Ferrari have questioned the intentions of Liberty Media following their takeover a couple of weeks ago, with declining television audiences and falling numbers of fans at events before the iconic marque decides if they are to invest in the sport or not.
It has not gone unnoticed over the last few years the jump the sport has made from predominately terrestrial broadcasting to that of pay-per-view or subscription channels such as Sky. Although TV audiences held up quite well when the BBC shared coverage with Sky, last year following the takeover of the rights by Channel 4, viewer numbers plummeted and that has been replicated in a number of key markets for Formula One. It should be said though that it has grown in the United States, the homeland of the sports new owners, who see further growth opportunity in the American market.
The shift hasn’t been good news though for Ferrari, who have Formula One as a primary advertising outlet for selling their cars, and with viewer numbers down it could impact on their own car sales. Talking in a recent conference call, Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne said: “I would expect that Liberty and Chase Carey, in particular, would have very clear understanding that the entertainment side of this needs to come back to play. We cannot keep on committing to a sport that has decreasing audiences for a variety of reasons. And so we need to re-popularise the sport and we need to make it more accessible.”
“The issue is not just the question of the financial investment. This is something that we do for living in a very serious way. The Concorde Agreement expires in 2020, so becoming a non-voting shareholder in an entity, which would effectively keep us trapped in without knowledge of what 2021 and the later world will look like, is something I consider unwise.
“One of the things that I tabled with Chase is clarity on what the post-2020 world looks like, and what Ferrari may be able to get from its involvement in Formula One. Once we have clarity, then I think it becomes a lot easier to decide whether we want to participate in this venture.
“I think that there is a huge amount of upside left in F1, which if properly managed, can deliver rewards for everybody who is an investor in this business. We need clarity though and we are not there yet.”
With the teams offered a stake in Formula One, before the Concorde Agreement ends in 2020 could force an earlier agreement from Liberty to enable the teams more clarity on their intensions.