Many believe the CEO of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, to be a great negotiator, yet in recent times there are questions over his diminishing powers. The F1 supremo has always marketed Formula One as an exclusive product and as such for years there were long lines of people desperate to host races and throw millions at sponsoring the sport. However, something has changed.
The number of race weekends with a sponsor has collapsed over the past six years such than in 2015 just 8 events were associated with named commercial partners – and three of those were F1 centrally contracted sponsors.
Circuits have negotiated discounted race hosting fees and it appears broadcasters are following suit. Germany’s broadcaster RTL recently halved the fee they pay to FOM, despite retaining the same level of live action and the BBC has been attempting something similar.
Ecclestone appeared to mock the BBC’s attempts to renegotiate their deal stating in November, “They don’t have a lot of choice because they’ve got a contract with us. They’re there for another three years.”
Yet as TJ13 reported at the time, the BBC will withdraw from Formula One unless they can agree a reduced broadcasting fee. This week it transpired the Beeb had offered Ecclestone as solution with ITV happy to assume the final three years of the current UK free to air broadcasting deal.
This of course isn’t Bernie’s preferred option. The BBC assumed the F1 broadcasting rights from ITV in 2009, and set about upping the quality of the production immediately. Ecclestone fears that if ITV assume the BBC’s responsibilities, the quality and quantity of the pre and post race coverage will diminish.
Speaking to the Press Association, Ecclestone appeared to defy the BBC stating they could not “leave the contract early”. This may be true, but even were the BBC forced to pay the FOM broadcasting fee for the next three years, they believe it is their legal right to refuse to put any further cash into production costs, which some estimate as much as £25million a year.
This would deliver a large slice of the savings the BBC are looking to make from its Formula One spend, though could result in soe bizarre and sparse F1 programmes.
Ecclestone’s rhetoric has though softened somewhat, and it may be a deal can yet be done with the BBC. “The bottom line is that they [the BBC] are cutting back on all types of sport and if we really, really, really had to, we’d say ‘you have got a contract and you better get on with it. They can’t leave the contract early [without our agreement]”.
‘Really, really, really….’ eh Bernie?
Ecclestone went on to praise the BBC. “The Beeb have always done a very, very good job. I have no problem at all with them. It is just they can’t afford to continue with what they have done in the past.
“We like the BBC for obvious reasons. It was free-to-air and they did a good job as I say with all the support they gave at the circuit.
“At the moment I don’t know what we are going to do.”
Bernie appears to be between a rock and a hard place, if he wants the BBC to continue with doing a ‘very, very good job’, he may after all be forced to take a haircut on the broadcasting fee.