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Liberty Media buy-out faces numerous challenges

NEWS STORY
09/11/2016

As Liberty Media increases the size of its stake in F1, the buy-out faces a number of challenges.

The news that the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to investigate Liberty Media's purchase of F1 comes at a time the European Commission (EC) is already considering investigating the sport following the ant-trust complaint lodged by Force India and Sauber regarding the way in which the sport's $903.8m prize pot is divided.

Should the EC go ahead with its investigation, and deem the prize money contracts - which include all manner of bonuses - to be anti-competitive it would have the power to scrap the various deals most of which have been agreed behind closed doors.

With Ferrari, in lieu of its so-called historical bonus, walking away with a bigger slice of the prize fund than champions Mercedes, this could lead to the Italian team once again considering its future in the sport, it could even lead to further threats from Red Bull.

If the sport were deemed to have breached competition law there could be a sizeable fine, Forbes reporting that this could be as much as 10% of the sport's annual $1.7bn income.

All of which might make F1 a less attractive proposition to Liberty Media.

However, the American company isn't without its own issues.

Majority owner of Liberty Media, John Malone, also owns the majority of stock in Liberty Global, its sister company.

Liberty Global owns 9.9% of the British TV broadcaster ITV, which previously screened F1. At the same time, Liberty Global owns rival TV network Virgin Media along with a 50% stake in former F1 production company owner All3Media and, alongside co-investor Discovery Communications, 32.7% of Formula E

Discovery owns broadcaster Eurosport and is connected to Mr Malone courtesy of the fact that 29% of its voting rights are owned by him.

As if this wasn't complicated enough, Eurosport promotes the World Touring Car Championship, consequently the EC might well be concerned that Mr Malone could withdraw, or threaten to withdraw a la Mateschitz, his backing of the companies he invests in if they don't support F1.

When first announcing the deal, Liberty Media admitted that the acquisition was subject to certain conditions, "including the receipt of certain clearances and approvals by antitrust and competition law authorities in various countries, certain third-party consents and approvals, including that of the FIA".

As the UK's Competition and Markets Authority begins its investigation, the EC ponders its plans and amidst claims that the FIA's own 1% stake in F1 - which stands to see the sport's governing body reap a $43.5m windfall - could be considered a conflict of interest, it's worth noting that were the stock markets to plunge following the American election shareholders may be reluctant to vote in favour of an acquisition, wanting to keep as much cash as possible and minimise risk.

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