Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Melbourne, 2016

Hamilton received ‘stack of legal letters’ from Ecclestone over social media use

2019 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton was sent a series of legal demands by Bernie Ecclestone over his use of social media prior to Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport.

The multiple champion showed a “stack” of the letters to the sport’s new owners Liberty Media according to F1’s head of digital Frank Arthofer. Hamilton, who repeatedly criticised the restrictions Ecclestone placed on drivers using social media, presented the letters to F1’s managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches, Arthofer revealed at the SportsPro OTT summit.

“A great story that Sean Branches, who’s my boss and runs the business at F1 tells, is [about] when Liberty bought the business [and] one of his first meetings was a lunch with Lewis Hamilton,” said Arthofer.

“Lewis brought with him to that lunch a stack of ‘cease and desist’ letters from Bernie Ecclestone because Lewis was taking clips of his onboards and posting them on his Instagram channel. And Lewis Hamilton, as I’m sure most of the audience knows, is arguably the biggest star in the history of the sport and has a huge crossover potential across urban culture, music, lifestyle.”

Hamilton called on Formula 1 to loosen its social media restrictions at the beginning of 2017. Liberty Media relaxed some restrictions on posting material from F1 events a few days later.

“Working with the drivers and the teams in a more collaborative way to build the sport we think benefits not just Formula 1 but our partners, be that sponsors, broadcast partners and promoters,” said Arthofer. “[It] is a really, really important component of the strategy and probably something we’re still in the early stages of doing well.”

Ecclestone’s refusal to invest in developing Formula 1’s digital presence presented Liberty Media with a clear opportunity to raise the sport’s profile, said Arthofer.

“F1 as of January 2017 was a 66-year-old business and a terrific brand, built largely by Bernie Ecclestone as the owner and proprietor of the business for for 40-odd years,” he said.

“The Liberty thesis for buying F1 was best summed up in three areas. First it’s a global asset, which is an opportunity and a challenge, certainly, but I think in a world in which growth areas for many players and participants along the value chain is increasingly becoming a global proposition, the feeling was that there was an untapped opportunity and that it was well-situated for the future of the business.

“The second is the increasing value of live sport in the marketplace and I think that applies in a media context, but also an experiential context. We race in 21 countries, 21 grands prix and I think the value that’s accruing in live experiences in the modern economy is increasing.

“The third component was to a degree the areas of focus that Bernie had. I think he did a terrific job monetising the businesses – it’s a $2 billion dollar revenue business – but equally, didn’t invest for the future. He probably didn’t invest in areas like digital, which aren’t necessarily as creative from a pure profit potential in the near-term, but have long-term potential.

“There’s an old joke that Bernie signs the back of cheques, not the front. The business was quite lean when we took over and we’ve invested in it in order to build long-term asset value.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “Hamilton received ‘stack of legal letters’ from Ecclestone over social media use”

  1. These stories every now and then are important to drive home the message of the bad job Bernie was doing in these last years. Whenever I hear people complaining about Liberty, I’m always remembered that some 5 years ago F1 didn’t even have a YouTube channel or a Facebook page. That is staggering for a global sport! Liberty may not be perfect, but they are doing a much better job running F1 than Bernie.

    1. That depensa which part of Bernie’s era you are analysisngy. The last few years where horrible but the guy made a hell of a job during his whole career. He didn’t embrace the internet/social media things very well but that can only be interpreted as a guy running a business for too long.

      1. Because your third sentence was perfect one can only imagine what happened in the first one. Did you miss a chicane? Were you pushed off the track? -)

        1. @danmar LOL sometimes i forget to change the language on my phone. And it tries to autocorrect to spanish. So “depends” turns into “despensa” which i tried to correct but failed!

          My older phone used to change the language automatically. This one doesn’t and it sucks! :P

    2. Bernie was ALWAYS bad for the sport, not just in the later years. F1 was bigger than the NBA and NFL(combined) when he took over, now the worst nba and NFL teams are sold for over a billion, while Williams is on the brink of bankruptcy couldn’t even be sold for the value of their equipment. Bernie was a huge parasite on F1 and held it back immensely.

      1. No it wasn’t. And even now I don’t think you’ll find many people either in the paddock or outside of it who would agree with you. Utter rubbish

        1. @ian dearing

          Over this last weekend, Bernie’s daughter had £50m in jewellery stolen from her safe. You know who paid it?

          Only one person made a lot money out of F1 when Bernie was running it. He and his family have billions. Not one team owner has made anything like that out of the sport. His supporters – if there are any – have lived off the crumbs from his table.

          1. And he made most of the team bosses millionaires; and he offered them a slice of the pie on a few occasions, but they didnt want the risks that came with it. So he took the risk and he got the biggest reward. And despite Mosley and Stewart arguing over the safety badge of honour, he was the guy who filled his trucks with medical supplies for each track visit, and you want to give him no credit for bringing Sid in; against a lot of opposition?

        2. Ian dearing, Bernie started organizing F1 on the basis of him taking 50% of total revenue after expenses, the other 50% to be divided between the 13 teams who had to finance building the cars and running their team out of this tiny slice of the pie (under 4%). You have to give Bernie credit for salesmanship, not morality. Apart from Bernie promising the teams that they would not earn less than they had the previous year, when teams negotiated individually with track owners, he risked and spent none of his own money. I can only think that the teams believed that they would be able to negotiate a bigger slice of the pie at contract renewal, none of them thought that they would end up working for Bernie rather than Bernie working for them.

          Shades of @prisoner-monkeys, is that you Ian ?

          1. Oh no! Those poor innocent team bosses being taken advantage of. Being dragged out of their sheds into massive state of the art factories and forced to fly in their private jets. Poor Frank and Ron; and those gullible chaps at Ferrari. Coerced into selling each other out against their will just to get their greasy mitts on a few more dollars. Didn’t anyone hear their cries for help?

      2. No. Wrong. Bernie was many things but he did a fantastic job building F1. Basketball and US football are minority spectator sports worldwide. Only in the yoo- Ess- Aye are they big. The NFL, for instance, is the only place in the world where you can see first class, professional american football. You want to watch American football (god knows why you would but hey…) you have to watch the NFL. It garners minority popularity worldwide but all of that popularity is focused on 1 League. The NFL, and to a lesset extent the NBA, have a monopoly of their sport because they are the only places to see that sport.
        Bernie took a worldwide sporting series that was considered quite worthless when he bought it, into a thriving 3.3 billion POUND business. It was time for him to leave but let’s be real about what he actually did.

        1. DeanR, Bernie foresaw, or more likely, got lucky when technology allowed live-TV broadcasting to go from local to world-wide, F1 was hugely popular worldwide even before Bernie took over the organization and monetising of the sport.

    3. DAE remember Bernie stating that F1 will NEVER broadcast in HD? Those were(n’t) the days.

    4. I suppose that’s interesting. To be honest I still don’t know they had or have much interest in either a F1 Facebook or YouTube channel.

      Hasn’t altered my interest in the sport.

  2. I think the more significant fact is that one of the first meetings they had on buying the sport was with Hamilton.

    1. Why wouldn’t you meet with all significant individuals within the sport after buying it? I don’t think “one of the first” means anything like they went to Hamilton before team bosses. Just that he made the list of “first meetings” they held to set the agenda of their new ownership.

    2. I’m sure they had meetings with all of the team owners BEFORE buying the commercial rights, when they were still deciding what to do and how. After the deal is done they can move on to people not directly involved in running the sport.

  3. Very interesting story, and one that shows – again – how Bernie was still living in the wrong century.

    F1’s online and social media footprint has definitely had an uptick since Liberty arrived on the scene.

    1. It also might explain some of Liberty’s motivation for buying what essentially was a dead duck for such an exorbitant price.

      They fell for the “there’s no social media presence so it’s way undervalued” and thought that by improving that they’d make more money hand over fist. I’m not convinced its done all that much to their bottom line.

      1. You do realize that Liberty’s stock value is up 50% since they purchased F1? I think they’re getting rewarded nicely.

  4. Bernie was too much in the future with Digital TV and in medieval ages with social media…

  5. Good riddance to Bernie!

  6. Invest in digital? I still want my money back for F1 tv……. Didnt use it 1x all season cause worst app and stream ever.

  7. Jonathan Parkin
    16th December 2019, 17:29

    I’ll personally never forgive Bernie for his predjudice towards Silverstone for all those years. Particularly in 2000 when the British GP was given the fourth race slot against all common sense and then grumbled so much about signage I think it was one senior manager resigned

  8. Can Hamilton be any more awesome? If I interpreted right, he single-handeldy saved the sport social media-wise.

    1. +1

      He is such a true ambassador of the sport, sportsmanship and entrepreneurialism and still has the capacity to drive circles around his peers.

  9. F1s survival into the 21st century is more reliant on how they present themselves to a new audience than the regulations they place on design, construction or costs in my opinion.

  10. Well, someone had to pay for his daughters bling…

  11. Bernie Ecclestone contributed more to F1 than many would give him credit for, but he left at the right time. Was Bernie ruthless? Ofcourse he was, but he had to be and that is why he was so successful and why the sport prospered. However, Bernie focused on what he knew best and what he was comfortable with.
    The modern age of social media is a huge opportunity to advertise your brand, no matter what it is you are selling. Ecclestone chose to ignore that, which was in my opinion a mistake. Most likely he did not like having his dominance challenged by outside factors, having ruled with an iron rod for so long. Not allowing people to show ten year old races on YouTube was something that rankled me, and that policy in recent years has definitely been relaxed.
    In short, I am happy with the direction Liberty Media are taking the sport.

    1. Ecclestone did nothing but bad to F1 (the sport) the last decade of his reign. He did al lot for FOM in the sense of short term monitizing (ie bleeding third parties dry until they were done and then move top the next victim).

      That money would have been better spent on the sport itself. Better tracks, beter infrastructure, open air viewing etc etc.

  12. Bernie Ecclestone was and is a despicable human being.

    This is the guy who cosied up to Vladimir Putin and suggested that he should be running the West. The same guy who stated that women, like all domestic appliances, should be dressed in white and permanently in the kitchen.

    Whether or not he had any positive influence on F1, the sport is so much better off without him.

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