Pro esports organization FNATIC recently announced that Nick Fry, former CEO of the Mercedes AMG Formula One Team, was joining the team as Head of Commercial Strategy. He is now tasked with aiding FNATIC in its next phase of its growth, particularly when it comes to performance management, media rights and partnerships.
It's a big pivot for an experienced individual going from a more established entity to one that has a lot of promise and growth predictions, but is still very young in its development.
I recently spoke with Fry about his switch in professions and what particularly interested him in making the move.
Q. As someone who's moved between the two worlds, what are the similarities F1 and esports?
Nick: When it comes to traditional sports, F1 in particular shares a lot of characteristics with esports. Both are technically complex in different ways, and both are centered around a strong team mentality, and some standout individual stars. Both core audiences are interested in and engaged with technology, and unlike other sports, geography isn't as a defining factor for fans. Whereas most traditional sports aren't global, just look at the NFL, NBA, and MLB, both Formula One and esports are watched globally, and physically appear in locations around the globe.
There are a few major differences - esports audiences largely consume their content online (although we are also seeing this shift, to a lesser extent in F1, 25% of F1 fans aged 16-34 want to watch F1 live streaming, via laptop or mobile). Formula One for a long period of time completely failed in terms of online engagement and reaching a younger audience. Up until last year, Formula One was run by Bernie Ecclestone, a benevolent dictator, who was actively resistant to social media, and quite dismissive when it came to building an online presence for the sport. Liberty Media, which acquired F1 in 2016, is trying to rectify this problem, but it is still early days. Esports is the exact opposite, and that is one of the factors the drew me to FNATIC.
I was introduced to Sam [Mathews] through a mutual contact from the investment firm GP Bullhound. My knowledge of gaming stopped at Tetris, but after my first visit to the FNATIC headquarters I was hooked. I found a group of extremely smart individuals completely motivated to be successful in their sport. I was blown away with the diversity (both in terms of nationality and gender), which is unusual in most sports. Sam has done an exceptional job attracting talent.
Q: What can esports learn from F1, particularly when it comes to brand/commercial partnerships?
Nick: In my experience, F1 has always welcomed commercial and brand partnerships wholeheartedly - so much so that sponsors and brands have become part of the backdrop for the sport. This approach has helped power the continued development of tournaments, athletes and teams.
Esports is still in its' infancy compared to F1, but to flourish and grow it needs to take a more aggressive approach to partnering with non-endemic brands. We're seeing this adoption start to happen, but hopefully hires like mine that bring knowledge from sports that have successfully conquered this challenge will help speed it up.
F1 is rooted in technology. I'd argue that it is the most technological of all the sports that are popular globally. Over time the brands involved in F1 shifted to technology providers - Sun, IBM, HP, and SAP for example - who see the benefit of marketing to a technology-savvy audience. We are seeing some of these same companies dip their toes into esports as well and realize the potential of this younger audience.