Start, Silverstone, 2018

Liberty Media criticised by promoters of 16 F1 races

2019 F1 season

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Formula 1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media has been criticised for its handling of the sport by promoters of most of this year’s races.

The Formula One Promoters Association, which describes itself as “representatives of 16 grands prix”, issued a statement critical of Liberty after meeting its senior representatives in London on Monday.

Among FOPA’s concerns is the sport’s move away from free-to-air broadcasting. This year the UK will become the latest in a series of countries to lose live free-to-air coverage of the sport. The sport’s previous owners awarded pay-TV channel Sky exclusive live broadcast rights to every round aside from the British Grand Prix.

“It is not in the long term interest of the sport that fans lose free access to content and broadcasting,” said FOPA in its statement.

It also challenged Liberty’s rate of progress in developing Formula 1. “There is a lack of clarity on new initiatives in F1 and a lack of engagement with promoters on their implementation,” said the statement.

FOPA warned Liberty not to undermine existing races by adding new rounds to the calendar. This appears to be a thinly-veiled criticism of Liberty’s courting of Miami to host a second US round of the championship by offering it a cut-price deal.

David Coulthard, Red Bull, Vietnam, 2018
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“New races should not be introduced to the detriment of existing events although the association is encouraged by the alternative business models being offered to prospective events,” it said.

“As we enter a new season of the sport that we have promoted for many decades, the promoters seek a more collaborative approach to the development of the championship and the opportunity to offer their experience and expertise in a spirit of partnership with Formula 1 and the FIA,” the statement concluded.

FOPA is chaired by Stuart Pringle, the managing director of Silverstone, which hosts the British Grand Prix. It is one of five rounds on this year’s schedule which does not have a contract to appear on the 2020 F1 calendar, having triggered a break clause in its current deal in 2017.

Update 08:41: RaceFans has confirmed the 16 races represented by FOPA are as follows: Australia (Melbourne), Azerbaijan (Baku), Spain (Catalunya), Canada (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve), China (Shanghai) – not present at meeting, France (Paul Ricard), Austria (Red Bull Ring) – represented by Hungary at meeting, Great Britain (Silverstone), Germany (Hockenheimring), Hungary (Hungaroring), Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps), Italy (Monza), Singapore, Mexico (Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez), USA (Circuit of the Americas) and Brazil (Interlagos). The five races not represented (excluding newcomer Vietnam) are: Bahrain, Monaco, Russia (Sochi), Japan (Suzuka), Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina).

Why are F1’s promoters unhappy? Read our analysis of how they view Liberty Media’s changes to the sport.

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29 comments on “Liberty Media criticised by promoters of 16 F1 races”

  1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    29th January 2019, 7:46

    Sorry but I really do not understand why FOPA is complaining about Liberty.
    * Slow introducing new promoting initiatives – what did Bernie introduce or do to promote F1 in the last 10 years?
    * Stop introducing new races – how is that any different than what Bernie did. Certainly Bernie didn’t pre-inform anyone nor would he listen to any complaints from other race promoters
    * Stop moving F1 broadcasting behind pay wall – so far Liberty didn’t do that – that is all still what Bernie did. Bernie saw it as more revenue and in fairness F1 is certainly not the only sport to disappear behind pay TV.

    I am not saying that the complains itself are not valid I just don’t get why FOPA is now complaining about Liberty while for what I have seen/read so far Liberty is doing a better job for race promoters and F1 than Bernie did in the last 10 years.

    PS Notice that I say last 10 years, because the first 30 years of Bernie reign he made F1, made it big and his contribution was massive. The last 10 years however it was ALL about him and CVC making money.

    1. @jelle-van-der-meer I guess they see Liberty as more vulnerable yet willing to discuss. In the old, when you didn’t agree with Bernie, there was no discussion, it was the end of it, and off you went.

    2. It could be just that they have reached the end of their tether. I honestly can’t see F1 lasting more than a few years. Liberty bought an unsustainable product. Bernie had already done all the damage and converted F1 into a giant pyramid scheme where He and CVC were the only beneficiaries. Now Liberty have to somehow make money while everything around them crumbles. We have teams that can’t stay afloat, tracks that can’t make money no matter how many people they sell tickets too and sponsors unwilling to pay money due to viewership figures dropping because F1 is behind paywalls. For a sport like this to succeed everyone has to benefit from the success. That is not to say I do not think Ferrari, Mercedes, Williams etc will not be racing each other in the future, I just think they will split off and form their own F1 like series and Liberty will be left without any teams, tracks and viewers…

      1. I must read this same comment every week from some well meaning but fact lite individual. Pre online commenting, you’d get someone announcing its demise at the same intervals. F1 is the only game in town and nobody is forgetting what happened with champ & indy cars 20 years ago.

        Its dangerous having manufacturers wag the dog but cash greedy teams are quite happy to sell their soul for a fist full of gold. If the manufacturers leave, which they will, it will survive. budgets will reduce and teams like Force India will get their reward.

        1. Agreed Tony.

          It’s far from a demise scenario, and what are at, year 2 of turnaround plan.

          Short term-ism is what damages good products and companies.

          1. What turnaround plan? It looks like Liberty are trying to sell at least part of their stake in F1 and have not made any money yet as far as I know. Tracks are struggling to make money, teams can not attract good sponsorship and viewers are leaving. They are relying on countries with dubious leaders (Notoriously unreliable) that are currently willing to pay to host the races to boost their credibility while traditional tracks are struggling to survive. What exists now is an unsustainable business model that is eventually going to collapse. I hope it does not and I hope it finds ways to get out of the pay tv contracts but I am no holding my breath.

          2. Lee1, do you think the leaders of the USA and Vietnam are more dubious than the people Bernie was signing deals with? Or did I misunderstand your point?

      2. I also reject the idea that F1 will cease to exist, but I think the rest of Lee’s post is pretty valid.

        I don’t hear a lot of people voicing the opinion that I hold, namely, that Liberty Media should just STOP listening to all of these interest groups (owners, teams, the FIA, race promoters, and maybe even fans) and come up with a rational business plan that will turn a profit for its stockholders. You simply cannot please ALL of the people ALL of the time. You can’t even please all of the fans because they want different things. Some want an exclusive technological showplace where the drivers are an afterthought. Some don’t care HOW ridiculously expensive F1 becomes. Remember, there was a time when teams operating on a shoestring had enough wiggle room within the regulations to come up with an innovation that let them compete with the reigning power teams. Not anymore. HaasF1 has come closest to doing this, and they are constantly harassed by detractors saying they are illegitimate.

        I’m not here for the spectacle. I’m not here because my blood is red because I am a diehard Ferrari fan. I am not any driver’s fanboy. I don’t care how much caviar and champagne get consumed in the paddock by “celebrities” I have never heard of who know absolutely nothing about auto racing. If you want to have fireworks and an aerial flyby, that’s fine by me because it costs nothing.

        What I AM here for is competitive racing. Close racing. Overtaking. People driving on the hairy edge and doing amazing things with a race car. I’m sorry. I really, really am sorry. I’m sorry because great racing is down to the drivers, NOT the cars, and so many F1 fans seem to be all about the cars and wanting only one or two teams to be on the podium. For great racing to happen, the cars have to be more evenly matched than they are now. Working together, Liberty Media and the FIA could make that happen. F1 is all about the FORMULA, and the formula can change. In fact, it has to change or you get the present stagnation.

        Back to my original point: There are enough smart business people out there and enough people who understand F1 racing that Liberty Media could come up with a rational plan for stabilizing the business, insuring profitability, and keeping it healthy on a long-term basis. However, if they keep caving to the OEMs and the big teams, then the promoters, and then someone else they will never succeed in implementing any plan. Every time the wind blows, it blows from a slightly different direction, and it is as if Liberty Media has no compass.

        When Liberty bought F1 (and don’t tell me they don’t own it and control its destiny), I was optimistic that we would be seeing the end of shortsighted deals that did nothing but enrich Bernie and his cronies. I knew it would be 2021 before any really fundamental changes could be made, but that gave them years to come up with a rational business plan. Unfortunately, I have little or no confidence that Liberty Media will turn F1 around and straighten it out because they are not managing the sport. The sport and all of its greedy, self-centered players are running Liberty Media for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the sport. Yes, these people will always be driven by self-interest, but it it Liberty’s job to control and manage all of these destructive impulses.

        When people talk about starting a breakaway series, I always wonder what would be different or better about it? If it was clear what we needed to do to fix F1, we could do it in 2021 if Liberty had the guts and determination to do it. I used to laugh to myself when Ferrari would threaten to leave. What would they do? Start a series with spec Ferrari engines for all competitors? Does Mercedes want to start a series to compete with F1 and deal with all the headaches and give its own competitors a chance to enter and beat them on the track? No, they don’t.

        The only thing that will ever be F1 is F1. The only entity that can fix it is Liberty Media. If Liberty Media does not make fundamental changes, F1 will not die out. It will just keep lurching along forever like the zombie it currently is.

    3. I believe Italians lost their Free to Air broadcasting of F1 races last year, If so, that was definitely Liberty Media’s undertaking.

      1. Sky also takes full control only this year @drycrust but that was still based on deals signed by Bernie. I am pretty sure the Sky Italy deal was also a Bernie one.

  2. I thought most of the current tv licensing deals were done by Bernie before Liberty took over and their plan is to offer free to air in most countries when those agreements expire?

    1. It’s actually even better than that, no? They’re aiming to provide online streaming when they run out. Although their progress on this has not been hiccup free, to say the least. And it’s not free, but from what I hear on here people (myself included) find the fee very reasonable for the proposed content.

      Bernie didn’t even know what the internet was. So I guess this, and the relaxed social media rulings, go some way towards answering FOPA’s concerns regarding “new initiatives in F1”. But that’s just my take.

  3. I concur. The part about broadcasting behind a pay wall is completely unfair, it has nothing to do with what Liberty has done or is doing. The rest sounds like self-interested whining. Of course it is not in the interest of existing race promoters that new races are added to the calendar. Maybe the real aim of that statement is to prepare for the bargaining for discounts.

    1. Even adding more races might not be bad for a race, as in the case of the USA, if it means F1 gets bigger share of attention from American audiences, it might lift up every race in North America, including Mexico and Canada. Similar argument might be made for China, I’d guess.

      1. @bosyber – agreed, wrt USA. There’s a very strong – and different – motorsport scene there as well, and it would only benefit F1 to showcase F1 there and get more of them following the sport.

        China, hmm, I don’t think they have that active a motorsport scene (I could be embarrassingly wrong, however!), so I’m not that excited at the prospect of a second race there. Speaking selfishly, I’d rather see a GP back in India (although that’s more on the Indian government than Liberty). That would give them a foothold in two billion-plus countries.

  4. Man, Liberty just can’t seem to catch a break.

    “There is a lack of clarity on new initiatives in F1 and a lack of engagement with promoters on their implementation,” said the statement.

    “… although the association is encouraged by the alternative business models being offered to prospective events,” it said.

    If the lack of engagement about initiatives is about the racing, then I honestly wonder why the promoters need to be involved.

    On the other hand, if the initiatives are about circuit contracts, then which is it, FOPA? If you’re renegotiating, I’m sure Liberty will be happy to discuss “Liberty terms of alternative business models” as opposed to “Bernie terms of ‘take it or leave it'”. If you’re not yet ready for a contract extension, that’s tough luck until the contract comes up for renewal or a break clause is activated.

    That said, I’m sure Liberty will also be looking to maximize its margin, so if there is a competing venue in the same country/continent willing to woo Liberty, then FOPA’s grouse ought to be with that circuit/city.

    I’d say Liberty are doing with venues what they should also be doing with teams – be more aggressive, draw lines in the sand, and give up the whole “we’re all friends here” consensus-driven approach.

  5. Great power play. With Liberty move on the discount rate for all new non-FOPA venue and having less of FOPA member tracks, I can see why need to voice their concern of current state of F1. No matter what the issues are. FOPA had to pressing Liberty more before there is no need of FOPA in F1.

  6. Perhaps Bernie’s found his new voice (and last straw of power).

  7. Liberty are rubbish.

  8. These problems are Bernie’s fault and not Liberty’s. I think they should have spoken up then but maybe the see Liberty as a soft target?
    Good to see them back free to air though

  9. Don’t worry. I’ve read that Liberty may sell some or all of their F1 holdings so Bernie may be coming back.

    1. It’s all part of re-financing, not an exit strategy. Might not be going as fast (privately) as they want but they would never have expected to resolve all the issues in 2 years.

    2. Hm, aren’t many of these track representatives still buddies of Bernie? So having Bernie – friendly voices mentioning a “buy back at a fraction of the price” while more or less at the same time the tracks critisize Liberty – I can easily see Bernie thinking up this trick to try and either get one over on Liberty or maybe even seriously try and buy the sport back.

      But yeah, it really does take a bit longer than 2 years to even get things moving, especially with all the long term deals signed off in BE’s last year or so.

  10. I read this differently to most everyone else.

    With so many circuits out of contract this year and next I read this as a push to have a more cooperative and sustainable business plan, not to do a Bernie and squeeze until the pips squeak, look to bringing in new fans ( free to air TV is a good way of getting interest to grow) and remember new circuits are fine of themselves but not the current heart of the sport.

    Pity it wasn’t written better, its sounds ‘challenging’ but some business people see that as essential if they are to be taken seriously, although some of the best ever were soft spoken and polite but just very smart and even more determined.

  11. “stop introducing new races instead of old ones”, said the Baku promoters. I don’t understand any of this, sorry, maybe I didn’t pay too much attention.

  12. Which races don’t have a contract beyond 2019?
    Could the last year currently contracted be added to the update that lists all the venues?

    Also, what’s the history of FOPA? I don’t think I’d ever heard of them before this.

  13. As Bernie owns Paul Ricard he’s effectively whinging about himself.

    1. Bernies ex wife is owning the circuit although I wouldn’t be surprised if he is giving advice.

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