How MoneyGram provides a big boost for the Haas F1 team
The Haas Formula 1 team has taken a big step this year, with Nico Hulkenberg regularly making Q3 and qualifying as high as second in Montreal before a penalty was applied.
While its race form hasn’t been able to match that due in essence to excessive tyre usage, that one-lap pace has been impressive and it has been sustained even in the context of a tight development race, with all teams regularly bringing new parts.
Haas hasn’t always been able to keep up with its rivals over the course of a season, and the fact that it has in 2023 reflects the healthy budget that the team now has.
That was signalled earlier this year when for the first time team boss Gunther Steiner talked about the necessity to work within the cost cap, which previously was out of reach.
Now that the team is bouncing up against the limit it has to keep a lid on things like freight costs, which was why at the start of the season its move to a smaller pitwall “prat perch” became a public symbol of the new attention to detail.
The jump from 10th in the world championship in 2021 to eighth last year and the associated prize money hike has added to the spending pot, but Haas has an increased budget this year thanks in large part to the support of title partner MoneyGram.
While Gene Haas has never shied away from spending what it takes to run the team at a competitive level, significant extra outside backing has always been welcome.
However, he hasn’t had a lot of luck with major sponsors in recent seasons, with the Rich Energy and Uralkali experiences both ending amid some acrimony, albeit in different circumstances.
However in MoneyGram Haas and Steiner have found a partner that not only provides useful extra funding but it easy to work with and brings a lot more to the table than hard cash.
“They are using F1 very well, promoting their product via all the activities they do outside the F1 programme,” says Steiner. “You can see they've got a good plan in place.”
MoneyGram is a textbook example of a US corporation seeing the commercial benefits of an involvement in F1 boosted worldwide by Drive to Survive. In addition, its customers are ordinary people and thus its presence is more relatable to fans than some of the B2B businesses or financial companies that are prominent on cars these days.
Haas F1 Team logo
Photo by: Erik Junius
It’s easy to get MoneyGram confused with the wave of crypto or investment companies that have come into F1, but in fact it’s a long-established money transfer business used by the man or woman in the high street. One of its main competitors, Western Union, is more of a household name – which is why MoneyGram has come into F1.
"We are very global, operating in over 200 countries around the world,” says CEO Alex Holmes. “And we’ve been known for over 80 years for being an amazing cash-to-cash money transfer delivery service. But we have migrated over the last five to 10 years to a much more digitised business, about 50% of all we do is digital.
“We have to get the message out and really begin to sell our brand differently to consumers. And so about a year ago, we were thinking about how to do that. Rebranding yourself as an American company that operates globally, and that is pretty well known but is also a small company, is a daunting task. And so we were trying to figure out what's that right partnership? What's the right way to do that? We were thinking about, can we do a global marketing campaign?
“We get a lot of calls in from different sports. And then F1 kind of landed on our desk. I'm a big fan, I’ve followed it for a very long time. But as soon as it landed, I was like, ‘Hey, this might be a bridge too far for us’.”
Holmes was interested and asked his marketing team to consider what an involvement in F1 could do for the company.
“When we look at F1, a couple of things really pop up,” says MoneyGram chief marketing officer Greg Hall. “First of all, if you're going to sponsor something or someone, you want their brand attributes to be the ones you want to amplify your message. F1 has got technology, innovation, speed, excellence and safety, things that are really important for our global digital financial service business. So we started with that.
“The other thing F1 has is the global reach. European soccer has a massive global following. But what F1 has is a global following with races in 20 different countries. And when we looked at where the races were geographically, in our customer base, there's about a 70% overlap. And so, you had the brand attributes, and you had this overlap.”
A Haas F1 team press conference is held with Alex Holmes, CEO of MoneyGram, Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1, Greg Hall, CMO of MoneyGram
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Several teams were in the mix for MoneyGram funding, but Haas soon emerged as the chosen candidate. The deal was officially announced to the world at last year’s US GP.
“As we started thinking about the teams, Haas being American is great, but it was also the culture that Gunther has built,” says Hall. “Everyone knows him, he's very candid, very genuine.
“I always say the culture he built is very similar to the culture Alex has built in MoneyGram. What that ends up being is two teams that are very open to working with each other. And we were able to come together very quickly.”
That synergy between Haas and its sponsor is key to the successful relationship, with both taking on the bigger opposition in their respective fields.
“There's a lot of competition in the world for anything,” says Holmes. “And you have to differentiate yourself in some way. I think there's a scrappiness to us, we all have a little chip on our shoulder, out to prove something, and I think Haas wants the same thing. We all want to be winners and successful at the end of the day.
“I think what we bring to the table is that same genuineness and eagerness to kind of dig in and fuel the customer base globally.
“What's really interesting about it is that there were other teams that were interested in the MoneyGram brand as we were going through this process, because of how global we are, and they wanted that affinity for their growing brand to get that customer base. In the end Haas just made the most sense for us."
It helped that Haas could offer title sponsorship, something that not all contenders for the deal could provide. MoneyGram didn’t want to be a smaller name on a potentially more competitive car.
“It was paramount,” says Hall. “We really don't want to just be a sticker on a car getting eyeballs, we actually wanted a true partnership. That's what you can uniquely find with Haas. That's why we came together so quickly.
Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23
Photo by: Erik Junius
“They love our brand, our global reach, everything we're about, we love the same thing about them. When you do that, you can have collaborative meetings and develop things much more quickly, even simple things like livery design.
“We didn't announce until October, and we didn't start livery design until November. To get two global brands, and their creative teams, brand teams and legal teams aligned, it speaks to what we're able to do.”
As for on-track performance it’s not necessarily about the hard results, but about striving to improve, as Holmes notes: “One of the first things I said to Gunther was I love F1, I don't know anything about driving, I don't know anything about engineering, we leave that to you.
“But we want to partner with people that are putting their best foot forward to put the best car on the track that they can. At the end of the day, we trust that they're doing that.
“We talk with them, we have some conversations, you can feel the frustration. Gunther will give us a little insight into some strategy changes and other things, but it's genuine, and it's good. We want to be competitive, but expectations are realistic.”
Like other Haas sponsors MoneyGram benefits from Steiner’s high profile – you don’t just get two drivers as your PR representatives, but a team boss as well.
“We had seen that effect of Gunther when we first met and we went out to dinner,” says Holmes. “People were coming up to the table in the middle of dinner and wanting a photo, and they were just giddy to see him. He's so funny, so genuine. He's like, ‘I don't know what's going on’.
“To see that star effect that he has, and how that comes across, that's who he is. I think that genuineness really shows through. For us to also be able to attach our brand to his is very special."
As noted, MoneyGram’s customers are ordinary consumers, often people who work abroad and send money home on a regular basis. That helps to explain why the Middle Eastern races are particularly important.
“For us, there's send and receive, so we think thinking about our business as two sides,” says Holmes. “The US is the single largest market for global remittances. The three races are just huge. We also love the tie-in with Mexico, the US to Mexico is one of the largest corridors in the world.
Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 Team
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
“Outside of that the UK, Italy, Spain, those are all huge markets for us. And the Middle East is absolutely booming. It's a hotbed for migration from the Philippines, South Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Saudi, Qatar and the UAE, they're just huge for us.“
Indeed over the Jeddah F1 weekend the only team with a major presence in the huge shopping mall across the street from the track was Haas, with a driving simulator and show car. There was a similar set-up in the downtown fan zone in Bahrain a fortnight earlier.
Reaching the public through such events is a key element of MoneyGram’s strategy, and as part of its activation the company has been running a series of competitions that have enabled winners to visit the F1 paddock.
“One of the things we love about MoneyGram is it is such a consumer brand,” says Holmes. “When people ask about F1 sometimes the misperception is it's just a stodgy, high-end kind of sport, but it is a lot more approachable. Most of the fan base is a very different demographic than I think what people see on television.
“It's everyday people that are attracted to the sport, and that's our customer base. We love to be able to actually make the sport more tangible for them. To go to a shopping mall, bring the car, bring the drivers, is really special.
“We're not going to take the Paddock Club and bring in 200 corporate guests, we're trying to bring consumers off the street.“
A classic example was in Melbourne, where a Nepalese student based in the city, and who uses MoneyGram to send money home, won a visit to the paddock. He also had a meet and greet with Steiner.
"Gunther found out he was from Nepal,” says Hall. “And immediately said, ‘I'm a huge climber’. They started talking about climbing like they were long lost friends! That just tells you a little bit about the culture that Gunther has built. That fan walked away on cloud nine, I guarantee it. That was an experience he didn't expect."
Gunther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1 Team
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
MoneyGram is clearly set to be in F1 for the long haul, so expect the name to be around for a while.
“We want to sustain momentum, we want to build on it, keep it going,” says Holmes. “We did ICC cricket, we've done local soccer teams, football teams in Europe. But this is different.
“Every race that we're attending, everything that we're doing, whether it's more corporate focused, or consumer focused, we're learning.
“There are things that we're going to throw away next year and say, 'That didn't work very well’. There are things we're going to say, ‘Wow, that went much better than we thought’.
“I really do think the first year is a learning year, and we definitely built that into the plan as well. This is a multi-year focus for us.”
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