Why Liberty believe Ecclestone’s ‘old rich white guy’ economic model was holding F1 back

2022 F1 season

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Formula 1 is enjoying rapid growth in popularity because it has moved away from an economic model which targeted older, wealthier fans, according to the president of its owner, Liberty Media.

Greg Maffei was responding to criticism from former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone who has claimed the sport has become too ‘Americanised’ since Liberty bought it from CVC Capital Partners in 2016.

“Bernie has to say something,” Maffei told Bloomberg. “That’s how he operates.”

Ecclestone began his takeover of F1 in the seventies and turned it into a global sports brand which Liberty bought for $8 billion. Maffei said the sport had stagnated in its latter years under Ecclestone.

“Bernie deserves massive credit for building the sport,” he said. “He built an enormous juggernaut.

“We’ve done a lot to try and open the sport up” – Maffei
“But the reality is, it didn’t move forward, in our judgement, over the last few years and the audience has stalled. Bernie’s line was ‘I like old rich white guys to pay for the sport’.

“Our view has been that there’s an opportunity to be much broader, to bring in gender diversity, to bring in age diversity. And I think that’s worked out well. And I’m willing to take Bernie’s criticism.”

The sport is showing signs of having finally captured interest in the American market it has long coveted. Maffei said around 300,000 fans attended last weekend’s event in Miami and potential exists for far more to be accommodated in future.

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“Frankly our partners constrained the audience, constrained the attendance because they want to make sure they got it right in the first year,” he said. “I suspect it’ll be bigger in future years. There clearly was more demand.

“Now we’ve launched Las Vegas to a lot of acclaim, which will start in November ’23.”

Miami Grand Prix attracted 300,000 fans over three days
Liberty Media been more willing than Ecclestone to spend money on F1 and broaden its appeal to new audiences, said Maffei.

“We’ve invested. Maybe it helps that we are an American company, but we’ve invested the time in building a great experience.

“We’ve done a lot to try and open the sport up. It used to be a fairly closed sport, very little containment, very little product was released. Now we’re the fastest growing sport on social media.

“We’ve had fan experiences. For example, a few years back we had the cars drive through Trafalgar Square and attract 100,000 people to come see it in London. Of course, the drivers were supposed to just drive around passively around Nelson[‘s column] and they all did doughnuts, so that kind of stuff is natural and what you want to see.

“We’ve seen obviously the growth of things by opening up like the Netflix Drive to Survive series has caused us to expand the audience. All of those things have been a big positive.”

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In 2014 Ecclestone famously remarked he was uninterested in attracting young fans because they were unlikely to buy products advertised by F1 sponsors such as Rolex. Maffei said he was pleased to see the sport is beginning to attract younger viewers.

Report: Young fans are irrelevant, women criticise too much and Ferrari has lost popularity, claims Ecclestone
“At a time when other sports are ageing, we can show by surveys that we’ve not only increased the gender, we’ve brought down the average age of our audience in three years by four years, which is a huge accomplishment.

“We’re seeing massive increases in the viewership here in the United States, up 50% year over year, and then again another 20% this year. So in a time when a lot of sports, because of the changing nature of sports on television, are having declines, we’re having quite the opposite.”

Some have expressed concern that Liberty’s pursuit of more races in America – Las Vegas will be its third – will come at the expense of traditional European venues. However Lewis Hamilton believes there is value to going to new venues and attracting fans from more diverse backgrounds.

“I’m a bit old school. Of course I love the history, particularly in certain circuits.

“But the older I get, the more I realise it’s about the people. We could go to the middle of nowhere that has very few people, not great accommodation, not great community and for us, as individuals, driving on a track that’s historic is cool. But it’s about the people.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
F1 should go to places where it has an impact, says Hamilton
“We’ve experienced with pandemic no one being there and that’s just no atmosphere. It was like a test day. It was not enjoyable. Now we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people turn up to the race, energised, excited, keen to learn more.

“So I think the fans are at the heart of what this sport is about, they create it. So for me, it’s, I think, being in cities where we can really engage in communities and actually also have an impact.

“I love the Nurburgring, for example, but there’s not a diverse community there. We’re not actually impacting the place there. Here [in Miami], we can do something. Yesterday, I met a bunch of kids from diverse backgrounds, who now want to get into [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects and so, it’s way cooler for me.”

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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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45 comments on “Why Liberty believe Ecclestone’s ‘old rich white guy’ economic model was holding F1 back”

  1. Goodbye old rich white guy.
    Welcome young rich arab guy.

    1. Realistically speaking all their money comes from Race Fees. Bernie took the sport global and Liberty are just increasing races, to make more money (Really the only way to increase revenue and make Libertys investment worth while). Sure there are more fans but reality is Liberty can dilute the prestige of F1 and make it more American and egalitarian which is great for the shareholders meetings and press releases. All that matters is Race fees and F1s global partners (Rolex, Heineken etc etc) Ad revenue and Bernie set that price at very high monetary value. Everything else with social media would have been inevitable. Most will disagree with me. Popularity doesn’t automatically increase revenue for Liberty (They have more costs with increased head count) Additionally the sport was pure F1 with no cost cap. Again, Most will disagree with me but F1 to me needs to feel special and with increased exposure it will lose its Glamor. Let’s see what Happens.

      Reply moderated
      1. Apart from the race fees, another part where Liberty is growing the sport is broadcasting. They still have some of the deals Bernie sealed but with F1TV as well as new TV deals in other places they have clearly been building their income in this area too. And they expect the F1 viewing rights to sell for big money after a longer time where the interest wasn’t there from any serious partners.

        1. I agree with TV. But unlike other sports properties viewing times are not consistent for every race in each market so value is not equal for each race across each differing market. This would cap possible broadcasting fees in my observation. OTT is great but this would be mostly be for Die Hard fans which Bernie was already catering too. I see F1TV being bundled in the long term with Disney plus or Netflix for a small additional fee. But overall this would just canabalize current broadcasting audiences. Just my gut feeling. I hope I am wrong btw but there are inherent challenges with the product that may limit its TV broadcasting value globally. Time will tell. Liberty needs me to be wrong.

  2. Liberty can remove the “old” and “man” but otherwise it’s business as usual for fans, drivers, teams… Only the extremely rich may apply.

    1. Or you could just put the word “different” in front of that phrase and be closer to the mark.

      1. New Boss is the same as the Old Boss. But with 50% more marketing buzzwords!

        1. @jimmi-cynic certainly, the timing is rather unfortunate given that this comes shortly after the Miami GP, which consciously decided to set aside a disproportionately large number of tickets for the VIP areas rather than for the wider public (around 40% being set aside for the Paddock Club areas), hence the particularly inflated ticket prices for that event.

  3. Although yes, during the last years of Ecclestone’s reign things stalled, I would always take Ecclestone’s word over some corporation who always claim they are fixing things when in reality they do just the previous things but much worse. Ecclestone knew what F1 was about and, so far, these people have managed in such short amount of time to make me hate any PR stunt they do. I’ve seen some of the old Ecclestone interviews and he always talked about F1 like it was his child. But this guy talks exactly like a corporate owner, only numbers. So far, I dont like the direction in which Formula One is going.

    1. When you hear a corporation talk about the sport as a ‘product’, you know we’re in trouble.

    2. You seem to have blissfully forgotten about, lest’s name some highlights: Medals instead of points, shortcuts for passing, sprinklers around tracks to make the races “more interesting”, well and let’s not forget that it was also under Bernie that F1 gave us the “tyres to degrade” from Pirelli, another great one was the double points season finale. To name a few things.

      He was also the guy to bring us to the epic venue of Sochi, to Valencia and to Abu Dhabi @apophisjj. All in all I cannot agree with you that the current team

    3. Don’t equate what Bernie did with F1 in the 80’s and 90’s with what he did with it during his last 10 years in charge. The way he raped the sport I certainly wouldn’t be calling it his child.

      What don’t you like about the direction of the sport? I can’t think of any area that hasn’t been improved.

  4. I believe that Liberty were charging $12,000 for a 3 day Paddock Club pass?

    And while we’re at it Mr Maffei, can you lower bog standard entry ticket prices so that I can go to the British Grand Prix with my family and come away with change from £1000 please?

    Thought not.

    1. Spot on!

      It’s not really a sport for normal people, is it?

    2. While Liberty sets the hosting fees, which have an impact, I believe it’s the promoter who sets the ticket prices.

      1. Governments are happy to pay exorbitant hosting fees which artifically inflates race fees beyond realistic market rates. This means private enterprises are forced to charge high prices for tickets to maintain a sustainable business model.

        1. With Liberty taking interest in promoting the races themselves it could (ironically) change.

          That said, the hosting fees for many races far outweighs potential ticket sales numbers, and is as you say entirely bolstered by the local taxpayers.

    3. What major sporting event can you go to for 3 days with a family and come away with change from $1000?

  5. Formula 1 is enjoying rapid growth in popularity because it has moved away from an economic model which targeted older, wealthier fans, according to the president of its owner, Liberty Media.

    😲

  6. “I love the Nurburgring, for example, but there’s not a diverse community there. We’re not actually impacting the place there.

    Very unusual reasoning – especially when you consider that people from less fortunate backgrounds are far less likely to purchase tickets for Grand Prix, simply because they’re quite expensive. These arguments are quite feeble and they’re just afraid to admit they want too use as much advertising space as possible.

    1. It’s also a strange Atlanticist view of diversity from a US/UK perspective. Nurburgring has a crucial demographic locally that doesn’t exist in Miami, COTA or Vegas, namely Germans!

      If you really wanted diversity, why have a second race in a country you already race in? If you want more black people to get into the sport, have a race in Africa. If you want more Latino people into the sport, hold more races in Latin America (although I accept Miami is in some ways the “capital” or Latin America).

  7. While I agree that Bernie was holding F1 back and continuing down his path would lead to its demise, I don’t buy this argument that Liberty have to hold races in major population centers in order to have an impact in those centers. There is no reason that F1 can’t hold their races in all sorts of places, including remote tracks where presumably the cost of holding a race would be cheaper, and thus tickets for the race would be cheaper, and then have programs that reach these populations centers with initiatives to get more diversity into the sport and grow the younger fanbase. Said another way, just because you hold a race somewhere doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time and money in that same location. You can choose to have demonstration events, build karting tracks, start young driver programs, contribute to STEM in underserved communities, etc. Quite frankly, Liberty’s view that they can only make an meaningful impact in the immediate area surrounding a Grand Prix is as antiquated as Bernie’s ideas.

    1. @g-funk I’m not sure where you would have gotten the notion that Liberty’s view is ‘they can only make an impact in the immediate area surrounding a GP…’ Seems to me their view is a global one particularly with bringing F1 up to date with social media which BE couldn’t have cared less for and didn’t even want to try to understand.

      1. @robbie The last paragraph seems to say they can only make an impact where GPs are held.

        “I love the Nurburgring, for example, but there’s not a diverse community there. We’re not actually impacting the place there. Here [in Miami], we can do something. Yesterday, I met a bunch of kids from diverse backgrounds, who now want to get into [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects and so, it’s way cooler for me.”

        There’s nothing to say that they couldn’t take money earned from a race at the Nurburgring and then spend it in Miami Gardens. But at least according to this quote, they have no impact unless they are actually racing in that exact spot.

        1. @g-funk But that is a quote from LH giving his opinion specifically on diversity in a community, and I presume it is because it was new for them to go to Miami, so LH et al experienced a new community. The majority of races are held at venues they have been going to for years and therefore not learning anything new about those communities, and realistically F1’s reach is global. And of course F1 involves itself in programs and youth racing, diversity and environmental issues etc etc. I’m sure they do great charitable work as well, as do the hundreds of sponsors that are involved in F1.

        2. @g-funk, his comment is about geography. If you know where Nurburgring is you’d understand exactly he is saying and its not debateable. The track is in the middle of nowhere. Far away from major citities so getting people to show up is part of the problem F1 doesn’t race there. No fans, no national incentive to show up, no revenue.

          With a street circuit in the city, you attract a much wider and diverse group of audience. Its much easier for outreach programs and charities to bring kids to the track. Which is probably where those kids Hamilton is refering to came to the track. These types of organizations public or privately funded give kids from the inner cities tickets to NFL, NBA, MLB when they do well in school or enroll in certain programs. Think boys and girls club of America.

          1. @Threepurplesectors Thanks for the remedial geography lesson but I already knew exactly where the Nurburgring is.

            You miss the point of my statement that where you race doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful impact in other locations where you don’t race. F1 could spent its money starting programs in Miami Gardens or Africa or anywhere with or without a Grand Prix being held there. It doesn’t matter if the race is in the middle of a barren wasteland or in the middle of the most populous city on earth. Meaningful impact can be made wherever there is a desire and the financial means to make it happen. F1 has the financial means. They lack the desire to do it unless it is part of The Show of a Grand Prix weekend. Once the weekend ends they can leave and forget about for a year.

  8. Would you look at that. Someone had the audacity to say the truth and of course it ruffled the feathers of white guys. This went exactly as I suspected. The elitism of F1 fans is undeniable. F1 is for everyone even if we all enjoy it in different ways. Some enjoy the on track action, some the theatre, some the tech etc. But the “polite” gate keeping we’ve seen over the Miami GP and new fans informed by Drive to survive is just embarrassing.

    1. “for everyone” lol. Nowadays it costs atleast several millions to even race in a F2 season in a competitive car. Adding the costs of the prior seasons for a junior driver you can easily reach the range of 10 million dollars before even thinking about a F1 chance. Or just look at the recent ticket prices. Or look how they put so many races in arabic countries even though most of the fans of the sport live in a complete different region. But somehow this is all okay.

      Also this “Would you look at that. Someone had the audacity to say the truth and of course it ruffled the feathers of white guys. ” is an hilarious argument. Like I could just say something completely hyperbolic and if people disagree with me I just say it ruffled the feathers of those people and how obvious it is.

      Maybe those CEOs of Liberty Media and stuff should rather look first at their own range of power (their leadership and governance executives). Strange how it consists almost of only one group of people.

      Reply moderated
      1. @Carlo, I see reading comprehension escapes you. I was talking about the fan consumption not the ladder to become a GP driver. Not sure how you can miss that. You’re not wrong but in the immortal words of Nico Hulkenberg, you’re comparing “apples and pears.”

    2. I see you’re easily sold on the old “if we pretend to really like diversity people will think we’re making a difference” act.

      1. @Nick, what does that mean? Sounds like you want to say something but are afraid. I’m not a fan of cowards so either spit it out or keep it moving.

        1. @threepurplesectors it is that we just had a race in Miami where a disproportionately high percentage of the ticket sales were aimed at those “old rich white guys” – whilst the sport claimed it was acting in one direction, the ticket sales indicated they were doing the exact opposite of what they claimed they were doing.

          1. Fred Fedurch
            14th May 2022, 14:07

            it is that we just had a race in Miami where a disproportionately high percentage of the ticket sales were aimed at those “old rich white guys

            ^—– This is how you demonstrate you read the article but failed to read the article.

            “Frankly our partners constrained the audience, constrained the attendance because they want to make sure they got it right in the first year,” he said. “I suspect it’ll be bigger in future years. There clearly was more demand.”

            They based the Miami seating numbers on what they assumed/hoped they could draw and seating type for who they knew they would draw. They knew they had the room to add more (less expensive) grandstand seating in the future if it all went well. Expect to see another 50-100,000 bleacher seats in ’23. You don’t need a degree in rocket surgery to deduce that from the above quote from the article.

          2. Fred Fedurch, that is contradicted by the media strategy that the organisers had, and it is also contradicted by the fact that the event had a vastly disproportionate ratio of Paddock Club tickets to standard tickets.

            When you look at the way that the tickets were allocated, the Paddock Club made up 40% of the total available ticket pool, meaning the volume of tickets sold for the Paddock Club was getting on for around 10 times what other circuits normally sell.

            Meanwhile, the average selling price of a 3-day Paddock Club ticket was around $12,000 – whereas an equivalent ticket at most other venues would be $4,500. Even Monaco, which trades on its reputation of being a playground for the rich and famous to justify the elevated prices they charge, would come in at around $8,000 for the equivalent ticket.

            The whole strategy of this event, with the abnormally high focus on the Paddock Club and the inflated ticket prices for that service, leant very hard into the idea of creating an air of exclusivity and elitism.

  9. Humpty dumbrowski
    13th May 2022, 18:15

    “…“We’re seeing massive increases in the viewership here in the United States, up 50% year over year, and then again another 20% this year.” If I were F1 I’d be extremely cautious re US viewership. In the mid 90 USA’s NASCAR began a concerted effort to draw non-traditional fans to NASCAR stock car races. They wanted to move beyond their Southern white base to Northerners and Pacific coasters. This worked for several years and NASCAR expanded accordingly. But these new fans lost interest and ran away after 5 or so years, and NASCAR so alienated it’s Southern base that tracks were tearing down all their expanded seating. And they still have difficulty filling seats. F1 and Liberty need to take a lesson from this.

    Reply moderated
  10. They seem to think that Drive to Survive was the best thing ever done to F1 or something because as far as I know, tickets for races are still extremely expensive, TV coverage is behind a paywalland they even forbid people to attend the first test of the new generation of cars…

    What else, appart from a horrible docuseries, which also streams in a paid service, has F1 done in recent years to approach fans to the racing. Public events happened before too, so that’s nothing new.

    Also how is the Nurburgring different to Miami? People from all over the world attend races, not only those held on Miami… What did they do there differently? Such an odd thing to say…

    1. @fer-no65, In short you don’t understand how the world works. Or how business works. You can be as condescending as you like to the DTS fans or the crowds that showed up in Miami and you will remain as insignificant to F1 as you are now. The new fans you despise so much are putting their money on the table. They are buying TV packages, merchandise and track tickets. In the eyes of F1 and any business ownsers eyes, they are true and valuable fans. Cause they pay! Home prices are through the roof, car prices are through the roof, F1 ticket prices are through the roof. Thats just the world we live in. If you were someone that liked attending the races in person but now cannot, just accept the fact that you have been priced out. Hello real estate market! Your relationship with F1 has changed. You either have to make even more sacrafices for those tickets or just watch the races on TV like the rest of us peasants.

  11. I decided to not comment on that

  12. I am impressed commenters here were not taken in by this comment from Liberty. Acting like Bernie didn’t create every aspect of the business that is making Liberty money was created by Bernie. The only thing they’ve done better is get our of their own way when it comes to access from outside media. Netflix is responsible for about 75% of their recent viewer growth.

    1. @Nick, that is some serious mental gymnastics to not give Liberty Media their due credit for growing F1 post Bernie. I mean the guy literally gave Bernie his well earned respect for setting the foundation for what F1 has become today. But when you have an axe to grind some things get overlooked I guess.

      1. I don’t have an axe to grind, especially since I married into a minority family. More importantly, I don’t think Bernie is great guy or anything. I do think they’ve done a good job overall, but most of it was low hanging fruit like moving away from Bernie’s worst three habits: Namely, all publicity was good publicity (whether it came to him purposely saying something offensive because it amused him to see the media go into hysterics or being besties with dictators worldwide), his aversion to intergrating streaming services or allowing cheap TV contracts to build or shore up fan bases in problem and/or new markets via free-to-air broadcasts and worst of all actively opposing F1’s entrance into the social media age (something Bernie was inexplicably opposed to..He often said he wanted to be paid for all usage of F1 film and image rights, which was downright stupid). He was definitely holding the sport back when Liberty came in, but I reject the idea they’ve done anything brilliant. They’ve taken the most obvious of measures (which is a good thing) and have had some good luck (like DTS). That paired with a close field (finally) and most importantly, an audience desperate to get out of the house for any event and it’s no surprise we’re seeing record crowds.

        Above all, I don’t see how the sport has become seriously more diverse when it’s still ruled by old rich guys, dictators and a 95% white workforce. BTW, I don’t think it’s even fair to blame F1 for that last part. Its not their fault that, black American youths for example, have no interest in open wheel racing or that governments aren’t doing enough to get minority groups truly interested in STEM focused fields and hobbies.

  13. Well, its a matter of perspective I guess. ‘Holding back revenue’ is what they mean. But I think what Liberty is doing is more harmful to F1 than what Bernie ever did or may not have done. I do see Liberty is creating cracks in the fundamental integrity of the sport. We should be very worried this whole thing will turn into a clowns circus soon. I see zero sport integrity in their policy making and approach. All I see is actions meant to boost turnover. They rarely listen to their fanbase, keep adding rubbish circuits, come up with Sprint races. Soon the track will be made wet, reversed grids, the lot… I am not optimistic about F1s future under this ownership. Hope all this rev boosting will lead to them selling soon.

  14. You’re being awfully vague.

    (RE: the predictable sprint complaint) I find the horror over sprint races hilarious, especially since their biggest initial complaint was fixed (fastest lap got pole in the books).

    The sprint detractors other arguments have included some nebulous complaint about purity (most of which was about the stat book) and “they have hardly produced any good racing.” Both of which make little to no sense.

    A) Purity: F1 has had so many different rules and formats over the decades, especially for qualifying. So tradition and statistical purity are something only fans who haven’t watched the sport pre-2000s would say.

    B) There has been good racing during the sprints. The sprint’s worst case scenario = sprint qualifying doesn’t produce a lot of action. NOTHING LOST. Best case = you get an entire extra race with great action + the quali / main race we always see. Either way, you still got to see qualifying.

    Only thing you lost was seeing three boring practice sessions, which inevitably lead to a more boring grid and race. Those Noah’s Ark grids come much less often during the sprint format since hundreds of laps worth of practice make even an average driver get to be within a tenth or two of much a better teammate. It also hampers racing because by the time the race comes the drivers know exactly where they can be fast and where they won’t, which makes it much easier to keep a car behind them that is faster in different sections of the track.

    Again, the real reason most didn’t like it in the beginning was fastest lap not being given pole (I didn’t like that either) in the record books and by the time that was changed, they forgot it was really just that and felt they had to keep being against it.

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