After several months of speculation, Formula 1 has a new owner: the US media and entertainment group Liberty Media, who bought 35,1 percent of the category's shares from the holding company CVC Capital Partners for $ 4.400 billion. to which was added the assumption of debts of a similar value.
The merger will take place in two phases. Initially, John Malone's media group will control 18,7% of the capital after disbursing 1.100 billion. To pay them, investments in Viacom and Live Nation Entertainment will be released. The second step needs shareholder approval because it requires the issuance of new shares that will be used by its live events division to complete the takeover worth another $ 3.300 billion. The operation will be completed at the beginning of 2017. At that time it would also assume the 4.100 million of debt. Once the handover is complete, the company will be renamed Formula One Group. But how will this change the future of motorsport's top flight?
Ten years ago the Englishman Bernie Ecclestone, commercial head of the category, decided to take an important step by selling a large part of his shares to the CVC investment fund for 1.700 billion dollars. From there, the objective of the entrepreneur and the venture capital firm was to generate profits based on charging huge fees to the owners of the circuits with direct payments to Formula One Management. For the routes that were not financed by the State, this situation was a problem that has grown in recent years since their only income comes from the sale of tickets. It is that all the money from static advertising and marketing goes to the coffers of Formula 1. Also that of television contracts whose money is distributed among the teams based on their location in the Constructors' championship.
The fund, however, began to reduce its position in 2012 (from 63% of the shares to 35,1%) after failing its plan to take the company public in Singapore. The placement was thwarted by instability in financial markets and Ecclestone's legal problems with the German prosecution for bribery and corruption, charges he avoided after paying a fine of 74 million euros. But caution did not prevent further making money. So much so that there are contracts that guarantee Formula 1 earnings of 9.300 billion dollars in the next decade.
For the Malone corporation, the category has enormous potential and to further increase profits it is willing to make some modifications in the business model, something unthinkable during CVC's management despite the drop in audiences year after year (in the the category currently has more than 400 million viewers worldwide). The new course was defined in the first words of Chase Carey, former vice president of 21th Century Fox and former CEO of Fox and who was appointed as head of Formula One Group.
“We want to improve the distribution of content, especially in digital format to attract a younger audience; evolve the racing calendar and expand the range of partners and sponsors. Our experience in live events and digital monitoring makes us think that the F-1 can be bigger than ever. There is increasing demand from advertisers who want to access the category, a premium sport with very strong points such as the promotion of races, transmission and advertising ”, admitted Carey, who in a first stage will have Ecclestone himself as general director of the brand new company.
“The goal is to take the category to the next level alongside Bernie, who has been extremely successful in promoting for decades. We have the opportunity to grow and develop this sport for the benefit of the fans and our shareholders ”, he added.
Something that Carey also made very clear is that Liberty Media will not try to “Americanize” Formula 1. “We did not carry out this movement for the United States ... The United States is an opportunity and I think we can do a lot in the country, but more in the long term. that short. Realistically, F-1 is about a global sport and we are not going to try to Americanize it. We have great respect for the European founders of it. Europe is of critical importance to us ”, he assured.
Under this new management, the teams that participate in the specialty will also have the possibility of investing, something they always wanted to do, but which was vetoed by the Ecclestone-CVC duo. Although it is still unknown how they will be able to make that investment, Carey considers the teams as important players in the world of Formula 1 and considered it positive that many are interested in participating in the business in a more active way. "We believe that there is real growth in Formula 1 and that everyone, including teams, would benefit from this growth," admitted the executive.
This possibility would allow those teams with fewer resources to have another perspective on their future. At least that's what Bob Fernley, deputy director of Force India, thinks. “The philosophy of American sports franchises is to try to maintain fairness and competition as much as possible. So I suppose that, as an American company with a good knowledge of sports franchises, this will be one of the main objectives of Liberty Media to create a level playing field, "said Fernley, who admitted that two years ago he proposed to do something similar to the CVC, but never took it into account ...
In the atmosphere, the arrival of Liberty Media was well received. “We all know that something had to be done to take the sport to a higher level. Whoever the new investor is, it really can't be much worse, ”commented former German driver Hans-Joachim Stuck. While Dieter Zetsche, president of Mercedes, assured that this alliance has "more opportunities than risks" and added that it is expected that with this movement "the F-1 will gain a greater presence in social networks and interaction with its followers."
Even the International Automobile Federation joined in welcoming the new owner of the destinations of its main championship. "While it remains to be seen how this acquisition will influence the promotion of Formula 1, we welcome this long-term investment from a company with such a significant portfolio in sports, media and entertainment," admitted Jean Todt, President of the FIA, in a statement. "As the governing body of motorsport, we recognize Liberty Media's great experience in these areas and we look forward to working in close alliance in the future to continue developing the F-1 and bringing it to new generations of motorsport fans around the world." added the French. In the same statement, the governing body made it clear that it was not part of the negotiations for the sale and indicated that it awaits further information on the transfer.
For Todt, the management of LM in motor sport is not unknown since Malone has participation, through the Discovery television channel, of Formula E, the category of single-wheel drives with electric motors that the FIA itself sponsors and that will have the Argentine José María López among its protagonists in the 2016/2017 tournament.
The new owner of Formula 1 seems to have more positive points than negative ones. Perhaps it is that breath of fresh air that was so much needed to revitalize it and show why it is still the Maximum.
Note that I wrote for www.corsaonline.com.ar.