Sunday, 15 May 2011

A Breakaway Championship?

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding what will happen to F1 when the Concorde Agreement runs out in 2012. The Concorde Agreement is basically a contract between the FIA, current partners CVC and the F1 teams (represented by FOTA - the Formula One Teams Association) which states how the revenue from television showings and prize money should be divided. It also contains specific details of the terms for how the teams compete in the races. There have been a number of Concorde Agreements over the life of F1, but the details have all remained secret. Each time the Concorde Agreement comes up for renewal there is speculation of what effect the new agreement will have for the fans. From what I can gather, not a huge amount has changed for the fans for each agreement, however personally I still find it a tense time - for reasons I shall explain below.

Speculation has been further promoted this time around because of the rumours that News Corp (Rupert Murdoch's company) are interested in purchasing F1 from current owners CVC. The take over of F1 isn't in itself any cause for worry - largely because of the Concorde Agreement maintaining the status quo for fans of the sport. However, the fact that the terms of the new contract are being re-negotiated becomes a cause for concern should News Corp choose to buy the rights to the sport. It's thought that if News Corp did acquire F1 from CVC there is a chance that F1 would be shown on pay-per-view television, rather than its current free-to-air status. If News Corp acquire F1 before the terms of the Concorde Agreement are renewed then there is a likelihood that they may place a term that F1 can only be shown on the pay-per-view channels of Murdoch's company.

Despite the speculation, various F1 officials have argued that the idea of News Corp acquiring F1 is simply posturing at the moment and CVC have no interest in selling the sport. Bernie Ecclestone has been one of the most outspoken on this issue, as has Eddie Jordan, whose views can be read here. However, even though the F1 officials have been dismissing the speculation, nobody has denied that News Corp wouldn't be able to purchase the sport if they offered the right price. Without a definite 'no' from CVC, there's simply no way that a fan such as myself can understand whether the sport will be sold or not.

So, if News Corp did buy F1, would F1 be shown on pay-per-view TV only? At the moment, the BBC have the rights to show F1, but this agreement runs out itself very soon - adding to my worry that F1 could move from the accessible free-to-air television to pay-per-view. Bernie Ecclestone has branded this 'suicidal'. The teams have also spoken against this idea arguing that moving F1 from free-to-air TV would be madness - and they're right in this respect. Formula 1 teams rely on sponsorship for money and to keep the teams going generally. If F1 moved away from free-to-air TV then suddenly the audience decreases massively. I love F1, however I simply cannot afford to watch nearly 20 races on pay-per-view television. Should the audience decrease, then sponsors would lose interest in teams as they get little return on their investment - investments of millions of pounds. This reason alone is weighty enough to mean that the teams are opposed to F1 being shown on pay-per-view TV. It is likely then that teams would fight any bid by News Corp to change the Concorde Agreement's clause of showing F1 on free-to-air television.

The negotiations of the Concorde Agreement themselves appear to be somewhat fraught, with Jean Todt (president of Ferrari) arguing that there are three options for the sport prior to the negotiation of the agreement - article here. First, the teams could go for the easy life and simply renew the Concorde Agreement as it stands with CVC - the option which seems most likely for the moment. Second, they could seek out a new partner to replace CVC; the likely choice being News Corp providing that F1 stays on free-to-air TV, or a partnership between News Corp and Exor. The final option which Todt rose was to form a breakaway championship - similar to the NBA in Basketball (apparently... I'm no expert on basketball!).

Now, I doubt that F1 will form a breakaway championship - it just seems like F1 is too expensive to be run without the support of a large company like CVC. That, and this isn't the first time that teams have threatened a breakaway series. When the points system was being overhauled there were similar threats of forming a breakaway championship - this never happened and the points system which we have currently was used as an alternative to the proposed medals system. To me, it just seems like the threat of a breakaway championship is used by the teams as a negotiating tool.

Personally, as a fan I am very happy with how the sport is run at the moment. Despite the criticisms of the rules, argument that overtaking is artificial because of DRS and KERSwatch F1 on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I get the opportunity to save up my money and attend races in person. Hopefully the Concorde Agreement terms will be sorted in time and once again the fans will come out on top - in a choice between business and sport I so hope that sport comes out on top!