Breakaway… success?

17 06 2009

The FIA-FOTA war currently raging in the world of Formula 1 at the moment has set the sport on course towards a split, with the eight remaining teams in FOTA creating a breakaway series, unless one side can back down without loosing face, or a compromise can be reached. Today the parties seem to be as far away from an agreement as ever, at least publicly, so the prospect of a breakaway looms large. Many writers in the F1 world have cast doubt on the ability of FOTA to create a rival series at such short notice, and have stated that a split would be bad for the sport, drawing comparisons with the IRL/CART split in the US.  Perhaps this is true, and a breakaway is fraught with risks, and still may not happen, however I believe that a breakaway is by no means guaranteed to spell doom and gloom for the sport.

Firstly looking at whether or not a series could be set up at short notice;  I am no expert on how to set up a racing series, so this will be as brief as I can, but I do believe it is far from impossible. Assuming the season would start in late March, this would give FOTA just over 9 months to have everything in place.  The first problem is that FOTA exists only as a sum of its components, racing teams. Although they have a lot of experience in F1 they have not been organising it.  Organisational personnel will need to be brought in, along side rule makers, a policing structure, media staff and everything else which keeps a racing series going.  There are hundreds of racing series around the world, and the chance to work on a racing series as high profile as an F1 breakaway will likely be an attractive proposition for their staff, so recruiting should not be a huge hurdle.

The main problem FOTA will face is cost.  The major players in FOTA are massive corporations awash with cash, however it is unlikely they will put up funding for a new series at a time they are cutting costs and laying off starts.  The global economic downturn makes it a difficult time to find money, but it hasn’t all disappeared, the recent deal’s Real Madrid have done total £136million, which suggest investment can still be found. Finding the money is key, however FOTA do have the asset of broadcast rights and merchandising which they can either sell short term, or take loans out against, they will be all to aware though that they need to be careful when doing this to avoid the massive payments CVC have been committed to.

If a breakaway series was launched, there would be undoubtedly be consequences in terms of diluting advertising, both on television as well as trackside and on the cars. However F1 currently loses a lot of the cash it generates though repayments on the debt incurred by CVC when they purchased the sport, a new series would likely not see funds withdrawn from the sport at the same high level. If a breakaway championship can find a financial model which allows the sport to reinvest in itself, it should be able to flourish, and compete with the FIA championship.

The IRL/CART split which took place in 1996 is credited for almost destroying open wheel racing in the sates, and allowing stock car racing to supplant to become the dominant form of racing in the US. Formula one is however a global entity which is a very different beast to the American market. Stock cars were already an established series in the US and effectively created a 3 way battle with 2 series wounded from their falling out.

F1 does not have a major competitor at the moment; no other series has the same levels of global exposure so it would be a straight fight between the two series, in the short term at least. Far from annihilating each other, they will have to compete to win over the fans. F1 has been stagnant for far too long, it is the only major sport in the world not to have moved to HD broadcasting, and this is largely because they haven’t had the competition to push them. Major innovations were made about a decade ago when Bernie Ecclestone believed he could sell F1 as a premium pay for view product, although this failed it did drastically improve the quality of broadcasts. F1 has been slow to move on from this, the only new innovation of introducing line comparison graphics has so far only been seen once, and then in a free practice session.

The formula1.com website at the moment does generously provide live timing and some video highlights a week after a race, but a quick look at official websites of nascar.com or even the NFL shows what could be provided for fans. A breakaway would give us completion, which as the racetrack shows us forces standards up and breeds innovation.

Another element of F1 which has distressed the fans, has been the growing trend of classic races in f1 being lost from the calendar, to make room for new races on less inspiring tracks on the other side of the world. I am not saying f1 or a breakaway should not race outside Europe, but tracks should not be chosen on finance alone, and great racing tracks should not be ignored. If a breakaway forces the racing to go where the fans want it, again it can only be good for the sport as a whole. The regulations in F1 have been one of the bigger causes of the current fall-out between the teams and the FIA. Often fans have been left puzzled by rule changes which have hampered rather than helped the racing, with competition, the rules will be crucial in improving the show to attract more fans

F1’s dominance in global racing is largely down to the people who have been running the sport, however it is a long way from perfect, and this dominance has served to damage the sport to an extent, making it far less accessible to the fans, with exuberant ticket prices, and races from Asia early in the morning. A breakaway would force both series to connect with the fans to win them over, I believe the teams are better positioned to do this, but perhaps the current championship has more to lose, it could be an interesting fight, and I believe it could improve the sport. There are inherent risks, but as long as a split can be resolved in the short term, ideally less than 5 years, it should keep the sport at the peak of motorsport, and in the racing all the better for the fans.

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7 responses

17 06 2009
Journeyer

Great entry, Nick! Some thoughts:

1. If Bernie doesn’t join them in the breakaway, who do you think can run the show? They need a person not from any of these teams to handle (but not own) the commercial stuff.
2. Now that Lola have announced they’re pulling out of contention for F1 2010, where does that leave them? Do they really think a compromise between FIA and FOTA can be reached? Could they conceivably be talking to FOTA about joining a breakaway championship?
3. More a feedback than a question – I love the way you present your case – your train of thought is good. Would appreciate it though, if you can break up your 4 long paragraphs into more shorter ones. It would make it easier to read and follow. But it’s a superb start! 😀

17 06 2009
racingpolitics

Thanks Journeyer

Firstly I do belive the teams can run the show, heading up a major racing series like this is a prestigious job and would likely attract people at the top of the field. the teams need to find a promoter who is prepared to hold his ground in order to improve the show, but at the same time they need to have someone who knows they can be replaced if they aren’t up to the job.

Secondly, Lola apparently have designs for a car on their computers ready to go, so if FOTA do have a championship in the works they will have not just Lola, but a host of teams they could contact to enter, they probably need to get at least 2 teams to replace the defectors, but could probably run for a year with just 16 cars…

17 06 2009
Christine

I like this. A ray of hope in what is becoming a dismal and seemingly futile argument.

Do you think that the teams would really manage to know what the fans want though in their new breakaway series? Is it really all Bernie’s doing? It seems like such an alien concept that our voices might be heard!

17 06 2009
racingpolitics

Thanks Christine,

I think the teams will have to listen to the fans; If they want their series to succeed over the existing championship. They did show some promise of this by putting forward the ideas they generated in their fan survey last year to the FIA.
They could have more of these in the future, polls on the website or suggestion boxes. However I suspect it will mainly be trial and error, keenly looking for a response.

But i get ahead of myself, A breakaway is far from guaranteed, and even if there is one announced I suspect it will still be 50/50 as to whether it will go ahead…

17 06 2009
Rich

Hi Nick, I do not think there will be a shortage of material for your site all the while Max is around. I think there is more chance to set up a break-away that your article suggests. Firstly you do not have to have a season starting in March – it could be spread over two season, especially if you use more southern hemisphere countries. It seems the MotoGP is rather better organised and gives fans more than F1 does so Dorna Sports is an option (though not really FIA independent).

One final thought, if the rejected teams like Lola, N.Technology join FOTA they will have more teams and bigger names than the remains of F1.

17 06 2009
Steven Roy

I know you were worried about the length of this post but for me it could have been a bit longer to give you a chance to go a little deeper in each point.

Finding someone to run the commercial arm should not be an issue. I belive if there is a breakaway Bernie will be with them but when you look at the teams involved there is no real need to generate immediate income beyond sponsorship. Circuits are easy to find and they can be given the first year free to give them a nice pay day up front which will help motivate them to organise a major event at short notice and make them more amenable when it comes to agreeing a five year contract for the future.

TV companies are used to paying through the nose for sports or being outbid by satellite broadcaster. F1 or an equivalent has to be free to air to hook the sponsors so I am sure a 1 year deal or 1 year with options could be put in place to et things started.

17 06 2009
racingpolitics

Thanks Steven,

I plan to do a follow up on options avoiding a war, and bernie going with them will certainly be one of those. Wont worry too much about length then, but i will try try to break it up to keep it readable!

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