It’s not every day you switch on your TV or open your web browser, to discover one of the world’s biggest sporting series has been taken over by new owners. This week, such an occasion took place as Liberty Media bought Formula 1, for just over six billion pounds. It had been well rumoured among F1 regulars before the official confirmation came through late on Wednesday night. The deal itself is very interesting and exciting for the future of the sport.
Now owned by a media corporation, Formula 1 will finally move in line with the times. It will be embracing new mediums such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the many other social media platforms out there. Chase Carey the new chairman of the Formula 1 has said positive changes will be made, allowing the sport to grow. He said in a statement on the evening of the announcement, “I greatly admire Formula 1 as a unique global sports entertainment franchise attracting hundreds of millions of fans each season from all around the world. I see great opportunity to help Formula 1 continue to develop and prosper for the benefit of the sport, fans, teams and investors alike.”
It has also been confirmed that teams will have the opportunity to invest and add further value. This is a wonderful idea and a real positive for the future. This had been offered before in the 1970s when Bernie was just getting the sport into order. But back then, there was really nothing to invest in. Formula 1 looked very different back then, it wasn’t the business like it is today. I have seen some fans criticize this on twitter saying that it will be a way for the teams to bend the rules to suit them. This will absolutely not be the case. Liberty Media has a genuine interest for the sport to thrive and improve.
This also gives teams that do invest, the opportunity to earn a return from their investment. Making money from Formula 1, without the teams there wouldn’t be a sport at all. It is a very refreshing comment from Mr Carey to make, he wants the teams to not only participate, but to help build up the sports global success using their own fan base. It has been a deal welcomed by the teams. Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing told Sky News, “Liberty are probably the best buyers for F1. The prospects with the expertise they have, particularly on digital platforms, social platforms and the US market are all areas that F1 has been historically weak in. It’s a new era that we’re moving into and it’s crucial that those areas are capitalised and maximised for F1 to reach a broader spectrum of fans.”
The question many people will be asking is what difference will it actually make? Well it’s hard to tell that right now, but there is some real potential for big, positive changes ahead. Firstly and I think most exciting of all, is the fans access to the sport. Television agreements have been in the headlines lately with Sky Sports agreeing an exclusive deal from 2019, taking Formula 1 away from free to air television in the UK for the first time. But the way I see it, this surely is the future. For example, many of us enjoy entertainment from companies such as Amazon Prime, or Netflix. These are internet streaming services we pay for, this is the future of television. Downloading apps to our tablets, smart phones and smart TV’s. So a Formula 1 Live streaming app in the future? Perhaps with additional live feeds and choice of commentary? Why not? Pay for the app over a year, enjoy replays and highlights whenever you want, access twitter feeds live during the race, choose what coverage you want to enjoy. Who wouldn’t want that?
My point is with a media corporation now at the helm, this is all possible. It sounds all very fancy and perhaps unrealistic now, but I really do believe this could be the way we watch Formula 1 in the future. What Chase Carey said when this was announced was fascinating. He clearly has big plans to enhance the show, and to give fans something to enjoy and remember. “It’s about building the live experience at these races, which are tremendous events in many ways, one of the biggest to occur in a city and a country in which they do occur,”
“There is a tremendous opportunity to make that event much bigger, broader, and appeal to a much larger audience, to have related things throughout the week, to have other entertainment things, sport is entertainment! Unique events have clearly become more important, more special in standing out in a cluttered world, and there is an enormous opportunity for us to really make these events much bigger than today. They’re great today, but I think we can take them to another level, add all sorts of dimensions that are related to the sport, to entertaining, exciting and energising people, to everybody’s benefit.”
“There are multiple dimensions to developing the digital opportunities in Formula 1,” said Carey. “There is the marketing potential in telling the Formula 1 story, and it’s a great story with some of the most attractive stars in the world, great drivers, great teams, great brands, great technology. 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 the digital platforms are essentially becoming a part of the larger video market place. It’s creating new competition for these rights, new opportunities to exploit these rights in different ways, to take advantage of what each of the platforms has to offer.”
Of course Liberty Media have bought Formula 1 to make money, just like any investor in any business. But unlike former owner CVC, Liberty will invest time, money and expertise in improving the show, making it more of a spectacle and improving its global image. Bernie Ecclestone stays onboard as CEO which some believe to be a bad deal for the sport. But he’s run the show for more than 40 years, he’s made Formula 1 the global sport it is today. Liberty Media need his experience, he knows everything on how the business is run and operated. He is required to guide them through the negotiations, existing deals, and to introduce them to the right people. Bernie’s role remains as important as ever. But it is inevitable that one day he will have to walk away from the sport all together, leaving it in somebody else’s capable hands. That day isn’t here yet, but I don’t think it’s too far away. This is the beginning of the end of Bernie’s grip on Formula 1.
Liberty Media have talked about exploring new markets, opening Formula 1 to a bigger audience. But what about F1 in America? After all it is now owned by an American media giant. It’s difficult to tell at this very early stage, but one has to imagine that they will market Formula 1 much better than before. Advertise the fact that the greatest motorsport event is right on your doorstep, building excitement and anticipation in the area around the circuits and throughout the country. This applies not only to America but to all Grand Prix events through the season. F1 marketing has been terrible in the past, sometimes you wouldn’t even know there’s a Grand Prix in town. This has to improve and I am absolutely certain this will be one of the first changes they make.
This is a monumental change for Formula 1 and one which promises an enormous amount. The changes in the coming years are set to be vast, but changes all in the interest of the sport and the spectacle. Fans are at the heart of deal, Liberty Media have vowed to give fans what they want, exciting racing. It will take time, there will be some growing pains as we all adapt to the new ways of the new owners. But I am sure that in just a few years, we will all be thankful for this deal which finally gives Formula 1 a bright future.