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Merchandising sports the F1 way and Joshua’s good luck

Another big money spinner from the weekend was Anthony Joshua’s victory against Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium in London.

Britain’s Anthony Joshua (L) throws a jab at Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko during the seventh round of their IBF, IBO and WBA, world Heavyweight title fight at Wembley Stadium in north west London on April 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL

On Sunday I attended my first Formula 1 race, the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrome. On its 5.848km race course situated at the edge of the Black Sea with the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains lending a picturesque view to television audiences, Mercedes AMG driver Valtteri Bottas raced to an early lead and held on to eclipse the chasing Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen as well as teammate Lewis Hamilton. It was an exciting race that left 43,000 plus fans of motor racing screaming.

Being my first, I was attentive to the immense marketing machine of the F1 weekend. Motor racing is big business and they make every attempt to ensure profit is made from their franchises while serving up interesting experiences for their followers during four days of non-stop activity. On Thursday, fans had the opportunity of meeting their favourite drivers during an autograph session at the Olympic Park. I joined a two-hour queue of pushing and shoving fans to meet Lewis Hamilton for a handshake, an autograph and a photo. It was one of the things I dreamed of since moving to Sochi last September. Other fans queued up for four hours to have an opportunity to walk through the pit lanes and witness the famous four-second tyre change by race crew.

Friday and Saturday were the practice and qualifying races. F1 fans love to purchase driver and team merchandise. There was a shop dedicated to official merchandise of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna who died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. Another one sold Michael Schumacher’s merchandise.

The final race on Sunday was all I imagined as the sun poured its warmth on the circuit, giving us a grand spectacle. We watched from behind our sunshades as the race evolved. My Swazi colleague said it reminded her of the movies. Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up to present the winner’s trophy at the end.

One of the traditions of the F1 is fans’ invasion of the race track after the race in order to have a feel of where their heroes drove on. They also get to be soaked by the champagne sprayed from the winners’ podium. One interesting culture I noticed was of many fans picking up marbles, molten bits of tyre, leftover from the race. I don’t know the significance but I joined in. Mementoes hurt no one.

Russia has signed an extension to host the F1 till 2025, which will cost more than $1billion over the 15-year period. It is an investment that will keep Sochi on the top of sport tourism calendars.

Another big money spinner from the weekend was Anthony Joshua’s victory against Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium in London. It was one of the biggest fights ever and it earned both fighters guaranteed 15 million pounds each. As a Nigerian, I suffered with him in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Joshua is being touted as the next big athlete that could transcend sport like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. The Drum magazine claimed he could become the first boxer to reach the $1 billion earnings mark. At 27 and with an appealing, disarming personality, AJ is the new face of heavyweight boxing.

He is already endorsed by brands like Lucozade, headphone brand Beats by Dre, car maker Jaguar, watchmaker Audemars Piguet, Sky TV, and Dafabet. His deal with apparel maker Under Armour sees him stand toe to toe with NBA star Stephen Curry as UA continues to eat into Nike’s sportswear market dominance.

In the month of April, Joshua added more than 220,000 new followers on Twitter to enter the 1million mark according to data from analytic site Twitter Counter. In addition to his 3million Instagram followers, his rise on the social scale shows an athlete that many more brands would like to affiliate with.

Promoter Eddie Hearns told media after the fight that Joshua has the potential of becoming bigger than the UK’s most famous sport marketing genius, David Beckham and many football stars.

Still it will take continued dedication to his art and a brilliant marketing communication strategy to ensure he achieves brand leverage. He already possesses a good nature and calmness to attract fans and followers to the sport, he needs continued victory in the ring to maintain his rise.

While the talk among Nigerians has been how he failed to make it to the Nigerian Olympic team for Beijing 2008, the young man must be thankful that he missed the cut and stayed with Great Britain; a decision which allowed him to win Olympic gold in 2012, and now three world titles.

In Nigeria where hardly anything works in our sport, he would have become another promising talent failed by the system. Last week, Nigerian wrestlers excelled at the Senior African Wrestling Championship in Marrakesh, Morocco. But they had to fight for funding for the trip. The Nigerian Beach Soccer team to the Bahamas arrived in batches before losing third group game via penalties to Iran and sadly exiting the competition.

Under the tutelage of the British, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is a world champion and a legend in the making. Now everyone wants to claim him. Success, indeed, has many fathers.