F1 won't sell to News Corp., chief says

5/8/2011 - Formula 1

ISTANBUL -- Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone is "100 percent" certain that his sport's major shareholder does not want to sell to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

CVC Capital Partners, which has owned the rights to F1 since 2006, said earlier this week it has received a "friendly" approach from News Corp. and Exor -- the investors behind Ferrari -- about a potential joint takeover bid.

The media giant and Exor said they were searching for backers to fund a possible bid, and private equity firm CVC said it recognized their "quality ... as potential investors."

While CVC is saying that any deal will have to demonstrate that it benefits F1, Ecclestone insists a buyout will not happen.

"They are the major shareholders and they do not want to sell. That is 100 percent for sure," Ecclestone said. "Somebody might say that they want to do it, but it doesn't mean that when somebody wants to buy something the owner wants to sell. And CVC made it very clear that they don't want to sell."

The rumor mill has gone into top gear with unconfirmed reports that Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari are to meet with the interested parties next week in Germany.

"I thought that Ferrari won't need to go because one of the people who hopes he's going to be an investor owns Ferrari, so that whole story sounds a bit weird," Ecclestone said. "You have to be careful about such rumors, but then again rumors are part of Formula One and always have been.

"I hope these people come to their senses. The teams should be happy to have somebody like CVC not selling to the wrong people," Ecclestone said.

Exor, the holding company of the Agnelli family, has a controlling 30 percent stake in global automaker Fiat Group -- the majority owner of sports car manufacturer Ferrari, which has competed in every F1 championship since 1950.

CVC maintains that it is not actively trying to sell F1, but News Corp. showed how seriously it is pursuing a potential bid by making its first public comments on the matter in New York this week.

In a joint statement with Exor, News Corp. announced it was discussing the "possibility of creating a consortium with a view to formulating a long-term plan for the development of Formula One."

A potential stumbling block to any takeover is the current Concorde Agreement between F1's commercial rights holder, its governing body FIA and the participating teams.

A clause in the agreement, which expires at the end of the 2012 season, stipulates that races should be shown on free-to-air television, where possible, rather than on subscription networks, which have proven so profitable for Murdoch.

"Murdoch hasn't got anything really big to drive their TV audiences and Formula One would be good for that," Ecclestone said. "They have been trying to buy the TV rights from us for a long time, but we won't because they are not free-to-air television broadcasters. They are a subscription service."

News Corp.'s U.S. media outlets include Fox Television, while the British government has approved its plans to buy the 61 percent of satellite broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own.

"Firstly, these people will have to prove what they want to do. I would want to buy lots of things and I don't have the money, so we will have to wait and see," Ecclestone said. "I would never start to say that I'm interested in something without knowing how much it is."

Ecclestone has valued F1 at around $6 billion.