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FIA guaranteed income from F1 stake deal?

NEWS STORY
12/11/2013

Yesterday Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed that if Formula One finally floats on the stock market the FIA will get a 1% stake in it. The shares are part of a package of benefits offered by Bernie Ecclestone in return for the FIA coming to an agreement on a new Concorde Agreement - commercial terms which will be in force until the end of 2020. The big question is whether the FIA will ever get income from the stake.

An Initial Public Offering (IPO) of shares in F1 has been planned since the late 1990s when it ended up in the pits. It was thought that it didn't get the green light because of an anti-competition investigation by the European Commission but in recent court testimony Ecclestone said "the reason we didn't go on with the IPO was because I didn't want it."

The plan was revived last year but again ended up being given a red light - this time due to the financial crisis in the Eurozone and because of Ecclestone's legal hurdles. Although there has never been a stock market flotation of F1 the offer to the FIA isn't the first time that a stakeholder in the sport has been offered shares in it.

As also came out in Ecclestone's court testimony, teams were offered stakes in F1 in return for signing the 1998 Concorde Agreement. They duly signed up but never got the stakes because F1 was not listed on the stock market. It raises the question of whether the FIA will end up out of pocket if F1 doesn't float this time around and it seems highly likely that the answer is no.

As Pitpass recently reported, the teams which took up the offer and signed the 1998 Concorde Agreement eventually asked for their money and it was paid (to the owners of the outfits indeed) by Ecclestone's Bambino family trust. Mark Hapgood, acting for Bambino, revealed in recent court testimony that the reason the money was paid is that the teams could have sued for damages even though there had not been a stock market listing of F1.

"A claim in contract would have failed because the condition precedent, namely the listing, had not taken place. But a claim in damages would have had very good prospects" said Mr Hapgood. He explained that the reason for this is that "if you say to someone 'if you confer a benefit on me I will do something for you', if you create that legitimate expectation, you cannot, yourself, as offeror, frustrate the expectation which you've created."

Presumably the FIA could use the same argument if it does not receive a benefit from the 1% stake even if F1 does not float. It could be well worth the FIA taking that attitude since the stake has an estimated value of 75m.

One blogger has challenged the notion that the FIA was given the stake by pointing out that in fact its option would cost the grand total of 288,000 ($460,000) which is around 0.4% of its value. This price is for what is known as the book value of the shares and it would be like buying a house by only paying for the wholesale value of the bricks and mortar. In City circles stakeholders who pay book value for shares on IPO are commonly said to have been given them since the price paid is so insignificant. To the man on the street it is what's known as a damn good deal.

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