Liberty might just be about to admit defeat in their battle to transform Formula 1 and offload at least part of their stake in the sport a mere three years after they acquired it according to a report on www.johnwallstreet.com.
The opportunity to exploit Formula 1’s untapped territories, growing the sport in America, boost its digital revenue, attracting new sponsors and a much younger and more diverse fanbase was enough to persuade Liberty to fork out around $8bn in January 2017.
But with the addition of just one new Grand Prix (Vietnam – on the calendar from 2020), the failure to convince Miami they should host a second US Grand Prix, digital revenues remaining at a pitifully low 0.06% of total revenue last year, no new sponsors of note and a struggle to attract younger fans to the sport, Liberty have fallen short in every key area, and may be about to cut their losses.
From a fans’ perspective, very little of substance has changed since Liberty’s arrival, despite their insistence to the contrary.
Different (not better, just different) branding, a grandiose theme tune, slightly adjusted start-times, more options for hospitality at a Grand Prix weekend (including the bizarre practice of loading everyone from the Paddock club onto the back of a truck between glasses of Moet and parading them round the circuit to the non-plussed masses), and a few blokes dressed up as cartoon versions of the drivers wandering round the public areas amount to sticking plasters being used to treat a broken leg.
While Liberty have spent the past 12 or 18 months publicly back slapping and high fiving each other on a job well done, Mercedes have continued their domination winning every title available in the v6 turbo-hybrid era, team budgets have reached an all-time high, the gap between haves and the have-nots has grown to such an extent that we effectively have a Class B (from which no driver has won a Grand Prix for seven years), and the racing has become so stale that emergency measures have been brought in to re-introduce overtaking.
Whether or not Liberty underestimated the job ahead of them, I’m not sure.
Perhaps they saw little old Bernie Ecclestone and the way he was able to choreograph the whole thing, and supposed that if he could do it, surely they could too.
Or maybe they’d been convinced that Bernie was what was holding back Formula 1 and that once he’d shuffled off all of these markets would suddenly open up for them and from then on it’d be a cakewalk.
Little did they know that the power balance in Formula 1 is so precarious, and there are so many interested parties that it takes an expert puppet master to hold it all together – and there was nobody better at this than Bernie Ecclestone.
If Liberty is looking to offload some or all of its stake in F1, I’d put money on the now 88 year old Bernie Ecclestone sniffing around, looking to buy back his share, most likely for a fraction of the price he sold it for.