In an unprecedented move, the FOPA (Formula 1 Promoters Association) made up of representatives from 16 of the 21 races on the F1 calendar have issued a statement expressing their concerns at the direction Liberty are taking Formula 1.
Having held a meeting on Monday, representatives from all but five of F1’s 21 races (those not involved being Bahrain, Russia, Abu Dhabi, China and Japan) decided to publicly detail their concerns in a press release.
The statement centres around three main concerns for promoters:
Firstly that F1’s move from free-to-air television is going to significantly reduce interest in the sport and will consequently have a knock-on effect on their ticket sales.
Secondly, that new initiatives are being conceived and executed by Liberty without the involvement of and consideration of the impact for promoters.
And lastly – seemingly prompted by the profit sharing deal that the Miami Grand Prix was offered, currently not available to other promoters – that new events are being introduced to the detriment of the existing events.
Liberty are desperate to get a second race in the US, hence the profit sharing deal that was offered to Miami to sidestep the multi-million pound fee that other tracks must pay.
Obviously, news of Miami’s sweetened deal, wasn’t well received by the rest of FOPA, many of whom have been struggling to break-even in the face of escalating fees and dwindling audiences, and who now want their own profit-sharing deals, encouraging them to stand firm when their current contracts are due for renewal.
As it stands, five of Formula 1’s more traditional venues (Germany, Spain, Britain, Italy and Mexico) are in the last year of their contracts to host a Grand Prix, whilst Vietnam has been added for 2020.
“We have all been compliant and quiet hitherto, but we have great concerns about the future health of the sport under the people who run it now.” Stuart Pringle, MD of Silverstone told the Daily Mail.
“Miami are seemingly getting a free deal. That has not gone down well with anyone, not least with the guys at Austin, Texas, who are working hard to make their race pay.”
As far as I can see it, Liberty can go one of two ways – they can do a Bernie and tell the circuits that if they don’t like what’s on the table, they can walk away and the next in a long line of countries desperate to host a Grand Prix will take their place, or they can bend to the wishes of the current promoters and work with them to come up with a different, more mutually beneficial business model.
The problem with option 1 is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a queue to join the F1 party, for reasons that have been discussed at length elsewhere.
And if Liberty cede to the wishes of the circuits, not only do they lose out financially, but they lose at least part of the control they desperately need to keep all the disparate and self-serving parts of F1 (tracks, sponsors, teams, drivers & manufacturers) working together.
It was rumoured yesterday that Liberty were planning on offloading some or all of their stake in Formula 1 having struggled to improve on any of the key areas they identified as being opportunities for growth.
It was always going to be a tough gig for whoever followed Bernie Ecclestone. I don’t think Liberty realised quite how tough.