Bernie Ecclestone says that the Formula One group could be sold by the end of the year. Everyone (and their dogs) has reported on this exciting revelation – without any means of checking the credibility of the story. Bernie is the only source.
These days if Ecclestone tells someone that the world is shaped like a big cupcake, and there is a massive cherry sitting on the North Pole, somebody out there is going to write the story (and will claim an exclusive). There are no standards left in modern journalism and so people can say whatever they like and it will be reported.
It is probably correct to say that the Formula One group could be sold before Christmas. Bernie Ecclestone could also win the National Lottery. The Loch Ness monster could be caught and turned into fish paste and Lewis Hamilton could marry a lady called Doris from Wells-next-the-Sea, but, let’s face it, “could” and “will” are very different words. Anything could be sold if the money is right but, in my experience, Bernie does not suddenly come out talking about deals that are close to completion. And let us not forget that he has always been (and always will be) completely hooked on secrecy. So the only obvious conclusion is that no deal is close – and that his remarks are deliberately designed to achieve some other goal. Eighty-five-year old leopards do not change their spots.
I would hazard a guess that the remark was designed to shake the proverbial tree and see if any bidders fall from the branches, worried that they may be missing an opportunity. The need to do this, however, suggests that there is no-one in the market at the moment who is willing to offer the kind of figure that the CVC Capital Partners wants to be paid to go away. This is no great surprise, as the value they have placed on the Formula One business is way more than it is really worth and, in any case, the value of the group has been driven downwards in recent months by pay-TV, falling sponsorship revenues, political instability, EU complaints, German court cases, races in dodgy places and so on.
I have no doubt that people are willing to pay to buy the Formula One group, but no-one sensible is going to meet the CVC price.
So, is F1 going to be sold by the end of the year? Only if someone is willing to pay more than the business is worth…
In other words… No.