The European auto racing league Formula 1 is exploding in popularity in the U.S. Last May, a race in Miami broke the record for the most American viewers of a Formula 1 race, at 2.5 million. And on a recent episode of the Netflix show “Drive to Survive,” Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is seen singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” in celebration of how Americans are embracing the sport.
American fashion brands are embracing it, too. Pacsun released a Formula 1 collection in March, and brands including Tommy Hilfiger sponsored teams and races in last year’s season — seasons typically runs from March to November. Now, Mitchell & Ness, an American brand known for its basketball- and football-inspired jerseys, is teaming up with one of the biggest Formula 1 teams: British automaker McLaren. The pair are collaborating on a collection of sportswear that combines McLaren’s logo and imagery with American football-inspired silhouettes. They’re being sold through Mitchell & Ness’s DTC channels, as well as through American wholesalers like Dick’s Sporting Goods.
There are a few factors driving Formula 1’s growth in America. The aforementioned Netflix series “Drive to Survive” introduced many new fans to the sport, with more than half of American fans citing the series as their entry to the sport, as did the popularity of young American driver Logan Sargeant. Last year also marked the first time that there was both an American driver and an America-based team (Haas F1) in competition at the same time. Full TV coverage on networks like ESPN and A-list celebrity fans like Will Smith have also contributed.
According to Damon Briggs, vp of international for Mitchell & Ness, the collaboration fits both parties’ goals. Mitchell & Ness was seeking opportunities to branch out of the typical American sports of baseball, basketball and football, in order to reach a new audience. Meanwhile, McLaren was looking to tap into the newly fervent American F1 audience.
“We had a license to make F1 apparel a few years ago, but we learned quickly that what people want — especially in Europe — is [merch for] specific teams,” Briggs said. “We didn’t have a license for a team like Mercedes or Red Bull, just for F1 in general.”
Briggs said he got in touch with McLaren through Lindsey Eckhouse. Eckhouse, an American, is McLaren’s current director of licensing and formerly worked as director of partnerships at the NFL. As such, she knew of Mitchell & Ness’s reputation for fashion-forward collaborations with both sports teams and brands like Supreme and A Bathing Ape.
The collaboration is rolling out in four drops, each timed to different American F1 races happening throughout the year. The first capsule was released on Wednesday, themed around McLaren’s Triple Crown wins last year. More capsules will come out ahead of the Miami Grand Prix in May, the Monaco Grand Prix in June and the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix in November, each with designs reflecting the hosting cities.
Briggs said much of Mitchell & Ness’s marketing strategy around Formula 1 is not yet set in stone.
“We shot a bunch of imagery with male and female models, because we’re just trying to learn what works right now,” Briggs said. In the meantime, Mitchell & Ness will lean on its usual marketing channels like social media and email to promote the collection. “We know there’s a lot of interest, but as far as how we best connect with F1 customers, as opposed to NFL customers, is something we’ll need to learn in 2023 to refine our strategy for 2024.”
Demographics for Formula 1 viewership in the U.S. tend to be young, with the age group of 12-17 seeing the largest growth over the last year, at 49%. The sport is popular across genders, as well, with viewership among women jumping 34% over last year.
Formula 1 drivers are also becoming fashion influencers themselves. Drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo have become known for their personal style off the race track. Hamilton, in particular, has over 32 million followers on Instagram and is known for his high-fashion looks created by stylist Eric McNeal. And sports apparel, in general, is a growing market, jumping from $178 billion in global revenue in 2021 to over $200 billion in 2022. Mitchell & Ness itself was purchased for more than $250 million by Fanatics last year, five times what it was sold for by Adidas in 2016.
Eckhouse, who facilitated the deal with Mitchell & Ness, said early response to the collaboration has been positive, although no sales figures are available yet, she said. “Mitchell & Ness is a true pioneer in heritage fanwear and lifestyle apparel,” she said in an email statement. “We are proud to be the first team to bring their creativity to Formula 1.”