<
>

F1 sale news smacks of deja vu

Sutton Images

When news broke on Thursday evening that Liberty Media were on course to take over Formula One in a deal said to be worth £6.4 billion, those of us who have been around for a couple of years felt a resounding sense of deja vu.

At the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, John Malone was named as a possible purchaser of the sport, either through Liberty Global (a sister company of Liberty Media) or via Discovery Communications -- Malone has sizeable stakes in both businesses.

"Malone's Liberty Global, which Forbes describes as a "cable and telecom giant", was named as a possible purchaser," I wrote two years ago, "as was Discovery Communications, in which Malone has a sizeable stake. Both Liberty Global and Discovery Communications are named as prospective buyers of LBHI's [Lehman Brothers' Holdings Inc] 15 percent, making it all but certain that Malone will have a degree of influence over Formula One sooner rather than later."

But August 2014 was not the first time Malone appeared as a possible purchaser of the sport -- in February of that year ESPN ran an in-depth look at Malone's business interests and connections with a view to a possible F1 takeover later that year.

From that February 2014 piece: "In the world of the super-rich, everyone's connected. And John Malone, the American media mogul currently said to be interested in acquiring CVC Capital Partners' stake in Formula One, is no exception.

"While CEO of Tele-Communications Inc (TCI), Malone worked with one Leo Hindery, currently promoter of the forthcoming - eventually - New Jersey Grand Prix. And over the decades spent doing deals in the world of cable television Malone was often at loggerheads with Rupert Murdoch, a fellow TV mogul who has harboured ambitions of F1 ownership.

"In 2005, Malone bought a 32 percent stake in News Corp - half of which were voting shares - in what was a hostile but legal move that eventually saw Malone and Murdoch trade the News Corp shares for the DirecTV satellite network in a tax-free deal. It was a loss of face for Murdoch, who had spent six years fighting to acquire DirecTV.

"As a businessman, Malone sounds like the kind of man Bernie Ecclestone would approve of. Both men found the lure of profits and negotiations alluring from an early age, earning money while their peers were otherwise occupied with the whimsy of childhood. Both men are responsible for growing businesses they did not create while negotiating the sort of contracts that led to untold riches both personal and corporate. Both have an aversion to tax."

For the past two-and-a-half years, Malone has kept an eye on Formula One and on the potential opportunities the sport can afford him for both profit and content for the impressive network infrastructure his company currently controls. But he has not been disengaged from the world of motorsport either -- Liberty Global bought a majority shareholding in Formula E in March 2015.

Malone's approach with Formula One is said to be a two-part process, with Liberty Media aiming to acquire an initial minority stake in the sport before gaining overall control with a later-dated purchase.

There are reports -- via Sky's Mark Kleinman, who originally broke the story -- that Chase Carey, a former DirecTV and News Corporation executive, is being lined up for the eventual Chairman role. Given the notoriously fractured relationship between Malone and News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, it would appear that the selection of Carey as a future F1 boss has been made with the deliberate intention of upsetting Malone's boardroom nemesis.

In a 2008 profile called "The Best of Enemies" Vanity Fair magazine wrote of the pair: "the Murdoch-Malone relationship is among the most internecine in business history. It is a testament to the indomitableness of these two men, if not to the entire human spirit, that Malone and Murdoch are still standing and in relative good humour after their struggles."

Which begs the question -- does Malone want F1 for its potential profitability and content delivery, or is this just the latest move in a multi-decade power play between two international media moguls?