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FOTA takes its time appointing financial advisers

NEWS STORY
05/07/2011

With its committees and subdivisions, the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) can be a lumbering giant when it comes to making decisions but even by its own standards, its appointment of financial advisers is taking some time. This suggestion comes courtesy of a report by Sky News' blogger Mark Kleinman who claims that FOTA still hasn't appointed financial advisers. This of course is FOTA despite having been negotiating with F1's boss Bernie Ecclestone over their share of F1's revenues since 2008 when the association was first established.

Indeed, the very reason it is hardly earth-shattering news that FOTA is appointing financial advisers is that most senior figures in F1 presumed that it already had them, particularly since its predecessor, the Grand Prix World Championship (GPWC), had a long-standing relationship with investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Sky News claims that City firm DC Advisory Partners is close to being appointed by FOTA. It adds that if DC is appointed it will work alongside Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency, which has reportedly been drafted in by FOTA to help value F1's media rights.

Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt agrees that this is a possibility but adds that other firms, such as Hawkpoint Partners, are also believed to be in the running. Both DC and Creative Artists Agency are clients of Sylt's Formula Money research firm. Indeed Antonio Falzarano from the latter was spotted at the recent launch party in London's RAC Club of Formula Money's 2011 F1 business guide. DC's interest in F1 is believed to be led by Jeff Blue, managing director of its retail and consumer division.

As Pitpass has previously pointed out, given that FOTA is now in negotiations over a new draft of the Concorde Agreement, the contract which governs the division of F1's revenues, it needs all the assistance it can get. Moreover, FOTA's attempt to appoint a City adviser is taking so long that since Pitpass previously reported on it all of F1's top circuits have unified against the sport's new regulations and threatened to switch to its rival IndyCar if they are implemented. This brings a genuine added complication to the teams' negotiations with Ecclestone.

As Pitpass has explained in a previous article, the circuits are not bound by the Concorde so even when this is signed it still won't remove the risk that they will leave F1. There are only eight other circuits which are authorised by F1's governing body the FIA to host the sport so if the current lot stand by their threat to leave it could reduce the sport's revenue by around 60%.

Pitpass has pointed out that the teams would be relatively powerless if the circuits demand a portion of the profit share from F1 and threaten to leave the sport if this is not paid. This request could make a lot of sense given that the circuits (through their race hosting fees) bring in around a third of F1's revenue but receive none of its profits. In contrast, the teams provide almost none of F1's revenue yet receive 50% of its profits.

However, whilst the circuits could derail the teams' Concorde negotiations, they could also block any takeover of the sport unless their representative Ron Walker (one of Ecclestone's closest friends) agrees. This is because a buyer could wait for the Concorde to be signed before making an acquisition of F1 only to find that the day after its deal goes through the circuits threaten to switch to IndyCar unless their hosting fees are cut in half. Since the circuits are not signatories to the Concorde it would be hard to stop them.

This would then put the buyer between a rock and a hard place since if the circuits pull out it could reduce F1's revenue by 60% (and create a serious rival in the form of IndyCar) whereas if their fees are reduced by half it would cut the sport's revenue by around 20%.

Kleinman's latest blog post claims that the teams' negotiations may be tough enough already since "CVC Capital Partners, the private equity group which has owned F1 since 2005, is unlikely to sanction a significant swing of the sport's revenues in favour of the teams." However, it was only just over a month ago that Kleinman claimed "CVC Capital Partners, the current owner of F1, has indicated privately that it may be willing to shift the split of earnings from a 50-50 arrangement to one that favours the teams."

Sky News also claims that the teams' negotiations with Ecclestone "may have the added complication of a bid to buy the sport led by News Corporation, the global media company, and Exor, the Italian investment firm which is a major shareholder in Ferrari's parent, Fiat." However, as Pitpass has pointed out in detail, there is as good as zero of a chance that this will move from being a phantom deal to a majority takeover of F1 by News Corp. The phantom bid looks even less serious in light of the recent news that its driving force, News Corp's deputy chief operating officer James Murdoch, does not even know who is F1's chairman.

It should also be noted that over the past few months Sky News has linked all and sundry to being involved with an F1 takeover with several of the proposed parties no longer being mentioned in its reports. These parties range from the world's richest man, Mexico's Carlos Slim, right down to specialist investment bank Raine.

According to Sky News itself, Raine's total fund comes to only £305m ($500m). We say 'only' because if it used all of this, it would only comprise 5% of the amount needed to buy F1 according to estimates published on Sky News itself. So it's no surprise that mention of Raine has been quietly dropped. One wonders how long it will be before the same happens with News Corp and Exor.

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