BERLIN — The future of Formula One motor racing TV coverage continues to hit red lights. German kidvidder EM.TV and shareholder the Kirch Group last week exercised a $1 billion call option to obtain a further 25% of F1 holding company SLEC, just hours before the Feb. 28 deadline.
But controversy surrounds the deal, which gives EM.TV a 75% stake, and the pact could yet be vetoed.
The controversy comes in the form of German media company the Kirch Group, which is helping EM.TV finance the deal after it took a 17% stake in the kidvidder and half of EM.TV’s original 50% stake in Speed, through which EM.TV holds its SLEC shares.
The Intl. Automobile Assn. (FIA) and F1 founder Bernie Ecclestone claim the deal is subject to their approval — and they don’t want to hand over their precious sport to a pay TV broadcaster.
Kirch disagrees, saying its deal is with Speed, not SLEC. It is playing down FIA claims, particularly as the body’s role in motor racing is already being examined by cartel authorities.
Some disgruntled car manufacturers have even threatened to pull out of the F1 tournament or set up a rival series. EM.TV counters that it has no intention of harming the sport and there is no need for a new series.
Kirch says it was ready to talk to carmakers about taking part of its F1 stake. It also vowed Feb. 28 to keep the sport on free TV after the contract with German broadcaster RTL expires in 2003.
For the moment, Ecclestone will continue to run day-to-day operations and decide on the sale of the F1 TV rights, which gives him control over this key issue.