American fans of Formula One, many of whom have just been notified that their only avenue to the sport, television, will raise rates this month, must find it amusing that the sport enjoyed record broadcast revenues last year.
Well, amusing might not be the right word.
What we have from the governing side of the sport, whipped up by FIA president Max Mosley's bleating and walloped home by a global financial meltdown, is the best chance in years for fans to relate to the sport: living on reduced means. Who among us can't appreciate imposed cutbacks these days? Discovering which teams wind up competitive in the face of slashed staff and budgets stands to make this season far more interesting than many of late. Rules changes could provide a great opportunity for those other teams -- who are they again? -- to supplant the 800-pound gorillas from Woking and Maranello. So, something to look forward to.
But now comes word that the commercial side of the enterprise raked in big bucks last year. Why so? Because the sport appeals as sport. We weren't tuning in for grid girls and celebrity girlfriends, unseen techy stuff or exotic scenery. It's all about cars on track. Especially in the rain.
Better still is that noise from within indicates team grand poobahs are set to demand more of the takings as part of their due. Or at least to cover costs of this icky budgeting stuff.
Understand that the individual orchestrating the cash bath of Formula One, a certain Bernard C. Ecclestone, made millionaires of said grand poobahs even as he made a billionaire of himself. On television revenues. He managed to do so and to keep massive amounts of dosh ($3.48 billion) for himself, all tidily stored away in companies held in the name of a certain, now divorce-seeking wife.
That team grandees would call for a bigger payout from revenues infers they don't only think about tire graining and brake temperatures. Good on 'em for it. Their attention to the matter might just drop a 10-ton weight of reason onto the show. We're hoping F1's deep thinkers who seem to know every marketing move NASCAR makes will take -- in the face of stock-car team cutbacks -- a clear look at the most financially successful sports league to date, the National Football League.
Since the early 1960s, when sport's grandest -- dare we say immortal -- grand poobah, Commissioner Pete Rozelle, introduced (imposed?) the idea, the NFL has shared television revenues. Equal payouts to each team. It's a brilliant scheme that lets small-market clubs compete with big-city entries. (Quick review: New York Giants, unexpected Super Bowl winners in 2008, out of the playoffs in 2009.) A few other ideas, such as the team with the worst record earning the right to the top draft pick -- this would be akin to Force India earning the right to employ GP2 winner Giorgio Pantano as its driver -- has kept NFL competitiveness firmly locked in fans' minds and the league tied firmly to the cliche' that on any given Sunday, any team can win. The NFL also successfully instituted a salary cap, something F1 is looking at now.
Although SportsBusiness Journal reports the NFL will fall $50 million or even $60 million short of revenue projections for the 2008 fiscal year that runs April 1 to March 31, the publication quoted a league spokesman as saying the shortfall will be less than 1 percent of combined league and team takings. You math types can do what you will with that. And the league claimed an "ambitious" income forecast. So while league sponsorships -- the so-called business partners -- have made cutbacks affecting their sports associations -- for instance, General Motors will not advertise during next month's Super Bowl broadcast -- the NFL won't be going through the drastic changes that will mark F1 this year. CNNMoney.com reports 2009 Super Bowl ad spots are mostly sold, thank you.
The message -- or should that be demand? -- for Bernie needs to be: share and share alike. If such had been in place already, perhaps Honda wouldn't be F1 past tense. (How Japan can be considered F1 mad but can't find the corporate readies to back private or factory teams is another discussion, one that should include the United States.)
A share-out tactic is needed so Mosley won't have to spend his afternoons fretting if F1 will pare itself to 14 runners, a figure he says would do in the sport. Oh, wait, he doesn't spend his afternoons that way anyway, does he?
Meantime, fans in America have to cough up bucks. Buddy, can you spare a fiver -- 12 times?