WhatsApp enters sports in deal with F1 team Mercedes. Channels feature to offer exclusive content

LAS VEGAS (AP) — WhatsApp has chosen the Mercedes Formula One team for its first sports sponsorship, a multi-year agreement that will give followers of the eight-time world champion exclusive team content and in-race updates through the Meta-owned private messaging service.

The deal announced Friday is the first of its kind for WhatsApp, which connects over two billion people globally and is heavily used outside of the United States. While Americans tend to use iMessage through their Apple phones, WhatsApp is utilized most everywhere else and had become the main tool of communication for the Mercedes team.

Team principal Toto Wolff told The Associated Press it is not unheard of for him to receive messages in WhatsApp group chats from Mercedes board members questioning strategy during races.

“I'm trying to turn the phone upside down so I'm not seeing the board members texting me, ‘What the hell is the strategy department thinking?’” Wolff told AP. “It's quite fun. Sometimes.”

The partnership will highlight the new WhatsApp Channels broadcast feature, which Mercedes began using in September. The team has amassed 656,000 followers ahead of Saturday night's Las Vegas Grand Prix.

“We’ve been amazed at how the Mercedes team relies on WhatsApp to keep the organization running," said Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp. "I’m proud we’ll work together to reveal how WhatsApp brings their team together and fans closer to the action.”

The broadcast feature enables Mercedes to share behind-the-scenes experiences and insights, in-race updates and content that highlights drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell that cannot be found elsewhere.

The broadcast channel allows for reactions to posts, but there is no commenting, which makes for a feed without toxicity or random arguments.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014 and it has become an integral property for Meta, which includes Facebook and Instagram among its other apps. It is Meta's fastest-growing service in the 18-to-35 demographic, spokesman Vispi Bhopti said.

“Our internal studies tell us that we are seeing the fastest growth in the United States with young people, particularly in cities like Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle,” Bhopti told AP.

WhatsApp allows both longform and bite-sized content, a storytelling area it has explored already with a film about NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo and another featuring the Afghan Youth Women’s national soccer team.

For Mercedes, Wolff finds WhatsApp invaluable.

He said he can go an entire day without ever speaking to a single team member because he's able to communicate with the entire company through WhatsApp channels. It's also his main line of communication to two of his children, who are students at the University of Southern California.

Wolff told AP the entire Mercedes organizations relies on WhatsApp for coordination, collaboration, communication in-race and is an outlet for organizational support throughout the 24-race season.

“It brings the team closer together. It also helps accelerate the speed of communication and decision-making across the organization,” Wolff said. "Our sport is all data driven and I am getting screenshots in real time on what is happening in the car, temperatures, or over-limits. This is literally much bigger, faster and efficient than email or any other messaging service.”


AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing