LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been asked to stay on for three years after an imminent takeover of the sport is completed by U.S. cable TV mogul John Malone’s Liberty Media.
“They want me to be here for three years,” the 85-year-old, who over the decades has built the sport into a business with annual turnover of around $1.9 billion, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Media reports have suggested the first part of a broader deal between outgoing rights holders CVC and Liberty Media could be announced on Wednesday.
However Ecclestone and CVC chairman Donald Mackenzie voiced some scepticism about the time frame at last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
“Honestly, I don’t think anybody knows — including our friends from Liberty, and Donald,” said Ecclestone, who still expected the deal to get over the line.
The Briton said he would not be attending next week’s Singapore Grand Prix, the social highlight of the sport’s Asian calendar, because of the negotiations.
“Because all this is going through, they (CVC) want me to be there (in London) to help them with all sorts of things. I can’t afford to be away for five to six days.”
A Formula One board meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday, by which time the deal should have been finalised and a new chairman introduced.
Ecclestone expects that to be Chase Carey, executive vice-chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and a director of Sky News owner Sky Plc, who would replace Austrian Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.
Brabeck, 71, has been chairman since 2012 but has recently recovered from cancer and is due to step down as chairman of Nestle, the world’s largest food and drink company, in 2017.
Ecclestone, famously unwilling to delegate in the past, indicated he would be happy to share the workload.
“He (Carey) can do lots of things that I haven’t done with this social media, which he seems to be in touch with. He’s been dealing with sponsorship with his TV people. Between us we’ll get on with it,” he said.
Ecclestone’s future had been called into question, with former team owner and television pundit Eddie Jordan saying on Sunday that Monza could even be the Briton’s last race.
“That’s Eddie Jordan. If he had any money, and wanted a small wager, I’d give him good odds,” said Ecclestone.
The takeover, which values Formula One at more than $8 billion according to media reports, would represent the biggest shake-up in the cash-rich sport for decades.
A deal with Liberty would also herald a new era for a European-dominated sport that has long sought to break into the U.S. market and win fresh audiences, with team principals already welcoming the possibility of a bigger push.
Liberty Media has interests in the Atlanta Braves baseball team, satellite radio service Sirius XM, entertainment group Live Nation and minority interests in Time Warner and Viacom.
Malone’s Liberty Global is the world’s largest international TV and broadband company, operating in more than 30 countries in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean through a series of different brand names.
One bump in the road ahead could be the need for the deal to be approved by the sport’s governing International Automobile Federation (FIA) and other global motorsport series, and European anti-trust regulators.
The FIA has a one percent stake in Formula One’s parent company Delta Topco, which could be worth around $90 million according to forbes.com, and that has been held up as a possible conflict of interest.
The privately-owned Force India and Sauber teams have also filed a complaint asking EU authorities to investigate the sport’s governance and distribution of revenues.
Ecclestone expected the European Commission to take a closer look at the sport as a result.
“It’s like the police. You get stopped for a rear light and they want to know if you’ve got a driving license and insurance. So I don’t know what effect that will have,” he said.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ossian Shine