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F1 revenue accelerates to record 680m

NEWS STORY
01/06/2010

If ever there was a man who could make a silk purse out of a sow's ear it is F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, and the latest proof of this comes from a report in the Evening Standard by Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt.

The report reveals the 2009 financial results for UK-based Delta 3, the company which receives all the revenue from fees TV stations pay to screen F1 as well as the fees paid by circuits and sponsors of the sport. Remarkably, despite facing the worst recession in living memory last year, Delta 3's revenue still rose 6.4% to a record 680m with its operating profit after costs more than doubling to 119.4m. If anyone thinks Ecclestone, who will be 80 this year, has lost his touch... think again.

Around 278m of Delta 3's revenue comes from fees paid by broadcasters with another 278m from fees paid by Grand Prix promoters. The remainder comes from series sponsors such as F1's official logistics partner DHL and financial services partner Allianz.

F1 lost an estimated 19m in revenue last year due to the departure of France and Canada from the calendar. They were replaced by Abu Dhabi - which, according to Sylt's Formula Money trade guide, pays a blockbuster 27.8m annually - but it still left the sport with 17 Grands Prix - one race down on 2008.

Nevertheless, the overall takings from Grand Prix fees increased with the average revenue per race up 12.6% to 40.9m. The secret to this is that the race promotion contracts contain a clause which escalates the price paid by 10% annually come what may. Not a bad trick to have up one's sleeve as the economy goes into freefall.

The icing on the cake was Ecclestone's signing of a new partnership with Korean electronics firm LG which became F1's timing partner last year at an estimated annual cost of 9.3m. Videogame firm Codemasters also released its first F1 game and made an annual payment estimated by Formula Money at 12.4m. To cap it all, in March 2009 Ecclestone got Universal Music on board paying around 3m to promote the F1 Rocks concert series.

The increase in turnover combined with aggressive cost cutting led to the increase in Delta 3's operating profit. The company's biggest cost is a payment of 50% of its underlying profits to the top 10 teams in F1 but even this was lower than expected last year. The team payment only increased 4.4% to 336.4m in 2009 and the accounts indicate that this is because BMW left F1 before signing a new contract to stay in the sport. Total costs, excluding team payments, fell 28.4% to 96.6m due to the lower overheads from hosting fewer races and lower oil prices reducing travel and freight costs.

Things were not so rosy on Delta 3's bottom line. This is weighed down by interest payments on the debt which the company's majority owner, private equity firm CVC, secured from Lehman Brothers and The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in 2006 to buy the business. The company now has 1.2bn left to pay and interest on this is charged at the inter bank lending rate (LIBOR) plus between 1% and 3.5%.

As a result of the recession, LIBOR rates crashed last year to promote lending between financial institutions and this led to Delta 3's interest charges being 54.7% lower than the previous year leaving it paying 41.7m of bank interest. In addition it repaid 77m of the loan itself - up from 51.8m in 2008. The 1.2bn is fully repayable by 30 June 2014 but in 2008 CVC told Sylt that its plan is to pay off a large amount by the deadline and refinance the remainder which would give the shareholders a significant windfall.

After interest payments on inter-company loans Delta 3 finished the year with an after-tax loss of 307.4m - a 13m improvement on 2008. It is a long way from breaking even but that is not the aim. Since the company is based in the UK, tax would have to be paid on profits and the inter-company loans put paid to that. The goal for Delta 3 is to repay the debt and it is firing on all cylinders doing this.

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