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Whitmarsh suggests teams as 'desirable' rights holders

7 May 2011


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.

"Trying to get co-operation between the very large teams and the smaller teams has necessitated compromise on both sides - that's been a fantastic effort and I think the teams have collectively worked much better together. We've had some great championships, we've had comparative lack of the paddock polemics, which I think we were all getting bored of, and I think we're focusing on some great racing.

"We have to work together with the commercial rights holder, with the governing body, and establish that partnership so that we can really promote the sport. I think that we've now gone some way to looking at improving the show. We now have to tell people about it. We have to promote and I think, again, that needs all of us to work together.

"I'm not pointing fingers at anyone. We're all part of it - we're part of the historic problem, and we've got to be part of the future and how it can be better. I think there is, now, an environment of people realising that we've got to work together. We shouldn't be complacent, we've had some fantastic championships. As Christian [Horner] said, there is an increasing buzz about the sport, but we shouldn't be satisfied with where we are. We have to improve the show, we have to improve the promotion, we have to improve the co-operation, we have to make sure it's sustainable. There are still teams that are vulnerable so we've got to make sure that this is a sport that is affordable for all of the teams. We shouldn't lose any of the teams that we've got if we can possibly help it."


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