bigger it is than NASCAR, there is a gap there. Maybe the promoters can do more at tracks. Go to a NASCAR race you can have a lot of fun without going to a race because of the activities and I think promoters can do a better job. Those are the areas I think Formula One could learn by NASCAR.”
Nothing will challenge the dominance of F1 and that’s why it’s key to his business, and one which is witnessing changes in the type of companies which invest in the sport.
“When you’re dealing with multi-national companies looking for global exposure, Formula One is the best – not just in motorsport, but other sports. You’re seeing more consumer product goods, the Unilevers, Blackberry … consumer products so you’re seeing a wave, which I think will continue, of consumer products coming into the sport which is great because they are some of the biggest spenders and marketers in the world.”
It’s a world which is still struggling to emerge from the financial woes of the past five years and motorsport is inherently tied to that financial pendulum. In fact, the global strength of the sport can be seen as a barometer of economic strength, tracking its peaks and troughs through the decades. The good news is that barometer is heading to Fair and beyond.
“I think the industry is the best it’s been for three or four years, that’s Formula One, NASCAR, Indycar, sportscars. Obviously a lot of it is depending upon the economics of the world. Putting that aside Formula One has never been more competitive going into the new markets, the Singapores, the Indias, the Russias back to North America.”
For sportscar racing, Brown says the key to its healthy future is stability. That, and fully replicating the entire Le Mans experience elsewhere in the world. Which brings us back to the British-based United Autosports — who he also races with — and its future ambitions.
“I would like to get us to Le Mans. I would like to see us win at Le Mans. That would probably take more than three years. I don’t fancy trying to do Formula One (with UA) or the junior formulas. I love the British GT Championship, I don’t ever see us leaving that…I think we’re a team that people look at and take seriously. I love the fact that we have the Mark Blundells, the Johanssons and the Brundle, that for me is a pleasure because these are the guys I grew up watching racing…it’s a blast!”