Ali Russell on Extreme E’s broadcast strategy, new markets, and the goal of hydrogen-powered racing

Extreme E’s new managing director Ali Russell chats to BlackBook Motorsport about the off-road electric SUV series’ “always on” approach to broadcasting, its hopes of growing in Asia and North America, and the potential impact of Extreme H.

All-electric off-road SUV championship Extreme E is just two races away from completing its third season.

While this means only 15 double-header rounds will have been completed in the three-year run, it’s a sign that this nascent series is here to stay. Motorsport legends like Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Carlos Sainz were convinced of the championship’s sustainability mission from the beginning, and now even DJ Carl Cox has jumped on board with his own team.

This year’s season finale won’t come around until 3rd December because of the series’ sustainability commitments. The St Helena cargo liner is the championship’s floating headquarters, transporting all freight and infrastructure between the five race locations. Travelling by sea minimises emissions, but the gaps between races makes it difficult to build momentum and an audience.

Indeed, Extreme E has to do things differently in order to grow its following. One individual driving those efforts is Ali Russell, who was recently promoted to the role of managing director. The series’ chief marketing officer since 2018, Russell is now responsible for overseeing all commercial, logistics and stakeholder management.

Part of his remit will also involve overseeing the introduction of the hydrogen-based spinoff Extreme H, which is due to debut in 2024. But focus will have to be shared between the implementation of this new series while also ensuring that Extreme E continues to grow.

BlackBook Motorsport sat down with Russell, a member of BlackBook Motorsport’s Electric Energies Commission, to find out how the introduction of Extreme H plays into the organisation’s overarching strategy, why Extreme E needs to approach media rights differently, and the potential to expand into new markets around the world.

What were the opportunities and challenges you saw when taking on your new role?

We’re launching Extreme H, another new series. I think I’m ideally placed because, if you look at my career, the number of propositions I’ve been involved in, and sporting clubs, series and championships, where there’s been a change agenda with innovation at its core – I’ve managed those sort of situations.

I’m very thankful that [Extreme E founder] Alejandro Agag and the board had the faith in me to give me this opportunity to continue to grow and develop and build Extreme E and Extreme H into much bigger and more impressive championships.

They’re still embryos. Extreme E is only 12 [rounds] old [at the time of writing]. We had about 12 races in the first season of Formula E, and that’s half the season of Formula One. We’re still at a very early stage. What’s nice is that it’s an acorn that’s growing very quickly into an oak tree.

With the proposition of Extreme H on the horizon, it’s super exciting because it’s us moving into a new product area and it’s something that we are grasping with both hands.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Extreme E (@extremeelive)


What are your plans for Extreme H and how do you see it influencing e-mobility?

We’ll be introducing Extreme H in 2024. We are currently building and testing the car. We will have a proper launch where we’re able to demonstrate the technology in a very visible way to people. If I think about Extreme E, it’s all about new technologies, green technologies and e-mobility. So we are taking the roots for hydrogen through fuel cell.

What that means is our initial concept is a fuel cell concept that drives an electric motor. How the hydrogen develops is one for collaboration with manufacturers and with other key stakeholders. The point here is we have to lead the market.

We’re a pioneering brand and we’re proving that green technology can work in these incredibly extreme environments across the world. Remember, we’re running the charging for our [Extreme E] cars on green hydrogen at the moment, so all we’re doing is taking that massive fuel cell and making it into a much smaller fuel cell that we can actually put into the car.

Extreme E’s expansion into hydrogen-powered racing possible because of its partnership with Enowa, the series’ green hydrogen partner


We believe that there will be many different solutions [for e-mobility]. Full electrification works incredibly well in cities where they have grid and they’ve got reliable power sources. In a lot of parts of the world, there isn’t the grid systems and there isn’t the access to electrification in the same way, and we certainly believe that hydrogen is going to be part of that solution.

A lot of the big manufacturers have announced fairly serious investments and programmes into green hydrogen. What we want to be is what motorsport has been there for, which is that race to road message.

30 per cent of global emissions come from transportation, so what we’re trying to do is to be pioneers. That’s the big point here: how do we create technology that doesn’t require compromise? If we can do that, people will make these changes far more quickly and, as a consequence, decarbonise far quicker.

Can Extreme H coexist with Extreme E? Will it be influenced by which sustainable fuel solution is most successful?

I don’t think it’s a silver bullet. There’s horses for courses. I think that green hydrogen or hydrogen as a proposition will have many different uses.

One of the challenges around sustainability is storage of energy and transportation of energy. We are actively working with many different businesses on finding solutions that can be aggregated and built. Part of that is using the knowhow that we have in racing and the agile nature and the speed at which racing can make decisions – the competition that forces people to make decisions will invariably lead to real change.

We’ve seen this already in Formula E where we started with two cars per driver. It did nothing for the autonomy messaging for electric vehicles, but if we had waited, we still would be waiting. What’s happened is there’s been massive developments in battery technology and regeneration that have come from racing.

That just demonstrates how, when racing looks at a simple problem, they can find solutions. We believe that racing has a real role in not just educating people about the challenge around climate change, but also being part of the solutions to green technologies. Hydrogen is another example of us getting ahead of the curve.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Extreme E (@extremeelive)


Is this an opportunity for Extreme H to establish itself as ‘the founding hydrogen series’? Are there particular commercial opportunities that come with this tagline?

Extreme H will be the founding hydrogen series. That’s what makes it so exciting. It’s that single focus around hydrogen technology. Of course, e-mobility, but there’s a lot of other usages. How do you store it? How do you transport it? How do you make it from a green point of view?

There’s a huge amount of investment going in globally into hydrogen at the moment. What we want to be is the conduit, the marketplace, the testing ground for new technologies, and to help people do business around hydrogen.

We’ve got to make sure that motorsport has propositions that people find exciting and entertaining. How does it mirror the objectives and the needs and the desires of the next generation? I think we’ve shown with male and female racers how that can be incredibly competitive and incredibly enjoyable.

It’s about entertainment, it’s not necessarily about the propulsion system. Formula One’s proved that, it’s becoming more popular. I think what we’re trying to do is align business and entertainment, so that we have a business built to project purpose and to actively engineer a more sustainable planet in the future.


What does your recent media rights deal with Recast say about your commercial and broadcast strategy?

Our goal and objective is to be always on. We have five races a year, but we’ve got 365 days a year to connect with a potential fanbase. We’re clearly leveraging an existing billion people in the world that have an interest in motorsports.

We’re using a multitude of different platforms like Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, as well as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Some youth-focused platforms as well like Snapchat and TikTok, some Chinese-specific platforms like Weibo.

Recast was an opportunity to yet again go into another platform. People are quite loyal to their platforms and to their choices, so if you don’t exist on that platform, then you don’t have an opportunity to get into the timeline to communicate with them, to develop a relationship with them.

We try not to go exclusive [with our media rights deals]. Our first goal is to reach an agreement with a free-to-air broadcaster in the territories that have an interest. Where we’re unable to do that, we go onto sports-specific channels. An example of that is somewhere like India, where free-to-air channels don’t even show cricket.


Our focus is on free [broadcasting], so there’s a lower barrier to entry. You also get something from linear [channels], which is it’s always on in households. We’re on 85 to 90 channels globally, from free-to-air channels like ITV in the UK to pay channels like DAZN in Germany.

We have the live rights that come from ten rounds of racing, two rounds in each location. On top of that we have magazine programmes, we have 20 programmes a year, which helps us to keep momentum in between the races.

Our races can’t be week after week, so we need packages of linear content which can be fragmented and served both in a linear and a digital way. We use that digitally across a multitude of different platforms. On top of that we have a ‘Drive to Survive’ proposition called ‘Race for the Planet’ on Prime Video.

How do you see Extreme E developing moving forward?

We would certainly like to break some new markets. We’ve got a very strong relationship with Fox Sports in the US, we would dearly like to have a race in North America, whether that’s Canada or the US. Having a race there would create entrance for the brand in a really digestible way.

There was a lot of method in terms of how we developed the championship and how we brought the teams in. We’ve got two of the strongest US teams with Andretti and Ganassi, so that move to having more North American presence is something that we’re certainly looking at.

At the same time, we would like to grow in Asia, but it makes it very difficult to do both because we’re operating with [the St Helena]. That invariably means we need to make choices. We’re certainly looking at how we take the race in alternative years to Asia and the Americas, but [the calendar] very much has that strong Europe, Middle East, Africa, and partly Asia as a standard. Then what we do is build out North America and China.


The Electric Energies Commission is BlackBook Motorsport's advisory group in the arena of electric motorsport. To find out more about the board, click here. To enquire about opportunities, email our executive director Peter Jones.

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