Launching a Global Sports Brand.

In this episode of the Brave Ideas podcast we chat with Michael Porter, Marketing Director at the world’s first all-electric race boat championship, the E1 Series, about how bold marketing strategies helped launch a global sports brand.


“Taking that brave thinking and applying it in a marketing capacity, trying to motivate people to just do things slightly differently. Challenge the norms.”

— Michael Porter, Marketing Director – E1 Series

Daniel Henderson and Michael Porter sat together in the podcast booth
Podcast Transcript 

Welcome to the brave ideas podcast brought to you by Athlon, a global brand and product development studio. In this series, we grab time with innovators and changemakers spanning startups to market leaders. Together, we explore how digital innovation is empowering them to bring brave ideas to market.


Hello, everyone, and thanks for joining this episode of Brave Ideas. I’m Daniel Henderson, Managing Partner at global brand and products at Athlon. And today, I’m lucky to be joined by Michael Porter, Marketing Director at the world first all electric race boat championship. E1 Series. Welcome, Michael. and thanks for joining us.


Alright Daniel, thank  you for having me. 


We were discussing your career earlier and how it started in music and TV before moving in the sports industry. Tell us a little bit about your background and your career journey and what attracts you to sports marketing.


So I have been working in start-ups sports for the last 10 years. I’m the Marketing Director at E1 Series. I was doing some consultancy at the Pro Triathletes Organisation. Then Head of Marketing at SailGP and before that, I was the original first marketing manager hire at Formula E. So I have been working in the start-up electric motor sport, sailing water sports space for the last 10 years.

But it’s quite an interesting story how I got into sports marketing. Before that I was actually at MTV as a Brand Manager and prior to MTV, my music obsession was DJing. I was a DJ as a teenager and lived in the Alps as a ski rep. I realised quite quickly is that I was more interested in the promotion of my DJing then the making the music and entertaining.


Were you any good as a DJ?


I was a vinyl DJ so I was okay. I think!


I’ll be looking for the YouTubes!


No, this is pre YouTube. Daniel. This is the early noughties. Oh, no. Sorry. Late. Yeah, early noughties. Okay, yeah, very early noughties. But I learned quite quickly that the promotion of events is where the money was. And I wasn’t necessarily the money but I was just fascinated that you could make people do things using Creative Advertising, messaging and targeted promotions in markets I decided then there that marketing was something I was more into the music and I studied music. I was into music and I ditched it all. I think that was my first brave idea. Get out of Sussex, which where I was I grew up.  


Not a fan of Sussex?


No –  far from it. West Sussex, big up west. So it was actually my move to London on my own. That was was a big move. For me, I enrolled at London University. Moved up on my own, I was actually slightly older I was 22 years old. So I just all I did was three years was just graft. Learn. And apply the learnings to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that we’re growing at the same time. 

So I’ve had quite colourful career, but it was the DJing that motivated me to get into TV. And it was the TV that shaped me into wanting to move into motorsport. And I love cars. I wrote my marketing dissertation on Formula 1. So automotive motorsport is something I’m very passionate about. And I thought “wouldn’t be brave for me to go and move into a sector that I knew nothing about but I’m very passionate about”. 


So before we jump into E1, which in itself is really exciting. You’ve been in the marketing sport space for quite a number of years now. And obviously it’s changing. It’s changing massively. Since consumption of content engagement with sport, the disruption and different opportunities that Gen Z are creating for you. So obviously, it’s a fast moving industry, and you’ve got to be cutting edge with it. So good to know maybe how the role of marketing has changed. And how Brave Ideas are standing out and in your day to day and what does brave mean to you?


Wow, Okay, so bravery in sports is prevalent. I think if you actually just look at the talent of people out on the pitches, on the circuits, they are pushing the boundaries and inspiring bravery in the consumers and the fans who are watching these sports. And I think taking that brave thinking and applying it in a marketing capacity. Trying to motivate people to just do things slightly differently, and challenge the norms and get out of your comfort zone. Because it’s those areas when you push out of your comfort zone. That’s where the fun begins. That’s where the opportunity arises.

But also, that’s where you learned that being brave sometimes, most of the time actually doesn’t deliver the results you’re hoping for. But it teaches you that maybe try something slightly different. Or use that experience to shape the next brave idea, the next brave movement that you’re kind of pushing for. So bravery is broad, but I work in a sports landscape where I’m delivering other people’s brave ideas. So their bravery initially to conceptualise an idea has trickled down into my way of working. But also how I’m updating, briefing and enabling my team to carry these brave ideas forward for the business, and beyond. 


And I think E1 is the epitome of that. We’ll talk about what it is in a moment. This is a new breed of sport. It teed up a phrase I hadn’t heard before, but you brought up which is “sportainment”. Bringing together multiple different needs from the audiences. And it’s doing phenomenally well by all accounts for the recent event and venues getting over 100 million social media impressions. From our engagement with you, we’ve understood the balance of content celebrities. You’ve got Tom Brady, and Will Smith, who are driving a leading couple of the teams. And this sustainability purpose, which is all great and quite innovative for the sport. But for those who don’t know what E1 Series can you explain what it is and how it’s bravely challenging the concept of sport,


Of course. So E1 Series was born out of a couple of Formula E and McLaren executives walking down the River Thames during COVID thinking about what the next latest greatest sports product could be. The two individuals walking down the River Thames were Alejandro Agag, the founder and CEO of Formula E, the world’s first electric single seater championship that was born 10 years ago. And I was actually fortunate to be the first marketing hire at Formula E. I got to work exclusively with Alejandro at Formula E for 55 events over six years.

But also Ronnie Basso ex- McLaren, applied technology director and NASA director, engineer, sorry, and also a Ferrari engineer, decided that the electrification of electric mobility on the roads has already been established. You can see Tesla’s and electric vehicles prevalent on the streets of most cities and countries around the world. But if you actually look out on the water, this sector is still too slow to embrace these new technologies.

So E1 was born out of a desire to invigorate the marine sector to embrace more sustainable technologies. And that’s 3 years ago. 

Now, last weekend, we delivered our second event, just going to say that we got 110 million views, not impressions.  And it seems to be working currently. It’s the beauty with this business is we are operating in a blue ocean. Currently, we don’t have competitors. Powerboating has skipped a generation. And it’s very offshore, it’s not very accessible to fans. What we’re trying to do is bring inshore electric powerboating to the masses to try and inspire and invigorate the next generation to embrace these new technologies. Because if the marine sector can start embracing electric or hydrogen or alternative fuels, we can actually see percentage change in climate, the heating up of the globe. But also trying to limit the melting of ice caps, which is raising the water sea levels.


So E1 Series has got big, bold ambitions to try and invigorate to change. But we’ve got quite an uphill battle, which is why we’re mobilising celebrity team owners and racing in really iconic cities to show that this isn’t a b2b play. This is a mass global initiative that we are effectively spearheading at the moment and it’s working currently.


So you’ve got Tom Brady, Rafael Nadal and recently Will Smith has got behind it. And you’ve probably just touched on it but what do you think is the hook for these guys to put their name to something that’s quite unknown?


I’ve been very fortunate to work with some team owners directly and their teams and their investors and what I think the unifying or the glue that’s connecting all our team owners to the championship is they are champions of the water. And it’s just so perfect that E1’s strapline is champions of the water. I just didn’t realise Rafa Nadal born, Malta is desperate to save the island that he grew up on. It has been impacted by rising sea levels, but also coastal derogation. So he is here to train, inspire and motivate his existing audience. but also get the next generation to have a blue mindset.

And that’s something that our CEO Rory Basler has been phenomenal and instilling in the team at E1 is having a blue mindset research shows that the closer you live to the water, the longer your lifespan is, believe it or not. So having a blue mindset means you get to just take a step back, get on the water, decompress not have life and business challenges unfocusing your mind, and that blue mindset is trained, we’re trying to instil this throughout the business, but get our team owners to inspire their communities to embrace this blue mindset. Because I think a mindset shift is an attitude shift and an attitude shift should ultimately generate either results or impact where these team owner communities are mobilising their troops to go and do the change for us. 


And I think obviously, it’s hugely clear that the ambition and purpose is great. And there’s a lot of innovative thinking even behind understanding the race bird boat, which was engineered purely for E1 Series. So this brave thinking from you know, that the founders walking down the Thames during COVID, hopefully six feet apart, walking down the Thames, having this idea through to the team that brought in ,the engineering of the boat, the ambition that the team leads, obviously, brave must be in the DNA as it’s grown. And as a team you’ve grown, how do you maintain and cultivate this kind of brave ambition, purpose led thinking across everyone top down


I’ve got one of the largest teams as E1. hat I’m noticing is, the more I enable my team, the more I allow them to come with ideas and come with thoughts and creative solutions to some of the challenging problems the businesses facing, enables us to workshop ideas on the fly and deliver them so I’m enabling my team to take more risks, because the more risks we take are more fruitful in some areas. Obviously, that beautiful stage in our business where we can actually test, learn and improve or scrap.

I think the more mature the business becomes, the more challenges businesses face and trying to be more fluid or more dynamic, more creative, or take the risks in developing a creative or jumping on a trend that might not necessarily align with the values of the business, but enablement. I think that is the key word that I’m trying to distil into my team. 

The more they feel enabled, the more they feel encouraged to go and deliver the results. We’ve got some pretty aggressive KPIs set out at E1 Series, because we’ve got – this is an aside –  but sports are running out of fans. And you’re noticing there are more sports popping up. So how do these new niche sports try and take market share or customer share away from the competition. It’s hard. So you have to be braver in your ideation, braver in your delivery.

But I think just bravery as a whole must come from top down. And if I as a leader, I’m not empowering my team, they don’t feel enabled enough to go and take the brave ideas that this business, my CEO, and myself are imparting on the team.

So it’s, and it all sounds quite wishy washy, but I think talking with the team sitting down with the team working with them, and rather than micromanage them, enable them, but jump in just to refocus the team. And I think it’s working as the team grows. And as the calendar grows, and the business grows, I think it’s quite easy to take this for just assume that this is the norm. I think there’s a lot of thought and planning has gone into enabling the team. And it’s a it’s a monitoring kind of on a daily basis to ensure everybody is either feels that they can deliver or they’ve got the voice to bring an idea to the table.


Yeah, and it’s certainly one thing we’ve noticed when engaging with you guys. It is a ‘one team’ feeling, you know, got to know everyone working in the company, and they’ve all taken their own steer. Maybe if you could touch upon what E1 have done to differentiate – i’ll  tee things up here –  you’ve, you’ve got a lot of content into format, you’ve got your YouTube channel, you’re producing content for that. How are you seeing E1 being taken forward? How are you seeing your team taking the mission forward?


I think there’s two aspects that the team are focusing on currently. And it’s views –  I alluded to the millions of views that we’re generating –  because views –  currently content is king, we know distribution is queen, but I think content is still it’s what everybody can see. We can all jump on a social channel see how effective or how engaging a piece of content is. So a lot of our teams thinking about ways in which we can differentiate our content offering compared to not our competitors, because we actually don’t have too many at the moment but other sports rights holders racing series who are offering a similar product or a similar event experience.

Now you mentioned ‘Sportainment’ and then it’s something I wish I came up with. It’s a  term I actually took from another great business supplier that we’ve been working with. But I’ve worked in a very, I’ve worked at formula E which was a motor sport, with a bit of entertainment. I was also at SailGP, which is a pure sport, and they don’t do much entertainment.

And now E1 series, it’s taking the best of both worlds. It’s how do we create a cool new product? But how do we get how do we growth hack? It’s how do we establish E1 series in the first season when we’ve got all these other sports popping up, and do that we need to think differently, do things differently. And that’s why we are working with T Mobile, collaborating with the likes of Tom Brady, the RAF and the Dow’s the Chacos. And the Will Smith’s of the world because we don’t want them having Jomo, a joy of missing out, we want them to have FOMO.

So we are creating content and narratives and collaboration opportunities where they feel that they can really sink their teeth and their personality into some of the content that we are either ideating. Or we are jumping on a trend and trying to get some of our big team owners involved.

So that’s probably a long winded way of saying how we’re how it’s working. But I feel there’s a couple of other areas in which I could probably spend hours talking on to answer.


So stepping potentially away from E1, it’d be great to hear a different angle on being brave or endeavouring to try new things and maybe reflect on any failures you’ve witnessed in your career or even embarked on yourself and actually what you learned from it and or what others around you learn from it.


I mean, where do I begin? The beauty of marketing is that we are, what I’ve always been tasked with coming up with creative solutions to quite challenging business issues. There’s not a lot that I truly celebrate, because most of the marketing campaigns, tactics or channels I’ve activated across haven’t actually worked, or they haven’t worked as successfully as I predicted or set out in my original KPIs. So there’s been a lot of learnings across the years.

I think timing is essential. It’s something that I’ve if you lead something just a little bit too late, and you try and jump on something at the end of its relevancy that is most likely a failure, unfortunately. So what I’ve tried to build in the team and the business is to, we need to be quicker, you need to just be able to jump on things.

And it doesn’t need to be perfect all the time. I think not cutting corners, but trying to get something over the line. So you can either jump or capitalise on a moment whether that is a commercial moment or a seasonal moment happening in a calendar. I see that is where a lot of the successes come from. But most of the failure is actually stemmed from trying to be jumping on things that could move the needle for your business or your brand or your bottom line. 

And there’s been a lot of failures. But to talk specifically on a few different initiatives I’ve done over the years at Formula E, I was in charge of Fan Boost, which was a voting mechanic for drivers to get their audiences to vote for them to receive an additional 50 brake horsepower boost. And they could activate that anytime during the race. It’s really cool concept. I mean, Mass Driver, though, yeah, mid race. Yeah, hit the fan base button. Push to Pass. So you could either Push to Pass or you could use it to insure somebody trying to overtake you couldn’t. So it’s a really cool initiative.

But we open up our social voting on Twitter using hashtags, which inevitably brings in quite a few different challenges from a security standpoint, but also territories and regions around the world trying to influence the racing results. So went through a massive exercise to try and integrate Chinese social platforms, WeChat and Weibo, and we had success for a limited time. But that opened us up to a little bit more security challenges. So what we initially thought was a brilliant mass participatory voting exercise really turned out to be a massively challenging security risks that compromised the sporting results of one race that I’m not going to mention. And that was so from a cool idea to the execution, there was a lot of grey areas in between 


And was there any testing in that process to figure out the unknowns? Or was it technically approved and therefore applied?


Both actually. So we, I think the challenge when you’re because I’ve been working in global sports now for 10 plus years, so I’ve been working with teams around the world. And I’m really fortunate actually to have a good network of contacts in different disciplines in different areas of the world. I went through my black book of contacts, found some developer support in mainland China to try and help me do some testing, but you’re at the mercy of somebody else At the other end of the line here telling you and showing you the data, the insights and the reporting, but actually until you’re on the ground, you it’s there’s a lot of trust and faith there.

I think one of the key learnings was is, yes, have a great network of individuals, but also you need… that’s one source of truth, but you need your own source of truth. So yes, it costs money to go and fly to these places. But if you don’t want to have to go through weeks, months, if not years of challenges, for the sake of investing in a flight and a couple of nights in a market to try and learn on the ground, if things are working. I think that’s a fantastic investment. But also a key learning is that if you want to do something that’s never been done before, you need to see it through to the end.


And anticipate there is going to be some failure in that journey and and learnings. Hard to predict everything. But obviously, you could still buy the ambition to try. Are there any sports that you’re looking at now and going, Ah, I really admire what you’re doing. Oh, that’s a great idea. I might borrow that. Is there anything that you’re seeing is quite game changing and disruptive at the moment? 


Yes in fact, if you were to ask my team, they would all unanimously have the same answer. And it’s Liv Golf. And the reason I bring up Liv Golf is twofold.

Firstly, I’ve got into golf Recently, because of live golf. And what I used to work with Carrie Taylor, who was the ex CMO Liv Golf, and when I found out that she’d left MTV to go and launch Liv Golf, I, my brain couldn’t comprehend that just because Carrie was so intrinsically linked to kind of what am I trying to say? hyperreality. TV and music videos and music events and her pivot into golf made me think, okay, there’s something going on here.

And then obviously, the public investment funds, involvement with Liv and what I like about Liv and what we’re not stealing from, but we’re certainly using them as inspiration is that they’re trying to get the next generation into golf. you could argue golf audiences are maturing, and golf is quite an expensive sport to get into.

What I like about live golf is they’re trying to challenge the norm, do things differently and actually broaden the appeal to a mass market, next generation of audience. So we’re obviously looking at the way they’re challenging the PGA, challenging now they’re merging,  merged. Yet still desperate to find out what they’re doing in that space. So like, I just I think what they’re doing is brilliant, but they’re trying to grow the sport in Saudi Arabia in the kingdom.  

E1 series is a public investment fund backed business. And what I’ve actually seen in Jeddah is they are trying to turn the Middle East into the centre of water sports. We’ve been working with the water sports. Well, the Saudi water sports and diving Federation have been phenomenal stakeholder in enabling E1 to try and do things differently. Bring some brave ideas to an entire new market that hasn’t actually had electric power boating.


And you’ve seen this across a lot of sports, how they’re changing their formats and what they’re doing, you know, the King’s League seven, decide football through to the F1 ‘Drive to survive’ content, sports are thinking outside the traditional formats. So building on what you said, do you see in the future any key factors that are going to have the greatest positive change on sport, wherever that is the investment piece coming from the Middle East, or a real focus on diverse thinking and talents being brought into the industry from outside? Or just the growth of eSports, women’s sport, all these pieces? What do you think of the things that excite you and you think are going to drive the biggest impact in sport?


I think that’s the million dollar question was certainly trying to find an answer to that. I think focusing specifically on what’s exciting me about the future is that I see it’s a niche community building. So if I look, I have sorry, E1 Series we the business has 90, 18 pilots up to 10 cities. And there’s a story, I mean, to think of all the stories in those numbers, all those stakeholders involved.

So and I think one story is going to resonate with one audience and a different story is going to resonate with different audiences. We’ve got multiple personas, and we’re focusing on three personas currently, but we’re looking to kind of broaden up personas, or our target audience groups into five rather than three.

And I think mass market appeal. We’re coming towards the end of that now and I think niche community building. So we’ve got multiple stakeholders in our ecosystem, and it’s about those individual communities being built and nurtured rather than treating them all the same. It’s understanding that there are different audience who’ve got slightly different consumption habits are they aligning with a different value set from a different team that’s providing a different angle or thematic approach to the way they’re racing and operating an event.

So I think niche communities, I think, gone are the big platforms dominating everything, I think we’re going to just see this it’s funny, i’ve probably four or five different golf apps, and the four or five different audiences I’m interacting with, and I get the benefits of some, but I just, I don’t think I’ll ever have just one size fit. So I’m probably going to dip into multi communities. 

And so that’s one aspect. But also, it’s the technology piece. I just think the quality of content, the resolutions, the wirelessness, the connectivity, the accessibility, the second screen opportunities, virtual AR Apple, I’m obsessed with Apple Vision Pro by the way we can talk about this. I’m obsessed with it, and thinking about how if I can’t get people down to my events, how do I get my event to more people?  So using technology, but making it more frictionless and making it more engaging, actually.

I mean, we’re a sports gaming product we’re trying to create not a circus but a weekend so cool, so exciting. So unmissable for you just feel compelled to go down there, even if you’re not into boats, you just want to come down and have a very cool weekend out on the water next, and very cool boats talking about sustainable change in how you can get involved. And if people can’t come down, I need to get that experience and put it into devices, whether that’s on your face, in your hand, or on a wall.


Hopefully you’ll know from working with Athlon that we strongly believe in the role design and technology plays in creating impact. Having worked on your website, how is design technology or product innovations are impacting your industry and you’ve touched upon the Pro.  I mean, maybe I’ve opened up a can of worms here but tell me what really excites you about design and tech and product innovation.


One of the big draws for me joining E1 Series was the brilliant brand that had been built out the gates so I got to join and rather than develop a brand, it’s how do how do we amplify the brand and take it to the next level. And what I really enjoyed about E1 series is they invested hard into design and brand and products out the gates.

I think Roddy CEO and his team before I joined really focused on the way the world’s working, how technology is advanced at such a rate, but it’s so accessible. So phenomenal, beautiful, simple, on brand shop window was built by Athlon. And I think that was the catalyst for us to start thinking, hey, look, let’s use design and brand language to try and communicate this new sportainment and product that we’re building in a really premium luxury delivery mechanism.

And it’s quite hard to try and balance elitism and luxury, or accessibility, and premiumness. I think what E1 has been doing is staying true to the brand that was developed out the gates, but also just flexing it and pushing it a little bit.

So our very lean, but dangerously brilliant in house design team, are some of the best designers I’ve ever worked with. And I’ve worked with some of the best around the world, because I’ve been very fortunate. And rather than get involved and ask for stuff, I think what we’re trying to get comes back to Brave Ideas – is motivate the design team to come with think differently, think creatively, don’t break the brand. But you’re allowed to flex this a little bit.

And I think a more progressive attitude to design products and innovation and creativity is it, you can see it on our social media, you can see it on our website, you can set in the press, you can see our broadcast.

It comes back to my original part of the team feel enabled to really use design to try and communicate or try and push this brand forward.

I’ll tell you a story about last night. We arem  Will Smith is involved. He’s promoting bad boys 4 his movie. And he’s going to be in Spain next week. And I’ve got a pilot in Spain, willing to go and shoot some content. So I said to the team, like, let’s just make a bad boys livery. Let’s make a really cool movie inspired boat delivery. Andthen we’ll wrap it on our 3d model, which is on our website if you had the It’s an augmented reality feature.  So now one of our pilots is going to Spain to go meet Will Smith walk him around a bespoke badboys 4 showboat livery in augmented reality, which Will Smith will inevitably posted on social media, and from ideation to delivery was eight minutes, that was an eight minute process. 

And that is because the design team have already built the infrastructure. They’ve already done all the hard works. And now they built the 3d models, which now means that it takes four minutes to do any custom design. And it takes our web agency, two minutes to get it up on the servers ready. So we can use it in AR and that is all because we’ve built a team and a business that uses design and product and creativity as marketing assets as promotional tools. At E1and mine disposal, and it’s working. And it’s just so I think sort of very long winded way of answering E1 wouldn’t be where it is without design products and creativity drive.


And kudos to Mother Design who created the fluid brand identity and thanks to them for obviously for engaging us in the project with you guys


Ooh. I feel that I have alluded to it throughout this podcast. I’ve really enjoyed this thank you. Is that you’ve just gonna stay on top of trends.  I love technology and I think a byproduct to me loving technology so much is that I’m trying to stay across technology trend which means I follow a couple of tech influences on socials which means I’ve somehow plugged into the trend. So I know all the latest technologies, who’s investing in it. What the big brands are spending money on. or not and I also get to see that advertising. I get targeted on YouTube with all the adverts from all the different brands out there doing the work so I’ve somehow started to do research in my personal time which is influencing my work.

So one example is that I was obsessed with is Vision but honestly I went down rabbit holes. And Vision  so I just thought this is the future of second screen screening and got very excited. I’ve started getting into team thinking about all of this and we then started talking to a third-party about potentially doing something.

It’s just been a really cool exercise and for me getting excited by one tech it’s then got me researching different avenues. Different industries and aspects and that passion research has actually enabled me to be one step ahead of the competition.

And as because of the personal interested in it along with the way saying. but really if you’re passionate about see how that can complement your world your project or your campaign or your businesses are initiated It’s not stealing it’s being inspired and you can take it doesn’t need to be your sector it could be doing is looking to see how they’re doing because what I’m noticing is everyone’s doing the same we’re all doing the same stuff. It’s all on the perpetual what’s now is probably not in trend in a couple years.

Nothing is new. It’s just a interpretation of reinvention so to stay relevant. I think you just need to be passionate about something and just continue that passion on that circle of is it on trend or is it off because you’re learning throughout that entirety and and just really invest in the stuff that you like try and take elements of applied to your world fantastic 


Cool I think that’s a great place to stop. Thank you very much Michael for your time and thank you for listening to the Brave Ideas Podcast.

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Kate Cargill

Consultant, Brand Experience

With 15 years of B2C brand and product experience and a MSc in Psychology, Kate helps companies predict, influence and navigate consumer behaviour.

Daniel Henderson

Managing Partner

Daniel has a wealth of experience in both advertising and digital sectors. With over 15 years experience across brand and digital, Daniel leads our client service teams.

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