Five minutes with… Red Bull Racing commercial director Nick Stocker

Ahead of the new Formula One season, Red Bull's commercial director Nick Stocker provides an update on the team's off-track progress, post-pandemic planning and the appeal of Max Verstappen.

On the track, Red Bull are being tipped for a real tilt at the title this year. Testing in Bahrain has gone extremely well and there are murmurs that Max Verstappen could go toe-to-toe with Lewis Hamilton for the drivers' title.

Off the track, under the guiding hand of Nick Stocker, commercial director for the Formula One team and the Red Bull Technology arm, they have been also gearing up impressively. 

Strategically, perhaps the most important deal is the fresh agreement with Honda to use the manufacturer's power unit technology until 2025, taking advantage of the International Automobile Federation's (FIA) decision to place a freeze on engine development from the 2022 season until 2024. The team also formed Red Bull Powertrains Limited, a new division that will manage the project before Formula One’s next generation power trains are introduced in 2025.

There has been a deal agreed with recovery brand Therabody and Hummel for Red Bull's esports team, but the most eye-catching at the time of publishing is the partnership with US retail giant Walmart. That move, according to team principal Christian Horner, was agreed with an eye on the North American market and aligns with the move to sign experienced Mexican driver Sergio Perez. 

According to Stocker, Red Bull have more to do on the commercial front ahead of the new season. The BlackBook asked him about that and more. 

How are Red Bull set commercially for the new season? Are there more deals to do or are you nearly sold out of inventory?

We’re fortunate enough to have had a strong off-season commercially. Since the vaccine announcements, we have seen confidence swell in the market. Those brand owners in the market for partnerships have had the luxury of time to really understand what they want and to request deeper engagement opportunities, digital impact and commercial defensibility with rights holders. Red Bull Racing have done incredibly well out of this as we know we have a strong proposition and as a team we have data, evidence and testimonials to support how we deliver a strong return-on-objective. We’re not done yet, so keep your eyes peeled…

What did you learn about activation amid 2020 restrictions that you're planning to carry forward into 2021 and beyond?

Quite simply, always have a 'Plan B'. Often it is the uncertainty that ended plans to activate, and that is scary if you have no alternative. This is partly why the team were so busy during Covid, because we were often making plans two or three times for the same activations to cover all eventualities and contingency planning. It ensured that we continued to deliver where physically possible, but now we have that system in place and we have endured a complete season. Even if 2021 presents challenges, we are confident we can deliver.

How have you had to adjust agreements with commercial partners going forward based on the uncertainty of the pandemic?

We’re lucky that most of our partners understood that we were all enduring the same challenges, so conversations were always to find solutions that enable us to continue working together in the true spirit of the partnership. We haven’t adjusted agreements per se, but instead looked to provide more flexibility and increased options, whether this be creating digital content or creating virtual experiences. In that sense, it was very much business as usual, in looking to solve the brand and business challenges of our partners, which is the bread and butter of our partnership managers.

Christian Horner said your recent deal with Walmart was made with an eye on the US market. Do you have other plans to grow the team's reach stateside? Does having Sergio Perez on board open up new possibilities in that territory?

I think with every team, the driver provides a foothold in the market and Sergio is clearly the F1 superstar in North America and LATAM, which benefits the team and our partners. The addition of Walmart is seismic, they are the number one Fortune 500 brand and there is a store within ten miles of every American citizen, so we clearly will see huge value. But we also know that F1 is a booming sport in the US and Red Bull Racing, being the number one team in the US, also delivers huge value for a brand who haven’t traditionally partnered with global sports properties, so opportunities are seismic for us both.

With Formula One finally set to head to Zandvoort this season, what plans do you have for Max Verstappen’s home market?

We always try to give something back to our Dutch fans as they have been a phenomenal force, supporting the team through thick and thin. Since Zandvoort was added to the GP calendar, Red Bull Racing have undertaken multiple show runs in the Netherlands and pitted Max against the banks of the iconic track in old Red Bull Racing cars. This year – Covid permitting – will be no different and we hope to be able to provide something very special to bring the sport closer to our fans than any other team is able. It is perhaps a given that Max’s loyal and committed orange army will be out in full flight if the track can be opened to fans.

Finally, have you noticed an impact on commercial partnerships with the rising popularity of the Netflix series 'Drive to Survive'? And if so, what?

Absolutely. It has had a phenomenal impact on the sport, most of all in the US. I don’t think we’ve signed a deal with a brand where the CEO hasn’t seen it, so it is clearly having a huge commercial impact on investment. The real value is with peripheral fans, wider sports fans and a female audience; there has been a huge impact here and this indirectly is attracting new investment for brands wanting to engage with a new audience.

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