I’ve refrained from speaking about the potential sale of CVC Capital’s majority stake in Formula 1 for a few reasons but to be fair, I first read about the possibility a couple of days ago over at Forbes. I’ve spoken to the author, Christian Sylt, about the issue at hand and I know he’s working on a follow up piece regarding some of the complications of that potential sale so I will wait until that comes out to speak further as they were the first thoughts I had when I heard the news.
Other F1 news outlets have done a nice job of covering the prospective sale from what they heard in the paddock in Italy and in the end, it seems that Liberty Media—owned by American John Malone—is one of the leading candidates. A media mogul and real estate investor as well as owner of the Atlanta Braves, Malone is said to be one of three potential buyers of the 35.5% CVC stake.
I also saw suggestions that two Americans could be tipped to fill the role of F1 boss currently held by Bernie Ecclestone with one being marketing guru, Zak Brown.
Sunday evening, I was contemplating this possibility and I was dwelling on the fact of American ownership of a very British sport. It’s not the first time, for sure, but it would be for F1 and if the majority owners as well as daily bosses were Americans, what would my British friends feel about their sport being acquired and ran by Yankees?
Need an opinion on something, anything, in formula 1? Look no further than Mercedes boss Toto Wolff:
“If you buy a company for that price, and you’re in charge of a media empire like Liberty, there are certain things you’ve done in your life.
“I don’t think anybody would buy that stake, spend that money and say ‘We’re not changing everything – we’re doing it the American way’.
“There are things we can learn from the American way, particularly the digital area, but there are also areas that are working here that are not working there.
“They are going to have a close look and analyze what needs to change or remain. There’s a reason these guys can afford to buy this.
“It’s good news that an American media buys into Formula 1.”
An American on Americans
There’s no question or doubt, I am an American. Always have been and always will be. I’m not your right or left coast version of an American or deep south flavor either. I’m an American born and raised smack dab in the middle of America where things are a little different—better I would argue but then I’m biased.
As such, I won’t regale you with lies about how awesome New York is or how Los Angeles is the closest thing to perfection. I won’t go on and on about Texas or how American business acumen and media control is superior to all others. I have no dog in that hunt. I don’t live in North Carolina—our version of motorsport capital—and I have no axe to grind with comparing our racing series to F1. For me, Formula 1 is the ultimate racing series followed, closely, by WEC. That’s not something you hear many Americans say.
I am also horrible at shameless self-promotion and don’t get over-hyped about something just because its American or “all the rage”. Take Haas F1 for example. While other US-based sites have clamored for their attention and love, I’ve made no such innuendos or attempts to get in on the inside of Gene’s operation. I’ve never called them, asked them for any access to their drivers or staff or even asked for a tour of their garage.
If I were an enterprising young man, I would have done all of that but I still believe in pride, integrity and dignity in business. I still believe in the long-form story and in this day of insatiable appetites for sensationalism, I’m a bit of an oddball to be honest. If Gene would like to speak to our community, he will always have a friend in us but I’m not about to humiliate Gene or myself by sinking to the lowest common media denominator. I would treat Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Sauber no different. I respect them all and love them for their participation.
Toto could be right about it but I’m inclined to think not. If you’re looking for a digital media strategy for F1, then just define, design and deliver one. Stop kicking the can down the road and hanging your hopes on a possible American ownership for the best way forward. Is there something to be learned from American ingenuity? Sure, we’re a resourceful lot and contrary to what many believe, we are actually nice people with charitable hearts. If terrorists don’t represent the sum of a group, then surely you will agree that American politics don’t represent the sum of our group either. And if Media stratagems work on a numb American audience that only seems to resonate with the most outlandish and over-hyped media/marketing initiatives, then surely the rest of the world isn’t a numb audience oversaturated with sensationalist media antics.
You see, American ownership of F1 could be terrific and certainly a major push for American F1 fans as well as a more focused intent on developing this market for the product. Having said that, I have always maintained that you cannot “bring” F1 to America, you have to “take” America to F1. F1 is not American and making it American renders it something else but not F1. That’s why you have to take America to F1.
I know that sounds trite and perhaps it is but if I know anything, I know what it is to be an American unfettered by east and west coast media fondling. I care very little about what’s happening in the epicenters of the media empires. Not that I dislike them, quite the contrary, I care very much for what they do but I also know how they do it and I’m not sure the rest of the world will like it. If the rest of the world—constituting the majority of F1 viewers—doesn’t like it, that threatens my beloved sport and I would hate to have the terrific fans in Australia, India, Germany, Spain, UK, Holland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the entire Asia-Pac upset at some silly Americanism trope that they tried on F1 to make it more like NASCAR or more malleable to fit the American media construct replete with throw-back uniforms and nonsense like that.
Mr. E’s departure already happened
Mr. E was always going to exit F1 and divesting his interest back in 2006 was the first step. What we will be left with now is a continual revolving door of investment groups seeking to earn $6bn or so every ten years and looking to squeeze the returns as much as possible.
The uniqueness that was sole-ownership via Mr. E was that he was, and still is, a racer at heart and ran the sport accordingly. I know Zak Brown is a racer too—I’ve spoken with him several times—and perhaps if he is involved, he’ll keep the sport form getting campy, ridiculous and humiliating just so it fits into some weak attempt to make it more seeker-sensitive to American dullards who still haven’t got on board with F1 and thought they may watch a few minutes of the race in between infommercials and that silly news channels that continuously poops out the same stupid propaganda and story every 24 hours on the hour.
This is FORMULA 1, not a quick investment to skim profits or “American-ize”. If I wanted an American sport, I would watch NASCAR. If I want a global racing sport that is the pinnacle of motorsport, I watch F1…with or without the cute app and two-screen experience, Toto.
Who, amongst this potential new American ownership, is going to say, “the heck with this nonsense, let’s get this awesome series back to terrific and entertaining racing and stop the goofy BS”?
Or would you be more apt to hear, “Hey, this series has 500 million viewers, let’s camp it up and give it the ole’ American twist with a dash of Hollywood and get the drivers wearing pink ribbons and create a silly app for it and sell more advertising space and make a half-time show with Beyonce and put Pixar’s new animated movie posters on the side of all the cars and put a lot more American drivers in the teams and have the France family run the regulatory side of things with competition cautions and add more commercials and compete with the NFL Super Bowl buy doing fun retro uniforms and put computer graphics of robots on the screen and create a world feed package that is broadcast to all nations which we control the content and marketing and also have Chevy as the series sponsor so we can call it the Chevrolet F1 series brought you by Chevrolet with your broadcast team of Paul Page, Paul Tracy and Scott Goodyear”. I’m sure folks in the UK would love that.
I said years, and years ago, when people moaned about Mr. E…careful what you wish for…you might just get it. I hope, with every fiber in me, that if this sale goes through, it will be the best thing that ever happened to F1, don’t get me wrong, but the pessimist in me has some issues and I’m even and America for crying out loud!
When you’re this late to the social media game, you should realize that much of it has run its course and rendered itself ineffectual in actually achieving what sponsors and stakeholders want. Surely F1 will avoid catching the tail of this silliness and be the adults in the room with a real strategy that treats its fans with dignity and not campy tweets and nonsense like NASCAR does?
PS- Oh…and don’t make the mistake of berating America with me, you’ll find out quickly just how American I am. ;) Proud to be American but I’m proud and respectful of F1’s heritage too and mixing the two has me in a state of concern. That’s all, nothing to see here folks, move along.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT