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If you’re a Formula 1 fan and perhaps more of a legacy fan, then some of the commentary coming from F1’s new owners, Liberty Media, may resonate with you inasmuch as anchoring the sport to the traditional tracks that you recall from your youth. European circuits have long held the imagination of young F1 fans but when the global economy sank, the series had to find new markets willing to pay exorbitant race sanctioning fees in their quest for world legitimacy.

F1’s newest Grand Prix in Azerbaijan has come under some fire from the new owners as not the best brand partner as Forbes revealed:

“The fee paid to host an F1 race accelerates by 5% annually so this brings the total amount due over the nine years remaining on Azerbaijan’s contract to a cool $393.6 million. That’s a whole lot of contracted revenue at stake. Worryingly for Liberty stock holders, this money is coming from the government and that is exactly who was hit the hardest by Mr. Maffei’s verbal assault.

The invective wasn’t directed at something intangible like a payment but at the country of Azerbaijan as Mr. Maffei claimed that as a result of F1’s previous regime “we end up with races in places like Baku in Azerbaijan where…it does nothing to build the long-term brand and health of the business. Our job is to find partners that…help us to build the product.” That’s strong stuff.”

The article is correct, those are very pointed words and there are two sides to this comment. On one hand, you may have heard the phrase that you don’t bite the hand that feeds but on the other side of the coin, many F1 fans are a tad perplexed by these far-flung races that have few in attendance in nations with little or no motorsport interest and occur in the wee hours of the morning.

If you were Liberty Media, getting racing back on in primetime in the UK and at 7am in the eastern parts of the US is perhaps a better model for TV but then you do have that simple issue that Magny Cours isn’t going to pay $400M for the privilege of hosting a race and Baku is. What do you do?

I see both sides of this argument and I think the article is very direct and frank in its assessment of Mr. Greg Maffei’s recent mind vomit about NBC and other aspects of a sport that he admitted he knew very little about. That’s concerning from a fan’s point of view if not from a team’s point of view to be honest.

Allow me to sum, we’ve had 40 years of bravado and ego around the running of this sport that has worked and not worked. I have a lot of time for Bernie Ecclestone but admittedly there have been some moves born from bravado that haven’t panned out.

What I was hoping is that Liberty Media would come in and leave the bravado and tough-guy routine at the door in order to create a team of humble, servant leader’s intent on getting F1 balanced, promoted and regulated for future success. I do sense that from Chase Carey and certainly Ross Brawn but Mr. Maffei is something different.

F1 needs considered, measured and calculated commentary from its owners, not brash, bravado-laden quips intended to continually alert the world that there’s a new sheriff in town. We get it, we’re not a fan base of low-brow knuckle-draggers. We can comprehend complex notions surrounding F1…especially the notion that there’s a new owner.

There is also a reminder in this article of Maffei’s comments regarding NBC:

“the US is, you know, it’s a popcorn fart. It’s nothing. The opportunity is good, certainly in percentage terms, not in absolute Dollar terms. It is very low. It is with NBC, and it’s not on the main NBC, it’s on their sports channel.”

“What drove the UK? You had BT and Sky and beIN all looking at it. That’s what you need. You need multiple guys finding it important to their business and then you’ll see a good result. So some of it is our ability to create a great product but some of it is also the competitive environment in those respective markets for who wants these rights.”

I happen to know that NBC Sports has worked very diligently in increasing US viewership and are somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 million which eclipses what Speed had in its heyday of F1 coverage. Comparing the US market value to the UK via Sky Sports F1’s willingness to pay millions is apples and oranges. I also happen to know that the bidding war was between NBC and Speed/Fox and NBC valued it more. If Mr. Maffei can get NBC, Fox, CBS or ESPN to pay $150M for a broadcast package, good on them but I don’t see that kind of value for the rights in the US yet. They’ll have to do a lot more promotion from the Liberty Media side of the equation before they can demand that kind of price in my opinion.

I think Chase Carey and his team have been keeping their head down and working on the hard parts of F1 but I would also think it might serve Liberty Media well to get a tether on Mr. Maffei’s diatribes about F1, its customers and its player as well as fans. As the CEO of F1, I think it is Carey’s place to opine on the sport. They appointed him as CEO so let him be CEO and let the Liberty Media brass air their concerns and critical commentary to him so he can address it.

If Mr. Maffei continues to share his candid commentary on F1 with the world, it makes Carey’s job that much more difficult in future race negotiations as well as building trust and relationships with the teams and fans. I appreciate Mr. Maffei’s colloquialisms and would just add one myself, if Greg is a hard dog to keep under the porch, then a leash might be a good solution. People tend to be a little leery of a fast-shittin’ dogs.

Hat Tip: Forbes and Forbes 

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Salvu Borg

    “fast-shittin dogs” I honestly say PROSIT. I loved that one, although I have my own expression which goes as “a lot of Toilet blocking staff”

  • As I was saying, it’s one thing to have a bunch of bravado about your role at the chief of Starz entertainment but to come in a sport that’s over 50 years old and has established political and financial considerations is just junior league. The boss of Baku responded:

    Rahimov responded to Maffei’s comments about Baku this week.

    “It does upset us obviously,” Rahimov told Reuters on Wednesday. “Mr Maffei has been involved in F1 for less than half a year.

    “We’ve been working on this project for three years now so we have more experience with F1 then them.

    “I think saying something like this is ignorant, but we’ll see.”

    In his speech, Maffei highlighted Singapore, Mexico and Abu Dhabi as examples of valuable grands prix.

    “It’s incumbent upon us to bring best practice,” he added.

    “What are the races that are considered the most exciting? What’s going on well in those races?

    “We need to share that better with the promoters in each of the cities where things are less successful.”

    • Zachary Noepe

      I agree that the man seems rude but my feelings on this are a little more mixed than yours for two reasons –

      1) because when you read the comments in context he is clearly sympathetic to Baku as a place which Bernie E raped in order to line his own pockets and for which a race was not a healthy investment.

      2) when something is as screwed up as F1 is right now it’s going to be really hard to fix with only the sort of talk which makes manners and feelings the #1 priority.

      There’s a race in Baku for one reason – because it made Bernie personally richer while making F1 and Azerbaijan poorer. I for one have some tolerance for someone who’s willing to say so, because as long as we’re all blowing sunshine up each other’s arses and toasting Bernie E and making sure no one’s feelings get hurt nothing’s going to get fixed. All that said Maffei does seem like a jerk, I’ll grant you that.