F1 » 7 May 2011
Whitmarsh: Team ownership of commercial rights 'desirable'
McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh has hinted that the F1 teams would make the best commercial rights holders for the future of the sport.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh has suggested that the F1 teams would be the ideal 'owners' of the sport's commercial rights in order to keep it as accessible as possible.
Responding to a line of questioning about the rumours of News Corporation and Exor making a bid for current rights holder CVC Capital Partners' majority stake in the sport, Whitmarsh maintained that it was important that the teams had a say in how the sport was run, and were amply rewarded for their involvement. Above all, however, it was paramount that the sport itself was on a stable footing.
"I think it is ultimately desirable to have team ownership on commercial rights," he told reporters at the Turkish Grand Prix, "To be sustainable you need the appropriate level of investment to promote and develop the sport, you need the appropriate distribution of the revenues to teams to make it sustainable and those are the primary things. If you have all those things and you have good owners, whoever they are, that is positive. The teams have all got to look at whether we - each of us - want to be involved in an ownership model in the future, if the current owners want to sell."
Denying that any of the top teams would be meeting News Corporation representatives between the Turkish and Spanish grands prix, as had been rumoured, he noted that losing F1 to a pay-per-view broadcaster was not in the best interests of the sport or its sponsors.
"We have to be respectful of our relationship with the current commercial rights holder and, in the limits of that, we are not entering into any negotiations," he stressed, before admitting that the teams would have no control over other stakeholders who may interested in entertaining the prospective bidders.
"I think it's clear that the business model of all the teams relies on free-to-air [coverage]. We're selling a large, broad, media exposure. That's the business model and I'm sure that that's the business model of all the F1 teams will require going forward. It's a much more complicated issue than terrestrial free-to-air versus pay-per-view, but I think that what we require in F1 is a mass audience to television, mass audience to the pictures we produce, whether that's internet, whatever the means. Inevitably, nowadays, media is much more complex than the polarised debate about pay-per-view and free-to-air terrestrial, but we certainly need a mass audience.
"I think F1 remains the third largest sporting spectacle, and the most powerful sporting media for creating media exposure. Brand differentiation and media exposure is one of the most powerful driving forces of this sport at the moment and I think it will be for the foreseeable future, so I think all of the brands that are involved in F1 expect to see a very, very broad exposure of their brands, as a consequence of investing in F1."
Whitmarsh, currently chairman of teams' association FOTA, praised the way that the current grid had stuck together in the face of provocation and helped to both secure and shape the future of F1 via cost-cutting measures and technical rule changes. He stressed, however, that that unity needed to be maintained as speculation over a possible change of rights holder loomed.
"I think that, for the last 20 years, perhaps we, collectively, have not managed the sport as well as we can," he reflected, "There's been in-fighting, a competitive spirit in F1 that sometimes has been quite damaging, but now we've had an era of unprecedented co-operation between the teams and I think that's been fantastic.
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