Bernie Is All About The Benjamins
After a weekend of chatting with some of F1′s sharpest minds that have special relationships with Bernie Ecclestone, (some closer to him than others), I’m getting the distinct feeling that it really all comes down to cold hard cash.
Many of you are not surprised, to be totally honest with you, I’ve always wanted to believe that Bernie does care about F1 as a sport and not just a business. I’d like to believe that deep down he does care about the fans and the show. Sadly however, it’s just not as much as I thought (at the risk of saying, not at all).
Bernie is an extraordinary mind and brilliant business man. His life reads like a novel with many experiences on both sides of the hard covers. It could stand alone on a shelf in a library in its own section with many headings. If this sounds confusing, I apologize, however, if you do a little homework and research Bernie’s achievements and experiences, I promise you, it will certainly paint a clearer picture.
What I learned about the 81 year old Bernard, CEO of FOM from Suffolk is that, at least these days, it’s really all about the money. My questions about why F1 is venturing into countries that have not historically had an interest in F1 were answered with one word… ”Money”. When I asked if F1 was headed toward a pay-per-view type model? I was told, possibly full or hybrid…why? Money. I wondered how the US went from having not a single F1 GP in years to now having one this season (Austin), two next season (Austin, New Jersey) and possibly three by 2015 (Austin, New Jersey and Long Beach)…Money! Bahrain…Money!
Money Money Money…but more than that, it’s also image which many argue is why F1 continues to race around Monaco. There is historical significance to Monaco, but mainly it comes down to Money and Image. Not just for the sport mind you. Something we as race fans often forget is that cities, businesses, developers and promoters want F1 to come to town because it literally puts them on the map. Hosting an F1 event elevates a city/country to an elite status and puts the eyes of viewers around the world focused squarely on it. Media, tourists, TV, publicity and local economies all benefit from the attention F1 brings with it. It’s more than racing, it is a brand. Even with the world in financial crisis, everyone stretches themselves to purchase that name brand item, no different from wanting to associate with the rich and famous of the F1 circus.
I discussed an idea I had about F1 from a fan’s perspective with a few well-respected F1 personalities (for which I will not get into details). My plan was to approach FOM with the idea, however, without saying I was discouraged to do so, I actually got discouraged to do so. More than one person told me that if it were up to Bernie, there would be no spectators at races. He would be fully content with TV coverage alone and that he really doesn’t care about the fan experience.
This is what is fundamentally wrong in several ways with F1 as a business. Although it is successful, it could be so much more. My eyes were open to a number of reasons why F1 could do better on the business side. I mean monumentally better. North America is a huge potential market, but F1 simply isn’t interesting enough to new and younger spectators. At least not enough to make a contender against the likes of Nascar and IndyCar which have much better coverage and marketing. Fans drive the sport’s popularity and are directly responsible for revenue stream, so if Bernie cared more about the fans and their Formula One experience, it could effectively line his pockets much more handsomely. To give you an idea, Disney’s CARS franchise, esentially a cartoon about a race car, is worth more than Formula One. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
What happens after Bernie? I asked that question as well. Apparently, Bernie will never die; he will outlive us all because he’s stubborn enough to never give up and clever enough to cheat death. If there is a “Post Bernie” era of F1, it is believed by my sources that Formula One will enter into the “Corporate” era. Where decisions about Grand Prix’, fans, promotion, marketing will all be made based on research and statistics and numbers and voted on by a committee. The problem is, no one can do deals like Bernie can. He’s simply the best, been there done that and scored the T-shirt for free. Perhaps that’s why here and now, for Bernie…it’s just all about the Benjamins…
NB1: “Benjamins” refers to the fact there Benjamin Franklin appears on the USD $100 bill and not the Hollywood movie or my neighbour’s labrador retriever.
NB2: This is only my opinion, based on the advice and opinions of my interview subjects. I have not had the pleasure (or opportunity) to interview Bernie himself yet, however, they have so I am taking their word at face value.
Author: Ernie Black