How E1 Series is relying on its celebrity appeal to make a global impact

E1 Series, the new electric powerboat championship, is rapidly approaching its debut event in Saudi Arabia. BlackBook Motorsport talks to Rodi Basso, the series’ co-founder and chief executive, ahead of the 2024 season opener to hear how the organisation lured the likes of Sergio Perez and Tom Brady and what the organisation has planned for year one.

On the back of a successful trial event in Rotterdam and armed with a host of celebrity team owners and a fleshed out debut schedule, E1 Series is now closer than ever to being a reality.

It’s been a long journey for the latest brainchild of Alejandro Agag, the Spaniard behind the all-electric Formula E series and the electric off-road SUV championship Extreme E.

The electric powerboat championship is not short on investment thanks to a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has eased the load financially. But the logistical effort to get to this point should not be understated.

Indeed, when BlackBook Motorsport last spoke to Rodi Basso, co-founder and chief executive of E1 Series, the organisation was tentatively gauging interest from prospective team owners. Now, it can count the likes of National Football League (NFL) icon Tom Brady, tennis legend Rafael Nadal and Red Bull Formula One driver Sergio Pérez among its investors.

That is a positive early endorsement of E1 Series’ self-described mission to create an on-water racing proposition that uses clean technologies to protect the areas in which it races. The electric powerboat championship also staged its debut exhibition in Rotterdam in early September to introduce itself to the world, offering a preview of its weekend format and how it will operate.

With its debut race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, now just around the corner in early 2024, BlackBook Motorsport caught up with Basso again to discover how E1 Series secured such high-profile celebrity interest, its plan for marketing and broadcasts, and the lasting impact it hopes to leave.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by E1 Series (@e1series)


Landing the likes of Brady, Nadal and Pérez

The most widely reported aspect of E1 Series so far has been the eye-catching names signing up to the project. In addition to Brady, Nadal and Pérez, the electric powerboat championship also counts American DJ Steve Aoki and former soccer player Didier Drogba among its team owners.

With six teams confirmed, E1 Series still sits short of its originally stated target of 12, but this number is set to rise in the near future.

“Our minimum number [of teams] is eight and, the way it’s going, I think we will achieve this target pretty easily,” Basso tells BlackBook Motorsport.

“We have two [additional teams] already signed. The target is to announce the next one at the end of September, another huge name from Asia in the sports industry, and then another one in October, an interesting new sports platform.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by E1 Series (@e1series)


Utilising the far-reaching network of Agag, Basso says E1 Series initially found it easy to relay its mission to prospective owners but didn’t necessarily expect to have stars of such status straight away. Plus, as more names have come on board, the process has evolved.

“When we started all this, we had this idea of having celebrities involved with the sport, but we were not thinking this level that we are attracting,” he admits. “What we will announce from now until December is incredible.

“Now they’re starting to come to us, which of course is great news. We are trying to be in the range of eight to ten teams. There are multiple reasons [like] production, effort and timing, but also operational efforts and energy during the season.

“The more components and elements we add, the higher the challenge will be. This will also allow us to target more good deals [with prospective owners], which maybe will increase the value of the license.”

Currently, an E1 Series license is worth “millions of dollars”, according to Basso, which is a one-off payment for any owner wanting to get involved. After that, E1 Series asks for an annual operational fee, as the series owns all the boats and takes care of the general maintenance and the logistics.


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Putting broadcast plans in place

While E1 Series is not struggling for interest from prospective owners, the bigger question is how this championship will be delivered to the masses.

The organisation’s lineup of owners should help it reach a global audience. The involvement of Mexico’s Pérez will drive interest in Latin America, Brady is a massive name in the US, and Drogba has a huge following in Africa, as well as in France and the UK. Aoki, meanwhile, could help broaden the series’ appeal outside of the traditional sports audience.  

Like Extreme E, teams competing in E1 Series will also have one male and one female driver, with equality forming another key pillar of its mission.

However, it’s one thing appealing to a wide audience, but ensuring there is adequate broadcast coverage in place to capitalise on that is crucial to the long-term future of any motorsport series.

The original E1 Series prototype was unveiled at Yacht Club de Monaco on 20th September 2021


“We are in numerous conversations, we are keen to have free-to-air international coverage,” says Basso. “We will disclose the portfolio of broadcasters by December this year as we are finalising the agreements. I cannot say more than that, but from what I hear the interest is there.”

For any nascent sports property, free-to-air coverage is crucial to building an audience. Ensuring there are as few barriers to entry as possible will help E1 Series generate viewership – as long as the product is also easy for fans to follow.

Basso expands: “We are working on something that is understandable, clear and exciting for the fans. The powerboating world has a much bigger dependency on weather conditions compared to traditional motorsport – the entire race weekend can be cancelled.

“We haven’t finalised yet [our approach] to different scenarios, but we are trying to understand what is the right format in order to cope with these characteristics. It’s not an easy exercise, I have to say, but we all come with a lot of motorsport broadcast heritage.”


Leaving a mark

While finalising the series’ broadcast strategy is an immediate priority, the long-term impact and influence of E1 Series will play a significant role in how it is perceived around the world.

Much like Formula E and Extreme E, series that have environmental progress at their core, a championship with a sustainability mission will be judged on its contributions to the planet, perhaps unfairly when compared to traditional gas-guzzling alternatives.

But with significant funding coming from PIF in Saudi Arabia, there will be valid questions around the true sustainability credentials of this series. Part of this funding agreement also saw Jeddah chosen as the inaugural host of an E1 Series event.


Basso acknowledges these concerns, but thinks this question “will be obsolete” very soon. Moreover, he believes the social and cultural development in the region is accelerating at a rate that’s never been seen before.

“It’s a very delicate matter that I’d like to discuss with all the possible respect for the culture, but when I go there and deal with local people, you can see approaches from new leaders that will make our paradigm look very obsolete and unnecessary,” says Basso.

It’s worth noting that Basso’s comments came before Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman told Fox News that the kingdom will “continue doing sportswashing” if the country’s sports investments continue to grow the nation’s GDP.

Still, according to Basso, the region “gets the issue” and understands “there is room of improvement” when it comes to societal and environmental progress. The extent of this ‘progress’ remains to be seen, even if Saudi Arabia is aligning itself with a championship with core messages of sustainable innovation and gender equality.

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