It’s early days, but the news of Liberty Media Corporation’s purchase of CVC’s shares looks like a hugely promising step for F1. But let’s be clear – Liberty Media isn’t a fairy godmother about to wave a magic wand and make F1’s myriad ills better. Bernie Ecclestone has said that, like CVC, it isn’t a hobbyist, but rather a major global player out to make hard money. However, as a media company, it will be far more outward-looking than CVC, which was all about take and no give in order to deliver to shareholders. Evidence of Liberty’s different approach has already been seen in its intention to offer shares to the competing teams. That would be a clever way to ensure major manufacturers have a long-term commitment – a franchising system would be even better. But I’d also hope to see it negotiate a better share of the business to help smaller teams survive, reduce the cost of staging races and lower ticket prices to attract bigger audiences. We’ll see on all that.
Chase Carey, currently the executive vice chairman of 21st Century Fox, is the new chairman of F1 parent company Delta Topco, but indefatigable ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone will remain as CEO. That makes great sense – Carey is savvy, and nobody knows the sport better than Mr E himself.
Inevitably the USA, the biggest consumer market in the world, will play a much greater role. Traditionally F1 has outpriced itself there, so it will be interesting to see how Liberty addresses that big problematic issue. Will the long-held philosophy of elitism give way to more populist pricing structures and options along MotoGP lines?
The USA could easily support three races, and Ecclestone is known to have a 25-race season in mind. Carey has said he admires F1 as a unique global sports entertainment franchise, adding: “We’re excited about the opportunity to grow the sport. I want to be clear that the established markets that have been the foundation of Formula 1, with Europe in particular, are of critical importance. Building the sport in Europe, on that foundation, has to be second to none.
“But we do want to continue to take advantage of the global footprint, and we think there are growth opportunities. Those markets in the USA and Asia are ones for us to develop.”
All of that sounds promising, for sure. In the long term, Liberty owner John Malone is obviously going to have his own way of running things, but it makes sense to keep Ecclestone during the transition. He will be key to renegotiating future revenue shares with the teams and doing deals for future races.
On this issue, Carey added: “There are multiple dimensions to developing the digital opportunities. There is the marketing potential in telling the Formula 1 story, and it’s a great story! So it’s taking advantage of that and making it successful, really exciting that fan base, and using the data capabilities of digital media. No question that digital platforms are essentially becoming a part of the larger video market place.
“It’s creating new competition for these rights, and new opportunities to exploit these rights in different ways, to take advantage of what each of the platforms has to offer.”
Liberty Media president and CEO Greg Maffei spoke of wanting to be good stewards of F1, to benefit fans, teams and shareholders as the sport moves towards unlocking the largely untapped potential in areas such as social media, merchandising and global fan base satisfaction.
“We’re confident our expertise in media, entertainment, digital and live events will benefit what is already an incredibly successful business,” Maffei said.
While Carey concluded: “It’s about building the live experience at these races. There is a tremendous opportunity to make [these events]much broader, and appeal to a much larger audience, to have related things going on throughout the week, to have other entertainment – sport is entertainment!”
And if this means saying goodbye to Ecclestone (eventually) and the likes of Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, who denigrates the sport so publicly, and everybody else moving forwards together in a positive, upbeat manner, then I for one am all for this exciting new chapter.