<
>

At Liberty to speculate: How Liberty Media has the potential to transform F1

The Liberty Media takeover of Formula One was always going to be a slow process. With figures in the billions, it is always wise to proceed with caution. But with last week's news that Liberty had agreed a $1.55 billion third-party investment deal, the financial arrangements are firming up and Chase Carey called the news "a significant step".

Taking a look at some of Liberty's other business interests, there is real potential to use existing properties to cross-pollinate (so to speak) with Formula One and create healthier profits for both the sport itself and also for the other Liberty businesses involved.

The Liberty Media Corporation has three arms: the Liberty Braves Group, the Liberty Media Group and the Liberty SiriusXM Group. The three tracking stock groups are split across the fields of media, communications, and entertainment, and include several business that -- in one way or another -- tie into F1, either directly or through the "lifestyle elements" surrounding F1 and which help keep the high-end ticket sales coming in.

The F1 stake is held by the Liberty Media Group, which also happens to hold stakes of less than one percent each of Viacom, Time Inc., and TimeWarner. While those stakes are small, the potential for symbiotic relationships with F1 can be found in each brand. Time Inc.'s many properties include Sports Illustrated, for example, and F1 coverage in the popular magazine could help boost interest in the sport in the United States.

Time Warner offers opportunities to promote F1 to existing subscribers, hopefully arousing a wider curiosity in the sport among users of their cable networks, while the company could get a reciprocal boost from F1 fans if, in time, their link to the sport's owners allows them preferential access to content and promotional materials. Promotional materials that could easily be produced by Viacom, a cross-platform content creator with a global reputation.

Whereas CVC's list of other interests involved Samsonite suitcases, the sport's incoming owners have at least grouped their F1 interest with related businesses, many of which can be 'cross-fertilised' to improve the growth prospects of all.

It is with the LMG's 34 percent stake in Live Nation that things have the potential to get seriously interesting. Whether or not you've heard of Live Nation, odds are that you have used their services in one way or another -- as the world's largest live entertainment company, Live Nation will have promoted the concerts you've attended, managed the artists you've gone to see, and (through their Ticketmaster division, or one of their secondary ticketing arms) sold you the tickets you bought to get in.

As a company, Live Nation have been able to strengthen their offering and improve their profits by controlling as many aspects of the entertainment business as possible, making money from performer, consumer, and venue alike. They have also been discussed -- in hushed whispers -- as the future official entertainment partner of Formula One, selling tickets and working with teams and sponsors alike to put together the razzle-dazzle year-round global promotion of the sport we have all been crying out for.

In 2015, Live Nation reported $7.2 billion in revenues. It was their fifth successive year of record-breaking growth and revenues, Billboard reported, and represented "record 12 percent growth in global gross transaction value [GVT] for a total GVT of $25 billion".

If Live Nation does take over the ticket sales and promotion for grands prix around the world, it mean a significant change to the way F1 works.

Under the current system, circuits are essentially responsible for promoting their events, and for trying to get as many people through the door -- for as high a price as can be reasonably charged -- in order to try and get back some of the money they've paid for the privilege of hosting Formula One. It's not a brilliantly successful model from the circuits' perspective, whatever the positive impact on FOM's finances...

But if Live Nation take over global ticket sales, and circuits sell only those tickets still remaining when time comes to open the gates for the race weekend, new arrangements will have to be drawn up to ensure that circuits are still able to cover some of their costs, as is the case now. Either hosting fees will have to come down, or deals will have to be done regarding shares of on-site advertising revenues (or regional ticket sales, or similar), to ensure that circuits still have a reason to put on an F1 grand prix.

At present it's all speculation, but now that the purchase process is moving ahead once more, we are standing on the edge of interesting times -- there's a lot of change ahead.