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"No chance" teams will buy a stake in F1

NEWS STORY
18/10/2011

Over the past six months there have been numerous rumours about bidders lining up to buy Formula One. They ranged from billionaires, boutique investment firms and embattled media giant News Corporation to Abu Dhabi's Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, F1's teams and the sport's boss Bernie Ecclestone himself.

The driving force behind these rumours seemed to be the mistaken notion that F1's current owner, private equity firm CVC, is likely to sell its investment within a three to five year window. In reality, it has already owned F1 for longer than this and, as Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt revealed, the only demand in CVC's agreements is that it sells by 2018. There is also a question mark over all the bidders revealed so far.

The phone hacking scandal put to rest News Corp's hopes of buying F1 along with those of the boutique investment banks which were allegedly backing it. Earlier this year Sylt spoke to a source close to Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, who told him that his alleged interest in buying F1 had gone cold so that deals with the bid from the billionaire. Back in May Ecclestone told Pitpass that CVC "haven't bothered to reply" to Mubadala and the lack of any concrete news about a takeover since then would seem to endorse that view. Likewise, Ecclestone denied that he would take over F1 himself. Which brings us to the teams.

Last month the teams appointed corporate finance house DC Advisory Partners and Evolution Media Capital to advise on their negotiations with Ecclestone. The Concorde Agreement, the contract which governs the teams' share of the sport's profits, expires at the end of next year and they are currently discussing new terms with Ecclestone.

It was reported that the two advisers will investigate the possibility of the teams acquiring a minority stake in F1. However, writing in the Express, Sylt quotes an influential team boss who, speaking on condition of anonymity, says there is "no chance" of an acquisition because the teams "are struggling to keep themselves afloat."

Most F1 teams break even or only make modest profits since they tend to spend as much income as is available to them in pursuit of victory on the track. This has fuelled their desire to increase their annual take from F1 which currently stands at 50% of its underlying profits. The Concorde Agreement has a five year term and when it has approached expiry in previous years, the teams have managed to increase their share of the spoils by threatening to set up a rival series if their demand is not granted. However, the current Concorde Agreement prevents this tactic and it is understood that the idea of the teams buying the sport could be a replacement negotiating ploy.

Last year Ecclestone said that F1 is worth "six or seven billion dollars" so a minority stake of around 10% could cost the teams as much as $700m. However, after making debt repayments, F1 was only left with a profit of around $140m last year so a 10% stake would only give each team around $1m annually from a dividend. Given the outlay required, this is far from a blockbuster return.

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