Back in September a Formula One website wrote an article entitled 'Big picture thinking about F1' which came to a rather remarkable conclusion. The piece was based on a rumour doing the rounds that F1's controlling shareholder, the private equity firm CVC, was working on a bid for marketing firm IMG.
According to the rumour, CVC was planning the bid in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Bahrain's Mumtalakat sovereign wealth fund, which owns 50% of McLaren. It was one of many rumours floating around in financial circles and, unless it came to anything, or the key players were prepared to talk about it, there was little point in reporting it. The website in question went one step further than that.
IMG is a global sports, fashion and media business, with 3,500 employees operating in more than 30 countries around the globe. It made its name by managing sports stars and celebrities. Three-time F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart was a client of the company until recently when he took a gamble and signed with the much-smaller firm Just Marketing International.
IMG also owns and operates sports and fashion events and this is what led the website to its surprising conclusion. Its report started by repeating the rumour which linked CVC "with Bahrain's Mumtalakat Holding and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) in a plan to buy the sports marketing group IMG."
The author insisted that the ultimate origin of the story was "a well-placed source inside CVC" and went on to claim that the news came from someone who "has been right all along." The proof of the pudding of whether this was worth reporting came earlier this week when IMG was sold but not to CVC, Mumtalakat or ADIA.
Instead, talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and private equity firm Silver Lake took it over in a deal valued by Reuters at £1.4bn ($2.3bn). A minority investor in the transaction was Mubadala Development Company and as it is another Abu Dhabi wealth fund, one wonders whether this was the source of the rumour about ADIA's involvement.
If the report had stopped at that point we wouldn't be writing this now as there is little to gain from pointing out that a website had brought to its readers' attention a deal which never happened.
The problem in this case is that the author didn't just write a report about a rumoured deal which has bit the dust since then, they also jumped to conclusions from it.
It is no secret that Bernie Ecclestone turned 83 this year and has been on the receiving end of several lawsuits. Likewise, it is no secret that IMG operates sports events. Accordingly, the author concluded "one can imagine that IMG might also be just the kind of organisation that would be perfect for running the commercial side of Formula 1 when, eventually, Bernie Ecclestone is no longer at the controls. Thus to see the three investing groups, linked by their racing assets, working together to acquire such a company, is more than interesting."
The first problem is that there is in fact nothing to see since CVC, ADIA and Mumtalakat have not bought IMG at all. The theory that it could replace Ecclestone was nothing more than a storm in a tea cup.
The second problem is that even if CVC had bought IMG, there is little evidence it would have been able to bring F1 under its wings. CVC's stakes in companies are actually owned through separate funds which each have different investors. As a result of this, the funds and the companies they own have to be kept legally separate. It means that CVC cannot automatically cross-pollinate its investments.
If this wasn't a hurdle then you would have expected that when F1 was planning a theme park it would have turned to Merlin Entertainments which is the world's second-biggest theme park company and is part-owned by CVC. Instead, the plan was spearheaded by Dubai-based developer Union Properties and hit the buffers with the only winner being F1 which received fees from the project as Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed.
In fact, the only time we can remember CVC's brands crossing over to F1 is when Samsonite, the luggage company in which it owned a stake, became a sponsor of the now-defunct GP2 Asia series. The deal was done on an arm's length basis and that is the only way which IMG could have ever taken over management of F1. It would not have been a given and it certainly looks unlikely now.