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ROKiT and Williams Racing part ways – what happened?

Williams Racing announced on Friday that it had terminated its sponsorship arrangements with ROKiT and ROKiT Drinks, effective immediately.

At the same time, the iconic racing team announced a formal company sale process, as a consequence from their most recent Group financial results.

Williams Racing had signed a 5-year title partnership deal with ROKiT before the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season, having then expanding its presence with the Grove-based team at the end of the year using its ROKiT Drinks sub-brand as a principal sponsor.

ROKiT is a company owned by ex-Goodyear mechanic Jonathan Kendrick, who aided Williams in its winning days at the turn of the century, and entrepeneur John Paul DeJoria.

ROK, standing for “Return of Kendrick”, has had extended worldwide presence owing to its other sports partnerships in NBA, NFL, W Series and Formula E.

The company has a large portfolio of brands but chooses to showcase a handful – including ABK Beer, Bogart’s Gin, Bandero Tequila, ROKiT Phones and ROKiT Cities.

Photo: ABK Beer

ROKiT has been a constant target of criticism by fans and media alike for its product scepticism and sudden insurgence in sports sponsorships.

Last year, a similar scenario was seen with former Haas F1 title sponsor Rich Energy, which also terminated their deal promptly.

Prior to the “divorce”, ROKiT removed a large sum of brands that were left abandoned – for example: ROKiT Spring Water, UB Irish Whiskey, ROKiT Books, ROKiT Music, etc.

Many have found that ROKiT products are mysteriously hard to find at retail stores, even as the company announced deals with convenience stores in the United States and United Kingdom.

While valid, the reason behind such mystery is because the company focuses on a business-to-business model, however, it has expressed an interest to a move to direct-to-consumer.

ROKiT gets most of its sales from its primary beverage brand – ABK Beer, based in Kaufbeuren, Germany. The beer brand has found underground success in the United Kingdom.

The company’s most popular products are not their own, rather they are part of the many brands that they have invested in, such as with ABK Beer and Bandero Tequila.

Recently we took the country of India, we’re WiFi-ing the entire country of India to help lower classes become higher classes because of the Internet.

John Paul DeJoria, ROKiT, Co-Chairman

One of the primary brands that Kendrick and DeJoria push their marketing efforts is ROKiT Cities, a WiFi city-wide infrastructure plan.

The company states having applied the network in 27 cities in India, while still incomplete despite working alongside Indian partners VEECON and BSNL.

Photo: ROKiT

Most shockingly, the main part of the ROKiT Group, ROK Stars, has been a massive contributor to its losses.

ROK Stars has recorded fairly small sales of ~£12M thanks to its beverage products, however, it is listed on the Stuttgart stock exchange at €0.00 per share and a total market cap of €235k.

In 2019, ROKiT did fulfil contractual obligations and paid the British team approximately £14M as part of the first year from the deal, according to its holding company’s 2019 Financial Report.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams, nevertheless, spoke to selected media about the split, declining to elaborate on reasons, but made it sound it was not related to any contractual breach.

I can’t go into detail on the ins and outs. What I can say is that we met all of our contractual obligations to ROKiT. Obviously the livery is something that we’ve got to look at when we go racing again, hopefully in July. […] We will unveil our new livery before we hit the race track.

Claire Williams, Williams Racing, Deputy Team Principal
Photo: Ed Scott, edited by Decalspotters

Williams Racing has already removed all of ROKiT’s presence in their social media and website, hinting at the complete removal of rocket red from its palette.

Consequently, the team has lost a total 5 brands, meaning 12 decals have been removed from the current car.

The team is yet to hit the road officially, as the scheduled season opener a Melbourne was cancelled before the first practice session due to the global pandemic.

The split is, most likely, resultant of a mutual disagreement rather than monetary difficulties from each party, as is usually the case.

In April, Williams had appointed London-based sport and entertainment agency 1920 Worldwide to help develop and sell a new commercial programme, which the team hopes will help them move along the divorce.

ROKiT are set to continue its other motorsport partnerships, namely with The Race Esport Series, Venturi Racing, W Series, Nic Hamilton, Tatiana Calderon and Alexis DeJoris.

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