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Ecclestone: Scandal likely dashed News Corp F1 bid

18 July 2011

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone reckons the scandal increasingly enveloping Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire has likely all-but hammered the final nail into the coffin of the media mogul's purported interest in wresting away control of the sport – adding that 'it isn't possible that F1 could go onto pay TV'.

Even before the whole furore that has erupted since the News of the World's phone-hacking revelations came to light, significant doubts had been expressed that the pay-per-view television model favoured by Murdoch could work in F1, which has always been broadcast free-to-air.

Back in May, News Corp confirmed speculation that – in a consortium with Italian investment fund EXOR – it was eyeing a potential takeover of F1's commercial rights, currently majority owned by CVC Capital Partners.

Many observers, however, had warned that the TV aspect could prove to be an insurmountable stumbling-block, and Ecclestone has confirmed that his preferred option is to stick with the BBC – whose commitment to the sport has seemingly wavered of late in the wake of sweeping budget cuts across the corporation – and that if no deal can be concluded there, he will look to Richard Desmond's Channel 5 instead. Channel 4 has similarly been mooted.

“It isn't possible that F1 could go onto pay TV, we wouldn't want to do that,” the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told The Daily Telegraph. “Let's wait and see about the BBC, because at the moment they want to make a noise. [If they do not renew their contract, we would] talk to Richard, obviously. We have got no problem with the Beeb, [but] I can't see how the BBC could cancel [its contract early]. We could probably sue them.”

Aside from the TV debate, though, Ecclestone believes the News Corp bid to seize control of F1 could be dead-in-the-water in any case, with the teams shying away from dealing with an organisation whose name and reputation are presently being dragged through the mud worldwide.

Former FIA President Max Mosley – a victim of a salacious front page News of the World exposé himself three years ago – has argued that 'News Corp would not satisfy a fit-and-proper person test'. Any purchase of F1's commercial rights requires the approval of the governing body's senate, of which the Englishman remains a member.

“I don't know what effect the hacking scandal has had or will have with Sky,” Ecclestone mused. “I'm terribly sorry for Rupert, who I know quite well, and James [Murdoch] because they are running their businesses very well. If they were to bid for F1, they might find that people would object to it. We have still had no contact from News Corp about a takeover of F1.”


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