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The one that got away

NEWS STORY
10/08/2008

CVC, the finance firm which owns Formula One, must be green with envy. According to a report in today's Telegraph newspaper by Pitpass' business reporter Christian Sylt, the one F1 television rights deal which is not sold directly by the F1 Group has made a rather large fortune for its owner Flavio Briatore.

The TV rights are for Spain and the Telegraph reports that in 2007 Briatore paid himself £5.8 million from his UK company Stacourt that owns them.

Briatore's windfall was made up of a £1.1 million one-off annual payment and £4.7 million in consultancy fees paid to his Virgin Islands-based firm Formula FB Business. His total take is up £1m on the previous year and it is due to a boost in Stacourt's performance.

In 2007 its revenues rose 14% to £12.1 million with the vast majority of this coming from a deal with Spanish broadcaster Telecinco which screens F1 in Spain. Stacourt's after-tax profits surged 42% year-on-year to £675,000 but CVC is missing out on it at a time when it needs it most.

The F1 Group is making over £100 million in interest payments on the billions of dollars of debt it has which was used by CVC to buy the business. CVC has control of the F1 Group with just one share in the hands of Bernie Ecclestone who is its chief executive. Things were very different when Ecclestone did the deal with Briatore and it was a big gamble for him.

When Stacourt was incorporated in 2002 F1 was not shown on free-to-air broadcasting in Spain as none of the national channels bid for the rights. However, Briatore had an ace up his sleeve. He was manager of rising Spanish star Fernando Alonso and in 2003 Briatore made him a driver for his Renault team. After 13 races Alonso became the youngest ever driver to win a Grand Prix and the value of the Spanish rights moved up a gear.

In 2004, Telecinco bought the rights for two years for an estimated annual price of £3.5 million. After just five races in 2005, Telecinco had an audience share of 48.8% with 3.9m viewers. That year's Spanish Grand Prix became the most watched race in the history of Spanish television with 6m viewers tuning in. On the back of Alonso's first F1 world championship in 2005, Telecinco signed a new contract and in 2006, the first year of the deal, Stacourt's turnover almost doubled to £10.7 million.

Stacourt has no staff and its £10.4 million annual costs are believed to be comprised of a payment to the F1 Group as well as the consultancy fees to Briatore. It has enabled him to take a total of £15.7 million from the company since it was set up. It has also amassed a stash of £5 million cash - more than that held in the bank by the Renault, Red Bull and Williams F1 teams combined.

The accounts state that revenue and profits are expected to increase this year. However, there is an end in sight to Stacourt's growth.

Telecinco will no longer broadcast F1 from 2009 until at least 2013 having lost out to the Spanish La Sexta channel. The deal was announced in May last year and estimates have suggested that it could be worth as much as triple the amount currently being paid by Telecinco. The announcement added that the station had signed the contract with the F1 Group, not Stacourt. This was one deal that CVC will have wanted to get back under its wing.

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