Ecclestone, Parr and the “Night of the long knives”

A man speaks up

Remember back to the 3rd ever FOTA fans forum in Montreal 2011. Adam Parr, the then chairman of Williams, called for F1 to challenge Bernie Ecclestone over the direction of the sport. His basic premise was that Mr. E doesn’t really understand modern technology and is missing a significant number of opportunities to drive F1 revenue.

I think I heard someone else in the past few days suggests age was a factor mitigating F1’s CEO ability to operate competently. Parr said that night, ‘The way F1 is consumed is going to change over the next few years. There’s so much content you should be able to enjoy. Bernie has two or three cameras on every car. Then there are all the circuit cameras.

‘There’s an astonishing richness of material and we’re not really touching that at the moment.’ Assessing the way Ecclestone manages content, Parr added: ‘There are two things that Bernie thinks about. First, he likes to control the amount of material that’s available. He believes that rarity is an important characteristic of our sport.

‘Second, he believes if he sells the rights to the BBC in the UK, for example, they should have the rights to everything. They can replay it on their iPlayer system, they can do the internet, they can do everything. He thinks that’s the way to maximise revenue.

Parr then uses his experience to draw other sporting revenue models as examples. ‘The problem is our total TV revenues as a sport are less than 500 million US dollars (£308million). By comparison, the NFL is 4.2 billion US dollars (£2.6billion) and Turkish soccer is a little bit more than us. I think it’s time that we challenge him.”

The Emperor’s response

Emperor Ecclestone was less than enamoured with this – as you may imagine, however Parr enraged him further by suggesting that to move F1 forward, the teams need to have a greater stake in the sport. He claimed in Autumn 2011 that the teams were seeking preliminary discussions about this matter.

Bernie ridiculed this in the Telegraph stating, “Very few of them have got enough money to run their teams, let alone buy a stake in F1. They have a say now and if they were shareholders they wouldn’t have a bigger say”. Ecclestone castigates Parr when it is suggested he is a new voice with something to say in F1, “Adam is a genius the way he runs his team – there’s no room on that car for any more sponsors is there?”. Yah Boo, my car’s better than yours huh?

Less than 12 months later, March 2012 we have the surprise announcement that Adam Parr is leaving Williams. Frank Williams said, ‘I asked Adam to join Williams at the end of 2006 to support me in the running of our team. Adam’s achievements have surpassed my expectations and I must thank him for his service.

Weasel words

‘Adam leaves us on good terms to pursue a better balance in his life for which I wish him and his family well. He has left us in good shape and I have every confidence that the Board and senior management team at Williams will continue to drive the business forward into a promising future.’

Yet only a month earlier in an exclusive with F1 Racing magazine Frank had identified Adam Parr as his most likely successor at the helm of Williams F1. “If for whatever reason I couldn’t come in to do my job, Adam would fill the gap. He’s a young man and physically fit like I was at his age. He’s not a racer but, in a way, that’s probably an advantage in these distinctly commercial days. He’s very good at making financial decisions and working out cost-to-benefit. And he can hold his own in the Formula 1 meetings.”

Williams continues, listing Parr’s qualities, “Adam is a very good man: utterly honest; hard-working; very efficient and with great marketing acumen. All I would say is that Adam is a very clever individual with a strong sense of business. He’s a lawyer by training – he’s got a lot going for him.”

3 weeks earlier, Parr had confirmed he “couldn’t imagine doing anything else”, so why the sudden and dramatic interruptous? Why did Parr go off on the now well worn path to ‘spend more time with the family’?

A public account

It may be that Emperor Ecclestone has had a very interesting year learning about public accountability. The notion to float F1 on a stock exchange as a public company was not a new one, yet I suspect CVC’s insistence on this idea pushed Bernie to places he’d never been before.

When a company wishes to do this, they must publish a ‘prospectus’ which represents a fair view of the assets and liabilities of the company. In the liabilities section there must be a report of current legal action or any impending legal action likely, so the prospective buyers are properly informed.

Today German publication MotorSport claim they have a copy of the prospectus. On page 307, under the heading ‘disputes’, the F1 prospectus from May 2012 said this, “”A former manager of a Formula 1 team (on which the group has no legal claim has), who recently resigned from his job, has asserted that his position within the team as a result of Mr Ecclestone’s tortious interference and ‘abuse of its dominant position’ became ‘untenable’.”

Listed as a potential claim, the section explains the nature of Adam Parr’s complaint, “He claims that Mr Ecclestone expressed both to the board of the team and the media negative opinions about the suitability of the team manager in his role. Further, that the team would be in no position to renew the Concorde Agreement, as long as their manager remained in his position within the team. Accordingly, he was forced to leave his employment, resulting in the loss of his income and his minority interest resulted (1.5 percent) on the team.”

The prospectus continues saying that Parr had alleged the historic arrangements between FOM, the teams and the promoters of the Monaco GP were corrupt and payments were made in cash. The prospectus denies that “any improper” payments have been made.

Meanwhile…

Another public account made interesting reading this Autumn. Williams as a public listed company, must report its financial accounts not just every year as required for private companies – but every 6 months. They have to provide comparisons to previous years too.

In September we discovered in the report for the first 6 months accounts of 2012, the Williams team reported having £36.6 million available in cash on June 30. This appears quite a lot when compared to the previous year’s £13.9m and the £2.8m available at the same moment in 2010.

The team’s six-month turnover also features an impressive hike, rising from £45m in 2010, to £47.3m in 2011 and then £74.3m this year. The team explains this sudden growth with the note to the financial report saying, the team “entered into an agreement with Formula One World Championship Limited and SLEC Holdings Limited to participate in Formula One for the period 2013 to 2020. Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited received an initial payment, payable immediately on signature of the agreement”.

So the payment to Williams was £25m ($40m) for getting on board with Concorde early and apparently the FOM prospectus reports that whilst Adam Parr was CEO of Williams this was unlikely to happen.

The ‘Night of the Long Knives’

This was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany when the regime carried out a series of political murders. The Night of the Long Knives represented a triumph for Hitler as ‘new voices’ and a different way of thinking and behaving was espunged and Hitler became established as “the supreme judge of the German people”.

He formally adopted this title, thus placing himself above the reach of the law. The Night of the Long Knives sent a clear message to the public that even the most prominent Germans were not immune from arrest or even summary execution should the Nazi regime perceive them as a threat. In this manner, the purge established a pattern of violence that would characterise the Nazi regime: the use of force to establish an empire.

Yet all empires end and all dictators times are one day run.

Epilogue

Adam Parr has last week published a book called, “The Art of War, Five Years in Formula One”. I haven’t yet received my copy so I’ll let Joe Seward provide us with his impressions.

This is a most unusual book in that it comes in comic book form and features a foreword by Max Mosley. This is instructional in itself and makes the point that F1 is “a strange culture indeed in which people take legal action to avoid saving £10 million a year”.

It is a book with little in the way of comment on events, but they are put together in such a way as to give great insight into the world of F1. As such one does not get turned off by any feeling of sour grapes, nor bogged down in details that do not much matter.

You can whisk through the story and understand the machinations. The book begins with portraits of the team principals and what Adam learned and admired about them. These are positive and that is the tone of the whole book. There is no blame, no vitriol, just observations. It is the work of a very clever man who wanted to change F1 for the better but perhaps set about doing it in the wrong way.

I would suggest, not the wrong way  – just at the wrong time. I would further observe the tone is not one of a man with an axe to grind or record to set straight. In fact quite the opposite, the team principals – who may be players in the upcoming changes F1 will face – are depicted with warmth and positivity.

Unlike almost every other media report I’ve seen today that suggest Parr will sue Ecclestone – I do not think he will. It is not smart for a genuine contender in a coup d’etat to be one of the front running  ‘stalking horses’. Further, nothing has happened since May and most likely would Adam have wanted to sue Ecclestone he would have done so by now. This suing story is merely people who can’t do translations properly creating a story that doesn’t exists.

However, perversely there is actually a very big story here.

Could it be that CVC have seen the future. Ecclestone clearly hasn’t maximised the TV revenue and struggles with 21st century media such as twitter. CVC haven’t just appointed headhunters as a fall back position, it is a process that legitimises the discussion topic of Ecclestone leaving F1.

Ecclestone himself joked in Brazil he was retiring. Adam Parr has great respect amongst F1 folk as Seward suggests and he and the may just find that times are changing – and for F1 that could be infinitely for the better.

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10 responses to “Ecclestone, Parr and the “Night of the long knives”

  1. It is incredible that lawyers scissors have not been busy snipping at your blog. Apart from Joe Saward and you, it seems no one has the guts to tell these tales.

    I recall reading some mentions by the mainstream press reporters that they risk losing their passes to F1 events if they dared to publish such tales. I believe some may have been given hints along those lines in their coverage of political events surrounding Bahrain 2012.

    May you and Joe continue giving us all this insight that would otherwise remain hidden. Long live thejudge13 blog.

  2. I always thought Adam Parr was an exceptionally smart lad, and at that I really was disappointed by his handling of the communication during the FOTA forum. To this day I still cite his comparison between the TV rights of F1 and The Turkish Superlig, as I am from Bulgaria and that really resonates well with people because they know what the Balkan’s soccer leagues are all about.

    After Adam was shown the door, Joe Saward blogged about it and there was a discussion underneath the post. I remember someone asking Joe does he think that Adam could succeed Mr. E, to which Joe Saward replied that it was highly unlikely and gave some reasons, mostly political and with a pinch of financial stuff, unfortunately I can’t remember the exact details, but if someone is interested, it’s easy to check them at his blog. As I tend to take everything Joe writes with a grain of salt, because the exceptional story teller that he is, his understanding of economics and finances seems to be very superficial, so I would like to ask you, or anyone else with proper knowledge of the inner workings at CVC is there a remote chance of Mr. Parr or anyone with similar thinking to get behind the steering wheel of FOM?

    • I can’t comment from a position of authority on whether Parr has burned his bridges with CVC or not.

      I do know CVC want to make as much money as possible. They have reduced their F1 share holding by nearly 50% this year and it may be they want out all together.

      On the other hand, an 8 year Concorde deal could be a nice cash cow and someone who understands the current economics of F1’s commercial worth would be sought after greatly.

      I do know Adam Parr is well thought of in F1 circles, yet whether he was in fact a stalking horse to many F1 people or a genuine contender for the throne, who knows.

      • The 50% drop of equity is actually news to me. I never took the time to sit down and calculate properly how much they sold during the year and to whom and my impression was, that the sold around 30%.

        By the way, people seem to talk about CVC a lot, yet they seem to forget (me included) that they are a VC and all VCs have a specified lifespan. I just took the time to check the different rounds they initiated during the years and the question that comes to mind is, which of the rounds actually invested in F1. Finding that one out, would help make proper assumptions till when they plan to stay in F1, because at a certain point they have to return money to the investors and can’t stretch this period by much. There are of course ways around the process, but this isn’t a common practice in the VC world.

        All this in combination with the Adam Parr speculation that he might succeed Mr. E leads to another far better question, when CVC exits FOM, and the way things are currently, it seems the equity of FOM will be spread around a lot of different (economically, culturally, geographically, etc) investors. It could also come to the almost unbelievable point that even teams could have equity stake in the sport and to that the question is what kind of character the person running the sport be? Is that something that could actually propel Adam to the top of the list, because people in F1 think highly of him, or could by some other reason exclude him. Who else could be running the sport? Is there someone else regular folks like me haven’t heard about?

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