A lavish night was unfolding at London’s Guildhall, a Grade I-listed medieval complex dating back to the 15th century. The juxtaposition was stark, as the building’s historic art gallery was draped with neon green banners, stamped with the hashtag: Unleashed.
The car itself – the C44 – was unleashed at 7pm. It was a futuristic green and black racing machine that would look far more at home in a dystopian video game than it ever could in Guildhall.
The motor was uncloaked as people buzzed around the unveiling party, where canapés and champagne were being handed out to global celebrities and gaming industry leaders. Manchester City’s all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero also made an appearance, and streaming personality Roshtein was an ever-present.
While a first glimpse of the car was exciting, most were fascinated by the chance to get up close and personal with Stake – a company that until now has operated largely in the shadows. That approach is more difficult to maintain when your name is on the front of an F1 car.
“When Stake started, I think the demographic, or the market that we were aiming for was much, much smaller,” Craven told NEXT.io. “It was a very niche industry, but it’s grown a lot.
“And with that our ambitions have also grown. Every year, we start setting the bar a little bit higher, and more things become a reality,” he added.
Stake started taking notice of F1 around three years ago, according to Craven, with the company attracted by its global appeal – something Stake is striving to replicate.
“It was reaching every continent, almost every country,” he said. “And that was really powerful messaging for a company like ours, which operates at a very global capacity.”
F1’s global awareness has also caused problems, however. The 24 scheduled Grands Prix for 2024 reach into every corner of the globe, including in markets where online gambling, or gambling advertising, is illegal.
To break down this barrier, Stake has committed to a dual brand strategy, where Kick, the video streaming platform founded by Craven, will replace Stake in countries where gambling branding is prohibited. Kick.com is widely used for online gambling streaming.
“There’s local regulation around where each race takes place, so that has always been tricky,” admits Craven. “That is what I think has made this partnership the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. I don’t think there are many other brands that have attempted to pull something off on this scale.”
Coming to America
With the recent addition of Las Vegas, there are now three US circuits on the schedule. With different gambling regulation in each state, will Stake use its flagship brand for the country? The answer is yes, as Stake operates a social gaming casino platform nationwide.
Gambling with crypto – the foundation on which the Stake empire is built – is illegal in the US, but the operator still makes waves in the country through its lucrative partnership with brand ambassador Drake, who has completely bought into the brand and its product.
Stake’s social casino product was recently hit with a cease-and-desist order by regulators in Michigan, but Craven is confident the company can manage any blowback stateside.
“Depending on the circumstances, there might be room to do an activation with Kick, as Kick is also massive in the United States.“I think it’s all about trying to work with the event location to maximise the activations and ensure that we get as much as exposure as possible, and sometimes Kick will do that more than Stake.
“For the time being, we’re unsure exactly what each race will look like. But we’ll definitely make sure we work alongside local regulators to keep everyone happy,” he added.
As gambling with crypto is largely unregulated, Stake has been forced to get creative in certain markets. The social casino product in the US is evidence of that, and the company also operates in the UK via a white-label agreement, which is strictly Fiat.
A UK licence has allowed the company to sponsor Premier League Everton, another activation to have delivered global exposure. Craven believes F1 is more of a global phenomenon than the Premier League even.
He is careful with his words and does not speak like someone talking to the trade media for the very first time. He is polished and polite, but he is also clear that barriers to entry – whatever those may be – will not prevent Stake from providing a product for consumers.
“We’re constantly working towards trying to make sure the website and app is accessible to as many people as possible – we don’t want to be in situations where we have to make the product unavailable, so we are working with the regulators to get that across the line in as many countries as possible,” said Craven.
A new dawn
The sport of F1 has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, in part thanks to the explosive Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive, which is now in its sixth season.
The current campaign is also set to begin with extra spice after seven-time world title champion Lewis Hamilton announced he would break from his deal with Mercedes to sign for Ferrari in 2025.
It will also be a pivotal season for Sauber Motorsport. They were known as BMW Sauber from 2006 to 2010 and as Alfa Romeo F1 Team between 2019 and 2023.
The Swiss outfit has returned in 2024 as the newly rebranded Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber.
Speaking during a televised press conference from Guildhall’s East Crypt, team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi spoke passionately about the partnership with Stake while sat alongside team drivers Valtteri Bottas (below) and Zhou Guanyu.
He said that joining forces with Stake was more than just a commercial agreement and would usher in a new era for the team. “Unleashed, for us, means a lot. This is a mantra incorporated in our new brand essence. We want to push the boundaries. It is a concept that pervades everything we do,” he added.
Bravi hailed the launch as an important milestone as it allowed the team to present its new vision to both fans and stakeholders. While some F1 traditionalists were disappointed that Sauber would not feature in the team name despite manufacturing the car, most appeared to buy into the prospect of an exciting new dawn under Stake.
One journalist pointed out the location of the unveiling was “more crypt than crypto”.
Bravi replied: “You can see here a contrast and we wanted to show this. We have the establishment and a prestigious venue, which was chosen to represent a contrast with our new identity. It is something new and something fresh that will challenge the status quo.”
If disrupting the status quo is the aim of the game, then who better to learn from than Stake?