Much like Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One are virtually inseparable. Bernie and Jerry also have something else in common. Critics can point to some of their actions that were successful in expanding their sports empires while pointing to blunders that failed these franchises and alienated fans.
Liberty Media purchased Formula One in 2016 for $4.4 billion. The American media company, which also owns or has controlling interest in the Atlanta Braves, Sirius XM satellite radio, Live Nation Entertainment and Expedia, is in a unique position. Unlike owning a team like the Carolina Panthers it has complete ownership in an entire league like the UFC, NBA or NFL. This position gives them more control of their own destiny.
Job One for Chase Carey, chief executive and executive chairman of Liberty Media was to build a firm operational core. One of the first moves was to recruit Sean Bratches who is credited with building the ESPN brand and much of its commercial operations. David Hill who built FOX Sports was brought on as an advisor for direction with graphics, sound, camera angles, presentation innovation and overall energy. Ross Brawn, one of the sport's most experienced and respected icons was pulled from the clutches of retirement. Sacha Woodward-Hill and Duncan Llowarch were retained to oversee legal matters concerning commercial, motorsports, corporate, compliance, administration, trademarks, finance and procurement. "They have been invaluable in dealing with some of the 'booby-traps' that Bernie left for us," Carey said.
Unlike Ecclestone's dictatorship-like approach as chief executive of Formula One Group, Liberty Media aims to show Grand Prix host cities, race tracks, manufacturers, teams, sponsors and fans that they are appreciated.
Season 2 has seen changes that have made Formula One more exciting, competitive and entertaining especially at the track. Even the 23-year-old Formula One logo was changed. And a new Hollywood race intro backed by a heroic-like theme created by American composer Brian Tyler has also been introduced.
Formula One currently has 500 million fans globally resulting in 352 million unique broadcast viewers. This represents a 1.76 billion cumulative viewership footprint covering 200 territories. Many of these fans are also social media users. Unlike the previous administration, social media is viewed as a useful promotional tool by Liberty Media. It even has a dedicated and growing in-house social media team. Now that it has loosened rights on social media platforms, the popularity of the sport has grown. As a result, Formula One has over 12 million social media followers who have made 4.3 billion Facebook impressions, 1.6 billion Twitter impressions and 207 million YouTube views.
Cord-cutting has also provided another avenue to expand the reach of Formula One. Now Formula One races can be viewed online directly sourced from and by Formula One. There are currently two Formula One TV packages. The first is the F1 TV Access package, which provides full replays and highlights from every F1 session, access to exclusive live timing data, access to selected team radio, tire (um ... tyre) usage history and driver tracker maps for $2.99 per month. F1 TV Pro, the premium package, adds live and on-demand races, access to all F1 onboard cameras, a live leader board and access to full unedited team radio for $11.99 per month. Both of these packages also include access to documentaries from 55,000 hours of content in Formula One archives library.
Liberty Media is also looking at eSports, which could be an ideal platform for Formula One. I can see a season-long eSports Formula One championship "playing" alongside the Formula One World Championship. The way in which Fantasy Football converted participants into NFL fans is an example it could duplicate. Like Fantasy Football players who began watching the NFL games for insight, eSports participants would watch F1 broadcasts for the same reasons.
There is even a possibility of a “Hard Knocks” reality-like series for Formula One. A series following the likes of a Daniel Ricciardo or a Charles Leclerc to workouts, sponsor events and race weekend duties would be spicy!
The United States and China are Liberty Media's two biggest markets. While these are important, Carey expressed that gains there cannot come at the expense of its foundation, Western Europe. Long story short, it cannot afford to make the same mistake NASCAR made with its legacy tracks.
Carey feels it's important that Formula One pays special attention and takes care of the fans who actually attend the events. He wants to increase the "shock and awe" of Formula One's technology, sound, power and speed. Another goal is to maximize the mystique, and glamour of its stars and destination cities. Carey went on to say, "But we don’t want mystique and glamour to mean exclusivity, we want it to be open to all, to be engaging to all."
Another issue Liberty Media has to address is the promotion of some races. Ironically the residents of some host cities are unaware of these events. Many of you like myself have witnessed this first hand because the city, and or the promoter failed to make an imprint beyond the immediate area around the track. This is made evident by the number of people outside an area who have no idea a race is in town. And it's why locals are left wondering why they are seeing so many people wearing F1, IndyCar, WRC or MotoGP gear. "When we are in a city, we should own the city, and you should know you are in a city that is hosting a Formula One race,” Carey said.
During this conference call, Carey expressed that Liberty Media has to market the drivers and brands and celebrate the history while embracing the future. Plans also include maximizing franchise expansion and increasing the number of official partners. Another huge departure from Ecclestone — who remains chairman emeritus of Formula One Group — was made evident when Carey commented on the importance for Formula One to make it clear the value it brings to a city or to a country. Formula One should be a platform that can expose countries, cities, and cultures to the world, not the other way around.
These plans, projections and aspirations remind me of manufacturers like Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini or Porsche. These manufacturers carefully consider virtually every weld, seem and carbon weave to produce the best of the best. It seems that Liberty Media plans to objectively scrutinize every aspect of Formula One to optimize its performance.
In conclusion, the very thing that makes billionaires great can also be the very thing that can make them stumble. Unlike us, billionaires do not have many people to answer to, with some practically having no one above them. They have the liberty to solve problems without having to compromise on vision, tactics or execution. While it must be nice not to have your solutions bled out by deep cuts from layers of red tape, no one is completely isolated. More importantly, no one person always has the answer. This is something that Ecclestone seemed not to understand and seems to represent a true dichotomy between his methods and Liberty Media's.
Larry Cornwell is a communication specialist with Speedracer Syndication.