By Rajarshi Gupta at BIC
The F1 Village at the Buddh International Circuit wore a desolate look at the Qualifying on Saturday. The merchandise shops near Gate 24 had a story of their own to tell. Unlike last year, when fans flocked at the stores to lay their hands on the rather steeply-priced caps, jerseys and bags from their favourite F1 teams, Saturday presented a very different picture.
A source at one of the shops said Ferrari by virtue of its brand name sold the maximum merchandise in 2011, as compared to the other franchisees, but added that sales had taken a hit this year. He did not want to relate the dip in sales to Ferrari’s controversial decision to “show solidarity” with the Italian sailors, accused of killing two Indian fishermen, but the few customers around the village did not mince words.
“I read about the flag issue this morning and it was outrageous. They may not consider it a political move but as Indian, I find that a little insensitive. So I am not buying any of Ferrari’s stuff, though I would have loved to take home a nice cap,” said Sweta Saxena, who spent more time at the Village than her Grandstand seat, watching SebsatianVettel storm through to his 35th pole position.
The man attending on customers at the Ferrari shop claimed he did not know anything about the Italian car-makers’ flag stunt but the low turnout at the merchandise shops did surprise him: “Last year was far better than now. A lot of people came to buy our stuff because of the brand association. F1 may not be that big in India yet, but people love Ferrari, their products. Yes, I am a little surprised that sales have dropped this much.”
It was not a lot better for other merchandise units either. Staff at the Force India store, where locals flocked to buy caps last year, struggled to explain the low turnout this year: “It could be because the qualifying rounds have already started but to be honest, not too many people came to us this year.”
Could it be the obnoxious prices? A Force India cap would go for as much as Rs 3,000, the same as a Mercedes cap for Michael Schumacher but a store manager pointed out money did not stop people from picking up what they felt like.
“At least 60 per cent of my customers are foreigners and they don’t complain about the prices at all. The Indians do make a long face because these prices are at par with the international market,” he said.
The only shop doing some reasonable business belonged to Red Bull. The staff revealed caps and t shirts were going off the shelves like hot cakes: “It will be difficult to tell you exactly how many Vettel caps we have sold but I can tell you it was a lot. We don’t see a major difference from last year. We have sold a lot of Red Bull flags too, along with key-chains and other knickknacks.”
Consistency does pay after all.
Besides table-toppers Red Bull, the only other shop with a sprinkling of customer presence was Mercedes. The demand for Schumacher caps, priced at Rs 3,000, was fairly high vis-à-vis the other products. Not surprising, given the German ace’s strong emotional connect in India.
Not far from the merchandise shops, the F1 cars blasted away in full throttle as Vettel claimed pole once again, even as a young man picked up two more Red Bull caps in preparation for what should be a great Sunday for motorsport fans.