Monday, September 26, 2016

Americans now own F1. And I think that's A Very Bad Thing.

Well it's happened. F1 has been sold to the Americans. Specifically Liberty Media for $4.4bn. With a "B". Bernie Ecclestone is supposedly going to stay on for another few years, but a full buyout is planned if the regulators approve it.
Red flags and alarm bells started going off when Greg Maffei, the CEO of Liberty Media, said this:
"We think our long-term perspective and expertise with media and sports assets will allow us to be good stewards of Formula One and benefit fans, teams and our shareholders."
So F1 is going to be run for the gain of the shareholders, and that's a problem. Shareholders generally don't know what they're talking about and have a propensity to ruin companies very quickly because all they care about is a quick buck and chasing dividends. Look at what happened to Lego - a company that could do no wrong, with the world's strongest brand in toys, who listened to their shareholders in the early 2000's and nearly bankrupted the company because of it.
My own direct experience of Liberty Media comes from SiriusXM satellite radio. I used to have XM Radio and it was pretty good. Cost me $7 a month. Then Liberty Media came along in 2008 with Sirius and bought out XM. Prices jumped to $19 a month for the same channel lineup and the service went to hell in a handbasket. In the end I ditched it because they couldn't keep the bill straight from one month to the next and the constant pressure to buy an even more expensive package was insane.
It's not just Liberty Media that's the problem though. I'm not a fan of this much American money being in F1. The sport is a uniquely European and international series. F1 fans don't need Indy car, or NASCAR, or any of the other won't-race-in-anything-other-than-perfect-weather events. We don't need commercial breaks and timeouts every 90 seconds. We don't need identical cars built to identical templates. We don't need oval circuits. In short - we really don't need American-style management and ownership of our sport. Liberty Media need to learn that throwing money at something won't make it better, or "fix" it, especially when it doesn't really need fixing.
But it's happened anyway, and I suspect the influence will start to become evident over the next 12 months. American interests have steadily been ramping up pressure to "own" F1 because it's a sport they're not very good at, and Americans don't like competing in things that they can't win. I suspect there will be pressure to have a second or even third US event added to the calendar. There will be pressure to use US-supplied tyres and engines, maybe even chassis'. Can you imagine Cooper being asked to supply F1 tyres? Or the teams headquartered in the UK, Germany and Italy being told to move to the US? Neither can I.
If they try to homologate the sport into a TV-commercial-break-ruled Indy-car type series in an effort to appease the beer-chugging, short attention span, redneck motorsport crowd, F1 will be forever ruined because that's not what it's about.
I hope beyond hope that Liberty Media do the right thing and listen to the fans and the teams. They have a Golden Goose here. But my suspicion is that they'll just do the usual "America Knows Best" routine and f*ck it up for everyone. They'll kill their goose and wonder what happened to all the eggs.

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