“We have to behave like a world championship”: Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle on what’s next

Formula E might only be entering its eighth season, but the all-electric motorsport series has taken significant strides during its brief existence. It has expanded to new locations, gained world championship status, secured a raft of broadcast deals and even created its own docuseries. The BlackBook travelled to preseason testing in Valencia to speak to Jamie Reigle, Formula E’s chief executive, to learn more.

It’s hard to believe that electric single-seater championship Formula E is only entering its eighth season.

Since being conceptualised by Alejandro Agag around a decade ago, the series has established itself as a serious challenger to international motorsport’s traditional hierarchy, and has drawn in drivers such as Felipe Massa, Pierre Gasly, Jean-Eric Vergne and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Indeed, Formula E has grown its reputation around a strong focus on sustainability and electrification, promoting electric mobility and renewable energy solutions to contribute to reducing air pollution and the fight against climate change globally.  

In 2019, Jamie Reigle was appointed chief executive of Formula E and set about expanding the series’ international profile and growing its fanbase. During his stint in charge, Reigle has already had to tackle the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and is overseeing the transition to Formula E’s Gen3 cars, which are set to be introduced for season nine.

Formula E's Gen3 car is set to be introduced in for season nine in 2022/23

Reigle’s arrival came in the same year that Formula E gained greater credibility by being granted world championship status by the International Automobile Federation (FIA). It has since hosted an increased number of races in locations such as east London and Puebla in Mexico as it continues to go about championing electric mobility to the world.

“We’re now a world championship, and we have to behave like a world championship,” Reigle tells the BlackBook.   

“Then you're trying to do that in the context of Covid. The first thing we had to do [ahead of the 2020/21 season] was cancel our race in Santiago before Christmas. So, the starting point was really difficult, but if you look at the overall arc of the season, there were lots of positives.  

“We put on 15 races. It was the most races we've ever done. We went to eight or nine different cities, so we delivered a global world championship, which was kind of the objective.” 

Looking ahead to season eight, which gets underway in late January, Reigle and Formula E will face a host of new challenges. Significantly, BMW and Audi have left the championship, with fellow German car manufacturer Mercedes set to end its Formula E campaign at the end of the 2021/22 season. Mercedes said in a statement in August that it is leaving to focus its efforts on ‘electric-only vehicle development’ and ‘applying the lessons learned in competition to product development’, which has left some questioning the longevity of Formula E.

The 2021/22 Formula E season is set to be Mercedes' last, as the German manufacturer sets its focus on Formula One

However, to its credit, Formula E has significantly more manufacturers involved in the championship compared to other motorsport series, which Reigle believes is a positive sign for the future.  

“We're disappointed to lose those three,” Reigle admits. “They're iconic names in motorsport, they've got a lot of heritage, they're fantastic brands, and they bring a lot of experience in terms of motorsport, but also the marketing side. You can’t hide from that.  

“On the other hand, we started with nine manufacturers, and we still have Nissan, Porsche, Jaguar, Mahindra, Neo and DS.  

“If you think about other motorsports, they typically have two or three manufacturers. Nascar has Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet, IndyCar has Honda and Chevrolet, Formula One has Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. We have six, so we're still doing okay.” 

During season eight, Formula E will also be hoping to increase its worldwide broadcast reach. The 2020/21 campaign saw the series grow its cumulative audience by 32 per cent to a record-breaking 316 million, an improvement that came on the back of a selection of free-to-air (FTA) distribution deals in key markets such as the UK, several other European territories and South America. The series’ media strategy also saw it reach pre-pandemic levels of viewership, despite its seventh season featuring a shorter calendar and no races in Asia.

“Last year we tried to do audience consolidation,” Reigle explains, “which means finding one partner in each core market who is really a believer in Formula E, was going to promote our product, show it to their audience, and put it on all of their platforms.”  

Formula E has worked hard on its broadcast offering to bring the series to non-motorsport fans

Reigle points to Formula E’s broadcast arrangement in Germany as a case study of how the series is working with partners to grow its viewership. Ahead of season seven, the championship inked a deal with commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1, which also airs other sports such as the National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL). Wanting to add credibility and keep audiences informed, the broadcaster brought on former Formula E driver Daniel Abt and retired Formula One driver Christian Danner to spearhead its coverage.  

“Look at our partnership in Germany with ProSieben,” says Reigle. “They're the broadcast partner for American football in Germany, hockey, and they view themselves as a sports broadcaster.  

“They said, ‘hey, we really want to lean in on Formula E and help build the sport’. They brought on Daniel Abt, who’s a former Formula E driver, and Christian Danner, who's the face and voice of Formula One, historically, in Germany.  They bring those two folks together to talk to different audiences – one with historical credibility in motorsport and one who has been in the Formula E car. They bring a production crew, they have about eight people here.  

“So, they're telling the story of Formula E to a German audience. We need to replicate that in more markets.” 

Formula E is currently focusing on key markets such as Spain, Italy and, perhaps most importantly, the UK, where the series and the majority of its teams are based. During season seven, all Formula E races were made available by British public service broadcaster the BBC via the Red Button, the BBC iPlayer streaming service and the BBC Sport website. A handful of races, including the Rome and London ePrix, were broadcast live on the BBC Two linear channel, but Reigle is looking for greater consistency to help the series reach more UK fans in season eight and beyond.  

“We’ve got really passionate fanbases [in the UK],” explains Reigle, who describes the UK as Formula E’s “biggest gap market right now”.  

“How do we make sure that we're telling that story in the right way? You need a broadcaster who’s going to lean into that. We’ve had some good races with the BBC where they've put it on BBC Two, and we get great audiences, so we know it's there.  

“But we need that consistency. So, a British fan says, ‘oh yeah, I know, Formula E next Saturday, they're racing, I'm going to go to this channel, because I know it's going to be there’.  

“That's what we're working on. We don't have anything to announce on that, but we very much want to find that partner in the UK.” 

Formula E is looking to engage fans in key markets globally

In addition to the attention being paid to Formula E’s live broadcasts, Reigle is also examining the series’ digital strategy. The aim, he says, is to repackage races and upload clips to social media channels such as short-form video platform TikTok, which attracts millions of younger users.  

“I have little boys, they're obsessed with whether they can open a TikTok account, not what television channel we’re watching. For them, everything's on demand, everything's digital,” Reigle says.  

“What we need to start doing more of is packaging content and shows in much more digitally native formats to be able to hook in that audience.  

“Then, over time, maybe you convince them to watch a full race, but I think we can do some fun stuff with packaging the highlights. For example, the new qualifying format I think is really well suited to a five-to-seven-minute super quick video.” 

One way in which Formula E is seeking to engage with audiences digitally is through Unplugged, its new behind-the-scenes episodic docuseries released on Facebook and YouTube, which follows season seven from inside the paddock. Comparisons have unsurprisingly been drawn between Unplugged and Formula One’s hit Netflix show Drive to Survive, which has been hailed as a huge success for the Liberty Media-owned series. However, Reigle says that Formula E isn’t trying to produce a copycat Drive to Survive – at least not yet.  

“So last year was about let’s start to surface these stories, get people used to giving those interviews in the heat of the moment. I think we did a decent job, but candidly I think we can do much more.”

“It wasn't something that we planned out years in advance,” he states. “There are other series such as Drive to Survive or like All or Nothing. We weren’t going to try to produce something of that calibre, of those production values and go out and find a streaming partner to distribute it. That wasn't the concept.  

“The concept was to say: ‘OK, how do we condition our teams, drivers and people in the paddock to have cameras around them and to try to speak more candidly and more honestly?’ 

“If I compare it to one of the attributes that Drive to Survive really shone a light on, it was these huge rivalries, within the team, amongst the teams, across the teams. I mean, these guys are not even friendly. There’s a lot of tension.  

“Formula E has always had this [idea of] we're in it together, we're trying to save the world and raise awareness about climate change and electric mobility. And that's positive. But it is sport. Yes, we can be outwardly collaborative, but ultimately we want from the championship’s perspective those teams wanting to beat each other.

“So last year was about let’s start to surface these stories, get people used to giving those interviews in the heat of the moment. I think we did a decent job, but candidly I think we can do much more.”

Looking ahead, Formula E is keen to expand and race in new markets, ensuring that it continues its mission of showcasing electric vehicle technologies to markets that are yet to embrace it. In season eight, the series is set to race in new locations such as Jakarta in Indonesia and Seoul, South Korea, while it will also visit Vancouver once more as part of a city-wide electric festival.  

In addition, cities such as Eindhoven in the Netherlands and Bournemouth in the UK have expressed interest in hosting a Formula E race and are in discussions with the series.  

“We are in deep discussions with Eindhoven,” Reigle confirms. “Bournemouth is much earlier days. 

“If I think about where I want to go, where are the markets that we need to be from a growth perspective, it’s about where is sport popular? Where is motorsport popular? Where is important for our sponsors? And where is important for our teams?

“Looking at Brazil, for example, a huge country, passionate, and lots of sporting heritage. We have a number of Brazilian drivers, our sponsors, it's the biggest market in Latin America, so there's a lot of interest in it from a commercial perspective. It'd be a fabulous place to go to present Formula E. Also, electric mobility in Brazil has barely started in terms of electric car sales. That's a really ripe market for us to be able to go.  

“The other end of the spectrum you have Japan. We have Nissan as a manufacturer already, but I'd love to try to figure out a way to convince Honda and Toyota that the future is electric. If I think of Japan, big market, 130 million people, very high GDP, lots of sponsors, passion for motorsport, so that’s a place we just should go.”

As the Formula E calendar continues to expand globally, it is clear that there is a lot in store for the championship moving forward. Although still a relatively young organisation, new racing formats, unique content and fan engagement strategies are being rolled out to ensure the series is readying itself for the future.

Indeed, for all the curiosity and intrigue Formula E has generated in a short space of time, Reigle is clearly already thinking about how the series can capitalise on that over the next decade.  

“What's incredible is that we've only been around for eight years,” says Reigle. “The level of development is pretty remarkable, right?

“There aren’t many sports that I can think of that have been started like this that have achieved this level of awareness and excitement as we have in eight years.”

Formula E is also included in BlackBook Motorsport's latest report, covering the topic of sustainability. Read about the work the series is doing in this space to create long-lasting change here.