Digital Marketing Redux   //   May 15, 2024

Brands are leaning into the racing aesthetic

The most coveted brand partnership is quickly becoming a motorsport team.

Italian luxury fashion label Palm Angels partnered with the Haas F1 Team to launch a collection just in time for the Miami Grand Prix earlier this month. Similarly, Pacsun continued its ties with Formula 1 by unveiling exclusive merchandise for the Miami race weekend. Other motorsport series are also capitalizing on the popularity of the aesthetic. Just this February, Nascar inked a deal with headwear and apparel brand ’47. 

The motorsport craze has been catching on quickly in the U.S. Motorsport series like Formula 1, IndyCar and Nascar all have their own Netflix docuseries, which follows the lives of drivers and their quest for victory. These new motorsports-themed apparel lines go beyond simple fan gear. Rather, as attending any F1 event has become a marker of status, many of these new lines lean into the exclusivity of the sport, catering to fans who want to showcase they were there in attendance. T-shirts for the Palm Angels line start at $654.

“Sport is a place where community builds… and when a community is built, there becomes a uniformed aesthetic that starts to grow out of those communities,” Brian Quarles, chief creative officer for sports marketing agency Revolution, said. “That’s where I think brands and sports can really lean in because it’s fertile ground.” 

Quarles said it’s not unusual for sports to inspire fashion. Skateboarding inspired the emergence of several streetwear brands like Supreme and Vans. Quarles added that apparel brands are leaning into the uniform aesthetic growing out of motorsport, with features like rugged leather jackets, team logos and checkered flags.

In some cases, fans are drawn to these items to commemorate races they’ve attended. “It’s a reference to being there because, [for] a lot of these things, you have to have been there to get it,” Quarles said. “Those associations speak volumes about who you are as a person and explain your interests.”

With three Formula 1 races in the U.S. — Miami, Austin and Las Vegas — apparel brands have particularly been leaning into these moments to drop exclusive merchandise. For the Miami Grand Prix, Palm Angels debuted its first series of products in collaboration with the Haas F1 Team, the only American team on the grid. The brand unveiled its Miami T-Shirt, which is one of 13 collectible t-shirts dedicated to popular races in F1. It also released a special-edition racing jacket on race day. 

Pacsun also released its own collection of F1 merchandise during the race weekend in Miami. The brand set up a ​​branded pop-up truck at Smorgasburg Miami market that weekend to showcase its newest apparel lineup, which includes t-shirts, jackets, bralettes and shorts, among other items. During the Las Vegas Grand Prix last year, PacSun also had pop-up activations to promote its Vegas-themed collection.

“F1 is selling very well compared to other brands in our store and is one of the strongest selling projects we’ve had this year,” Richard Cox, Pacsun’s vp of men’s merchandising & design, told Modern Retail about its F1 partnership last year. “We do see a positive boost in sales during the launch of each collection as well.”

A sport like Formula 1 is particularly appealing for brands due to its international notoriety, said Dan Lobring, senior vice president of Stretch PR, a global PR firm specializing in business and sports.

“If I’m looking to expand and grow globally, it’s a great platform for that,” Lobring said. “These are very avid fans of the sport and they’re also going to support the sponsors of their favorite teams or their favorite drivers.”

Watching any race live is expensive, with starting prices for the Miami Grand Prix grandstand tickets starting at $600. Lobring said that motorsport fans are a demographic that might be more willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for limited-edition high-end products.

Other motorsports like Nascar are also pulling in new fans, partly thanks to its recently released Netflix docuseries “Full Speed.” Nielsen data found that 88% of viewers during the show’s first week had not watched last fall’s championship race, indicating the potential for new fans. 

Nascar’s partnership with ’47 includes headwear and apparel for different teams and Nascar-owned tracks like Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway, among others. The selection consists of trucker hats, hoodies featuring Nascar’s logos and distressed t-shirts with driver numbers.

Lobring said he sees the potential for more brands to get involved in motorsports in some capacity. Already, partnerships are being formed among emerging brands and teams. Back in November, skateboarding brand Huf teamed up with Toyota Racing Development to release 40 different items, including double-knee pants, work jackets, racing jackets and sweaters.

“The apparel brands and lifestyle brands, they see an opportunity to grow with the sport,” Lobring said.