🥩 F1'24: Namestake

How many major sports teams even get to think about changing their name completely?

Alfa Romeo Sauber is no more, but the rebrand to the newest name on the grid has been badly-executed.

The Sauber name is disappearing now, and Audi is joining from 2026, becoming the latest car manufacturer to use the spotlight of Formula 1 to hopefully sell some cars and improve their perception, so any title sponsor now knows their time is going to be limited.

In the meantime, for the next two years, online crypto-gambling firm Stake, who have some involvement with a portfolio of high-profile sporting brands. One of those, however, is not Chelsea. The Premier League club’s fans said that putting them on the front of their jersey would undermine the work done on the harm caused by problem gambling. Ironically, Chelsea and Sauber used to have a mutual sponsorship deal.

It should also be made clear that this is not a dig at anyone that works at Stake F1. If you combine all their followers across all the major social platforms, Sauber have the lowest number across all teams on the grid at just over 5 million. Mercedes have more than seven times that amount, so I appreciate that everyone at the smaller team is trying their best and they do a difficult job, with smaller headcounts than the elite.

With that said, this is Formula 1. This is the elite. Everything about the teams that make up the grid should be the best of the best, and that means their social output - especially for something as major as a rebrand - should be the envy of the rest of the sporting world, let alone your competitors.

Most sports teams do not get the chance to rebrand with an entirely new name and a title sponsor, so this was a major chance to grab some positive momentum ahead of the season launch as Stake F1 Team.

But, there were several lessons that can be learned, and something to look forward to from the new team. Let’s look initially at what could be better.

🤷‍♂️ AN UNDERWHELMING NAME CHANGE

Seriously, who cares whether ANY company has now got the naming rights to your team?

Let alone a gambling firm. It's a sport that is reliant on sponsor finance, and the price of that means literally everything is for sale. The chassis rights (?) have been sold to Kick Streaming, who are linked to Stake, and in countries where gambling is banned, they'll revert to being Kick F1 Team. All well and good, but inconsistent brand identity won't help them, especially when they have fewer than 50 races to establish themselves.

Anecdotally, the best rebrand idea I ever heard cost €100 and I have no idea whether it's true. Dublin’s iconic Point venue became the O2 in December 2008 following refurbishment. But everyone still called it The Point.

Then a rumour went around the city’s taxi drivers. A driver corrected a passenger heading to the venue by explaining it was called the O2 now. The passenger asked them to stop the car, handed them the money and walked off. By doing it for one cab, the taxi driver network was buzzing and that's how they got people to use the new name.

🛞 USE YOUR DRIVERS

Although the team’s social following is low, they do have two globally-recognised stars. Valtteri Bottas goes semi-viral most weeks through his ongoing experiment to the most stereotypically Australian man this side of Steve Irwin, while Guanyu Zhou covers off a market most drivers can’t reach. 

This rebrand could have been coordinated in a much stronger way using this network, as well as their other sports teams, including a Premier League club and UFC. They just signed a deal with a Brazilian club too. 

In fairness to the team, the announcement came from Drake, who remains one of the world’s biggest musical stars, and that should be applauded, but outside of the North American legs, how much (if any) involvement will he have with them?

⏱️ ANNOUNCE IT ON TIME

This feels so basic that it should not need saying. Marketers, if you say something will be announced at a certain time, make sure it actually is. More free marketing advice to follow. Maybe. 

Being late on New Year’s Day led some people to believe that a night of partying meant that “admin” or “intern” wasn't able to wake up on time to press the necessary buttons. In fact, if you think that F1 teams - or any major organisation - would let an intern in charge of executing a rebrand campaign, you probably do not (or perhaps should not) work in marketing.

The only explanation I can give is a last-minute snag somewhere down the line. One of the erm… stakeholders (lower case s) wants a change to a video, or an image or something that requires specialist work.

This is something that should have been covered off way before the launch time and waiting a day might have been a better move overall.

🎭 DROPPED A HISTORIC NAME

Let's face it, Ted Kravitz is still going to call them Sauber on his excellent notebook programme. When Williams were bought by Dorilton, they kept the name. There is heritage in that famous team and there is a known reputation in keeping Sauber on the car somewhere. 

Stake Sauber F1 doesn't feel too clunky and gives a nod to the past while acknowledging the present.

Besides, when you are a gambling firm taking the naming rights, you need all the goodwill you can get. It will take some getting used to, and even if they’d used Sauber for one more season, it would have been a respectful transitional move.

EA Sports are a good example with one of its major franchises undergoing renaming recently. The FIFA series is now EAFC, but I will bet you two things. One, an entire generation of young people think FIFA is some organisation on a video game, and two, people still call this game FIFA. While EA could no longer use the FIFA name, there are still plenty of implied callbacks to their past in EAFC 24. Keeping Sauber for a year could have improved their perception among fans.

🎨 NEW COLOURS

There is one thing I am looking forward to with a rebrand. New car colours. The team are holding their season launch on February 5. The avatars are black with flashes of bright green and it’s about time, given the number of white-and-other colour cars on the grid. These two years, without the Sauber name, gives the team to make a striking and distinct livery that will stand out and I hope they take full advantage of this.

Season launches for 2024 start next month as does pre-sesaon testing. The 2023 F1 season doesn’t feel like it finished too long ago, and it’s almost time for lights out already. 

Whether Stake F1 will improve on their ninth-placed finish, with 16 points, remains to be seen, but while it has not been an impressive start, there is still lots of time to turn it all around.

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