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F1's crown loses its shine

NEWS STORY
18/02/2008

There was a time when you could barely open the business section of the newspapers without seeing a story about how much money F1 was making. In 1997 F1's ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone raced home with a salary of £54m ($105m) - one of the highest paid in the UK. Over the following decade, Ecclestone's family trust pocketed an estimated $2.5 billion from selling stakes in F1's rights holding company which, in its 2005 set of accounts was revealed to have made profits of £222m ($435m). How times have changed.

F1's owner CVC funded its purchase of the sport's rights holding company at the end of 2005 with billions of dollars of loans. F1 is now paying the price as it is paying back staggering sums in interest and we can't see the profits for dust. In fact the latest reports show that F1's key companies made a combined profit of just $3 million in 2006. Ouch!

An article in today's Daily Telegraph by Pitpass contributor Christian Sylt reveals that F1's trackside advertising and corporate hospitality business made an after tax loss of £1.5m ($3m) in 2006 - its first year of ownership under CVC. The loss was driven by the company paying £11.5m ($22.5m) in interest on loans of £171m ($334m) that CVC took out to buy the business.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, no pun intended, but it could involve the man in the street watching more races held in the dark.

The sport is moving into more emerging markets where local companies are eager to promote themselves to F1's millions of viewers. So whilst each of the five races this year in Asia has a title sponsor based in the host nation, the French and Canadian Grands Prix don't have any company paying for their naming rights. In recent years both of these races have been threatened with the axe from F1's calendar.

Huge sums are paid for this advertising. Telecoms company Singtel is reportedly shelling out £5.1m ($10m) for its title sponsorship of this year's inaugural Singapore night race whereas trackside banners can cost several million.

These new races are also paying race hosting fees of up to around £20.4m ($40m). In contrast, Silverstone is reported to be paying 'just' £8.2m ($16m) for the British Grand Prix. The increased revenue is crucial to F1's rights holding company since it too is loaded to the hilt with debt.

As Pitpass revealed last September F1's rights holding company has net debt of £1.1bn ($2.3bn) from financing CVC's £871m ($1.7bn) purchase of it. The company made a profit of just £3m ($6m) in 2006 so with the advertising and hospitality business making a loss of £1.5m ($3m), the F1 companies made an overall net gain of just £1.5m ($3m) last year.

Ecclestone certainly cashed out at the right time. He still runs the business but has just one share in it.

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