James Murdoch is spearheading News Corp’s bid to take over Formula One motor racing, according to Sky News. Murdoch and his father Rupert are considering teaming up on the venture with Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man and Latin America’s biggest pay-TV operator. Wall Street bank JP Morgan is advising News Corp. If successful, it would be the first time the Murdochs have owned an entire sport outright. They already control TV rights to lucrative Premier League soccer in the UK.
Cable TV channel Speed, also owned by News Corp, currently broadcasts Formula One racing in the U.S. The Murdochs would want to feed Formula One exclusively to their pay-TV global empire, which includes Sky Latin America, Sky Deutschland and Star TV in Asia. But Formula One teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes would be worried about the Murdochs taking control of their sport, sports market analyst Sportcal tells me. Formula One relies on sponsorship for most of its income, and sponsors such as Spanish bank Santander, Shell and Red Bull need TV exposure. Taking Formula One behind a pay-TV paywall would meet serious opposition, says Sportcal editorial director Callum Murray. “It would totally change their funding model,” he says.
European anti-trust regulators would also scrutinise the deal carefully. Ten years ago, German pay-TV mogul Leo Kirch bought Formula One for the same reason: he wanted to feed motor racing rights exclusively to his Premiere pay-TV channels. The German anti-trust regulator told Kirch he could buy Formula One, but he could not feed motor racing direct to Premiere. “Based on precedent, this could be what the European competition authority tells Murdoch a decade later,” says Murray. “They could say, ‘Fine, you buy Formula One, but you can’t just feed it to News Corp TV channels.’ ” Formula One is currently owned by CVC Capital Partners, a big private equity firm that acquired the sport outright in 2006. The Murdochs are unlikely to spring their move until the end of 2012, though. That is when Formula One’s current agreement with motor racing teams expires. News Corp was unavailable for comment.