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NEWS STORY
24/03/2017

Liberty Media is taking full advantage of the season opener to make its presence felt just weeks after buying the sport in a deal worth around $8bn.

All the team is in town, Chase Carey (pictured), Sean Bratches and Ross Brawn, as Liberty Media sets out it stall and new management policy from the outset.

This morning, Bratches, who is charged with heading the commercial side of the sport, held a media briefing along with Ross Brawn, a familiar face in the paddock who has now jumped ship, intent on taking all he has learned over the course of his long, successful career and using it to the advantage of the sport's new owners.

While Brawn was warning that Liberty will "fight at every level" to protect their investment and build the sport, Bratches was painting a similarly determined picture.

In its determination to do good by its $8bn purchase, Liberty is seeking more races, more pay-per-view and more personalities.

From the outset, Liberty has made it clear that while it intends to expand the sport, the initial focus will be in its homeland.

"Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin, our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we're doing in the States," he said.

"We're excited about all markets around the world," he added, "but the United States is going to be a focus."

"There's no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world," insisted the American. who revealed that he has already had "a number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested".

Such news will delight Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton who yesterday suggested races in Las Vegas and Miami, respectively, but will disappoint Sebastian Vettel, who, though he would like to see F1 return to Germany, feels the calendar should be limited to twenty races.

While Pitpass has long argued that the sport should make more of the drivers' personalities, citing the example of the banter between Hamilton and Vettel in Canada last year as they talked seagulls, Bratches revealed that this is an area that Liberty is looking at.

Asked about the fact that the corporate nature of the sport often stifles the drivers' personalities leading many to perceive them as bland automatons simply towing the party line, Bratches said: "There's a number of sports where there are big personalities that allow the sports to punch above their respective pay grades.

"Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities," he added, "if there was more controversy among the drivers, and you could kind of unleash them a little bit. I think that's good for all of us."

Ignoring the fact that the personality of the likes of Vettel, Hamilton and Ricciardo, has to come through naturally and cannot be turned on and off on cue, like DRS, Bratches then turned his attention to TV.

While Liberty envisages the future of the sport being pay-per-view, together with (paid for) online streaming, he admits that in some cases free-to-air must remain in place... for now.

"There are ways to have an opportunity to create a free-to-air package that acts as a barker for the sport to create a brand awareness to a broad population," he said. "The revenue on the pay side is difficult to ignore, but at the same time we are in a position where we are trying to build our brand and increase the number of sponsors who are investing in our brand, our belief and our vision.

"To have a combination of both is an appropriate mix going forward," he added. "We will make that decision on a territory by territory basis.

"It's a dynamic that many sporting organisations are looking at," he continued, "more so than not, organisations are finding themselves on pay TV because that is where the money is. But you cannot look at it with a broad stroke, you have to look at it on a territory by territory basis.

"There are some marketplaces where the pay to free-to-air penetration is extremely high. The economic benefits are there, and it makes it a little bit easier to make that move. Then there are also some markets where the pay television penetration is low relative to free to air, which makes those a little bit more difficult. We are working through those."

Asked about the UK, where from 2019, Sky will have the exclusive rights for live coverage, he suggested that alternative platforms might be available.

"There are going to be a number of consumer touchpoints going forward that we are going to be very proactive around, and one of them is going to be digital," he said. "We are in the process right now of re-imagining our entire portfolio of digital assets and we really look at that as an opportunity to engage with fans."

Check out our Friday gallery from Melbourne, here.

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