Bernie Ecclestone has said that he is unaware of a takeover bid for Formula One by media firm Liberty Global and Discovery Communications according to an article in the Daily Telegraph by Christian Sylt and Katherine Rushton.
On Monday the New York Post newspaper reported that the two firms are working on a bid to buy 49% of F1 from private equity firm CVC but Ecclestone has poured cold water on it. "I've never heard anything about Liberty buying into F1. I don't know anything about it," he says. Ecclestone nevertheless admits that CVC has been getting approaches from potential buyers and he says "you've got all the vultures. These people that buy and sell companies, like people that buy and sell anything, they always think that somebody who wants to sell is in trouble. They think they are in trouble."
Liberty Global is the international arm of a sports and media empire which owns a diverse portfolio of assets ranging from the Atlanta Braves baseball team to the Virgin Media network in the UK. Discovery is a more typical television business which is famous for the nature channel which shares its name. It also has ties to the UK and last month announced that it was increasing its stake in the EuroSport TV station to 51%.
The connection between Liberty and Discovery is American billionaire John Malone. Liberty is his company and he also controls 29% of the voting power in Discovery. Malone also happens to be a longstanding nemesis of Rupert Murdoch who is of course involved with F1 through owning 39.1% of BSkyB which has the live rights to all the races in the UK.
This has already fuelled a great deal of speculation about how a takeover could lead to F1 switching to Virgin, EuroSport or even BT Sport which last year broke Sky's stranglehold over the Premier League football rights by outbidding the subscription service. However, the chances of a sale look incredibly remote.
Firstly, there is no suggestion that CVC is planning to sell and with Ecclestone facing threats of litigation they would probably not get top Dollar at the moment. Then there is the age old problem that the European Commission would almost certainly put the brakes on a media company owning a sport.
The same thing would have happened had Murdoch's beleaguered business News Corporation ever made a bid for F1 in 2011 as rumours said it would. Indeed, in 1998 the UK's competition commission prevented BSkyB from buying a single team when it made a bid for Manchester United so it is not likely that the watchdog would allow a media firm to purchase an entire sports series.
Liberty and Discovery are understood to have requested access to private information about F1's finances but the reports make it clear that the talks are at an early stage and may not even result in a firm offer. It seems to be no different to News Corp's ill-fated interest in F1 so it is far from certain that this will ever get off the grid.