Liberty Media have spent the better part of the last two years drawing distinct differences between the way they are going to and have run the show versus the predecessor, Bernie Ecclestone. There were very few interviews that didn’t end or lead with a statement about how the past ownership was leaving a lot on the table or slightly phoning it in with regards to marketing, social media and finances.
After two years, Liberty Media are still lobbing word bombs over the fence at Ecclestone and this week it is Greg Maffei who has leveled a finger at Ecclestone for his handling of past race contracts and comments about those contracts.
“Bernie had done a very good job, arguably too good a job, and had drained the promoters,” Maffei told a Deutsche Bank conference.
“And we got a lot of blow back, partly because we’re public now and they can see the prices, and also partly because Bernie suggested to a lot of them that they were overpaying. That didn’t help the cause.
“Exacerbating that are governments trying to pull back subsidies, in Mexico, other places – Spain. So that creates some challenges.”
I won’t disagree with the fact that Ecclestone made the comment about paying too much. He did but that may have been a risk Liberty Media ran when the jettisoned him from the operation.
I’ve read the quotes from the Malaysian Grand Prix organizers and they didn’t mention Ecclestone in the press but they were clearly saying what I feel is the real issue of why race organizers are having a difficult time ponying up the cash that their original contracts required.
The fact is, F1 is not in rude health and much of the slide has been since the 2014 regulation changes. The series has been applying salve and cotton in order to stop the bleeding and while some things they’ve done have been terrific, others are still ignoring the elephant in the room.
You also have a changing demographic and F1 is mired in trying to appeal to Gen Y or retaining their large base and when they do get “hip with the kids”, they tend to alienate their legacy fans. I’m not talking about 70-year-old gray-haired fans, I’m talking about 40-60-year-olds.
While Gen Y may feel these people are irrelevant, redundant and should be taken behind the barn and shot, they happen to be a very large demographic with disposable income that Gen Y and Gen Z do not have. Ecclestone’s famous saying that he doesn’t know any teenagers who buy Rolex watches.
Maffei says that they remain positive about signing races and bringing more in.
“We’ve looked at other alternatives in the US, including Las Vegas [where F1 raced in 1981/82, pictured above]. We’ve looked at other alternatives in Africa. We’re trying to solidify some of the western European races and bring those in.
“That core fanbase is strong, and there are some in the works that may very well come to pass in those traditional western European places.
“You’re always trying to balance both solidifying where you are strong, or core, which is historically western Europe, and then adding other things, like expansion to Vietnam, potentially a second race in China, potentially a race in Africa.
“We’re not yet prepared to announce any, but there’s a careful mix or blend of where you want to grow and where you want to solidify.”
This all sounds fine and I think he’s probably on target here but I would add that the “core” being strong is a product of his core fanbase being strong and wanting to see the traditional races. These are not seeker-sensitive, potential Gen Y fans, it’s the other ones…the ones that many feel are disposable.
At some point, you have to stop pointing at Ecclestone as the eternal scapegoat for issues you are having and while Bernie may not have helped, if the series was in rude health after two years of dynamic, outstanding leadership and a positive racing regulation direction with teams, regulators and commercial interests all working in harmony, organizers would probably find the money. As it is, organizers are probably as wary as teams are about what changes will come to F1 in 2021.
That’s something Greg needs to get out in front of. He’s a sharp cookie and I think he knows that. It’s easy to grouse about F1 and run the new ownership down but they have a huge task and I don’t envy them from that standpoint.
One of the best things Sean Bratches has done to date is the new Netflix series which was outstanding. Do more of that, build excitement and the organizers will come. By the way, I bet Bernie loves the media attention he’ll get from this. That’s how he rolls.
Hat Tip: Autosport