When Haas’ previous title sponsor Rich Energy likened their car to a “milk float”, it set a low bar for a new partner to come onboard and impress the Formula One team.
Until now, though, Haas has struggled to pin down a long-term title partner. After Rich Energy’s departure, the team’s deal with Uralkali, the fertiliser brand owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Mazepin, was terminated in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It’s important to remember that Haas remain Formula One’s newest team, only joining the grid in 2016, and lessons have been learned in that time in terms of how the team approaches its sponsorship deals.
“You always learn, you live and learn,” Günther Steiner, Haas Formula One team principal, tells BlackBook Motorsport. “With Rich Energy, the people that invested in the firm were actually very good people. But then they couldn’t get a deal done with the director of the company.
“Uralkali, at the time, was not an issue. [It’s] a very solid company. With [Dmitry] Mazepin as the owner, there was no risk there, and his son was driving for us. But then obviously we could not foresee that a war would get in the way of our title sponsorship.
“With all the best intentions, I don’t think anybody out there can critique that one. We ended up in a bad spot, but a lot of people ended up in a worse spot than us in Ukraine.
“I’m not complaining, we just had to change what we are doing. Everything we did with these negotiations, you learn and you’re better on your next approach and negotiations [with] the next title partner.”
That next title partner took the form of MoneyGram, a US-based P2P payments provider. The deal is reportedly worth US$20 million per season and the company confirmed to BlackBook Motorsport that the partnership is for five years.
With this being the team’s third title partner in just five years, MoneyGram’s decision to commit to a five-year deal highlights just how far the Haas Formula One team has come.
Introducing the new MoneyGram Haas F1 Team! ��— MoneyGram (@MoneyGram) October 20, 2022
We are thrilled to announce that MoneyGram will become the new title sponsor of @HaasF1Team for the 2023 season and beyond. ��
You can read the full press release here: https://t.co/RhJJ6HR7rT#MoneyGramDrivesYou #HaasF1 pic.twitter.com/HV7fN2uQOe
The Steiner effect
It’s hard to consider the Haas Formula One team without first thinking of their forthright and charismatic team principal Steiner.
The Italian has been with the team since its entrance to Formula One, officially joining as team principal in 2014. He also had a stint with Jaguar Racing between 2001 and 2003 before being invited back after Red Bull purchased the team, working alongside Christian Horner from 2005 to 2008.
Steiner became an overnight star with the release of Netflix’s Drive to Survive in 2019. The 58-year-old benefitted from Mercedes and Ferrari’s decision not to participate in the first series, which allowed for the other teams on the grid to receive much more attention.
That has turned Steiner into somewhat of a figurehead for Haas, although he admits that “talking about yourself is not easy”. Still, Steiner’s growing profile has been to Haas’ commercial gain.
“I think it helped because it gave more profile to the Haas team,” he says. “It’s a little bit like if you’ve got a driver that’s got a high profile or good results, that always helps you.”
Some of Steiner’s more colourful moments in Drive to Survive memorialised on T-shirts worn by then-Alfa Romeo team principal Frédéric Vasseuer (left) and Mario Isola (right), motorsport director of Pirelli, Formula One’s tyre supplier
That assessment is echoed by Mark Morrell, the director of marketing at Haas. He says having Steiner on the team is like having “a third driver in terms of popularity”. But his influence stretches far beyond being a talking head on a Netflix docuseries.
“He’s so involved in the day-to-day organisation,” Morrell notes. “He enjoys the commercial aspect of the sport and he will always be willing to support commercial discussions. There’s a bit of celebrity star factor around him, which I’ll be honest we use to our advantage.”
“We’ve won business over the last year on the basis that - and a sponsor fed this back to me - Günther was the only team principal that bothered to turn up to the meeting.”
For MoneyGram, Steiner’s leadership style played a key role in its decision to partner with Haas.
“Because of who he is and how he operates, his team takes their cue from that,” says Greg Hall, chief marketing officer at MoneyGram. “It really enables things to happen efficiently and very positively. It was important for us and we’re big fans.”
Making the right play
Interestingly, MoneyGram announced its partnership with Haas just before the United States Grand Prix in Austin last season. While the motivation seemed obvious – partnering with the sport’s only American team and announcing the deal at the race closest to its base in Dallas – there was a bigger reason for going public with it early.
“They are learning Formula One very quick,” explains Steiner. “They did a few races last year [where the MoneyGram branding appeared on the Haas car] to learn. So when they planned for this year, they already knew a little about [Formula One].”
MoneyGram branding appeared on the nose of the Haas car at last season’s US Grand Prix as part of an initial activation plan before the title partnership officially began
Indeed, Haas appear to have adopted a more diligent commercial approach after Steiner previously outlined that the team was not going to rush into any new major sponsorship deals.
The Italian also reveals that the Haas were approached by more than one company with “very good offers”, but reiterates that patience was the key.
“At the time, cryptocurrency deals were happening left, right and centre,” adds Morrell. “There were potentially some other offers on the table, but everything around the MoneyGram deal just seemed to be a safer play.
“But also, it was the right play for us as a team. After two title partner deals that didn’t go their full term, that ultimately had some sort of impact on the team from a perception point of view. We were very intent on getting this one right.”
Meanwhile, MoneyGram’s entry into Formula One has come at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. With over 400,000 retail locations globally, the business has become over 50 per cent digital, with the days of cash-in-hand being slowly forgotten.
MoneyGram has also just become a private company, with Chicago-based private equity investment firm Madison Dearborn Partners completing its acquisition of the company at the start of this month in a deal worth around US$1 billion, according to Bloomberg.
That growth story was something that MoneyGram saw mirrored in the American Formula One team, with Hall referencing the “underdog spirit” of both sides. But make no mistake: this is a partnership with global ambitions.
When they race, you could win! ��️— MoneyGram (@MoneyGram) May 4, 2023
We're giving away up to $50K in potential prizes each race weekend all season long. To enter, just download The MoneyGram® App and subscribe to MoneyGram @HaasF1Team Updates.#MoneyGramDrivesYou #HaasF1 pic.twitter.com/7OFy3rPbnt
America and beyond
It would be easy to jump to conclusions about the reasons a US-based company would partner with a US-based team. But Formula One is a global sport. It may be on a charm offensive in the US, but it still races in 19 other countries.
“[Partnering with an American team] wasn’t something that was required, but it’s something that is important to get the conversation going,” explains Hall. “The US is a very important market for us, we’re headquartered here just like Haas is, but we have more than half of our customers outside the US.”
Being the only US team has certainly helped Haas get many conversations started, with the likes of Chipotle, TravisMathew and MGM Resorts International signing on as partners. But Hall’s stance is echoed by both Steiner and Morrell.
“[MoneyGram] wants the global market,” says Steiner. “To invest the money that you need to invest in Formula One as a title sponsor is a lot of money. Just for the US market, it would be too much and they think bigger than that.”
This isn’t to say that Haas and MoneyGram don’t want to maximise their exposure in the US. Morrell says that Haas want to position themselves as “the US team” in Formula One, which is something that helps to “attract American corporate brands”.
Plus, there will likely be targeted activations at the pair’s home race in Austin. Hall says that MoneyGram is already planning company and employee events around the week. Beyond that, fan activations could recreate the company’s approach in Miami, where Morrell says MoneyGram invested in a “huge shopping mall activation” throughout the race week.
Most thoughts, though, are turning to the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is set to put on an event that no one can yet quite fathom.
Steiner doesn’t know what Vegas will bring, but believes that it could be the biggest show in Formula One ever. Morrell says it’s going to be like nothing the sport has ever seen before. Hall predicts that the race is going to be the one event that people around the world will want to go to and says that expectations are high.
What that event ultimately looks like, though, is now a rare uncertainty for Haas, who are starting to see the benefits of their considered commercial strategy.
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