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Sky, Liberty Global renew F1 interest?

Further to advanced-television.com’s June 2014 story that John Malone’s international cable operator Liberty Global and cable networks programmer Discovery Communications were seeking to take a 49 per cent stake in Formula One Group from private equity player CVC Capital Partners, the UK’s Sunday Times is reporting that Liberty Global and Sky a considering a £4.5 billion controlling stake.

Reports emerged in the last week that RSE Ventures, a company founded by the Miami Dolphins American Football tycoon Stephen Ross, was working with Paris Saint-Germain FC owner Qatar Sports Investments on a bid. The ST quotes insiders suggesting that the RSE-Qatari team is just one of several buyers in contact with CVC, the private equity firm that owns the F1 stake. CVC owns a 35. 5 per cent stake in the sport, but special voting rights give it control.

Discovery took control of Eurosport, which holds the rights to a range of four and two-wheeled action at levels below motor racing’s premier series, in 2014. Such a move would put Malone the other side of the table when it comes to negotiating sports rights. Malone controls a 27 per cent voting stake in Liberty Global and a 29 per cent voting stake in Discovery.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, publisher of the ST, which held a 39.1 per cent stake before its publishing and TV interests were hived off into separate companies, was considering taking control of F1 in spring 2011 according to reports at the time, with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone warning Grand Prix teams that it would be “suicidal” for them if the sport moved to its subscription channels as part of a takeover deal. Shortly afterwards, BSkyB indeed secured a multi-year contract for the UK and Ireland to broadcast every race live. Commenting in February, 2014 Ecclestone’s view had altered somewhat. “It depends what they want to do with it. If they want to control the sport through TV, it’s probably not good. But what sounded stupid a few years ago may not be stupid today. The world is changing so fast.”

In the UK, Sky’s F1 rights have gained extra significance as it faces competition from BT for Premier League football rights, and was outbid by the telco for exclusive live rights to the leading European club football tournaments. Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia, now part of an enlarged Sky Europe following the acquisition by BSkyB of controlling stakes in its counterparts, also have F1 rights for their respective territories.

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