Formula One, EU let it ride

FIA agrees to sign over rights to Ecclestone's co.

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s antitrust authorities have dropped their probe into how the TV rights for Formula One motor races are sold.

The move comes after the Intl. Automobile Federation (FIA) agreed to sell its rights to market access to the FIA Formula One World Championship to motor racing entrepreneur Bernie Ecclestone.

“The parties agreed to make changes which limit the FIA to a regulatory role, to prevent conflict of interests and remove commercial restrictions put on circuit owners and TV broadcasters,” the European Commission said in a statement.

The EU investigation, which began two years ago after a complaint from German television group AETV, focused on the relationship between FIA and Ecclestone, whose company, Formula One Administration (FOA) markets the sport’s lucrative TV rights.

The FIA has agreed to sign over its broadcast rights to Ecclestone’s company for 100 years.

In return, FOA will reform its rights-selling procedures, and strike clauses that penalized broadcasters for buying TV rights of Formula One’s competitors, such as the Premier One Grand Prix. Such clauses contained penalties of up to 55% of rights paid for outside deals.

FOA will also open up the bidding for TV rights once the contracts with broadcasters expire. New contracts with terrestrial broadcasters will be limited to three years.

The EU’s antitrust investigation had halted Ecclestone’s plans to float his Formula One company. However, the entrepreneur sold 50% of his SLEC Formula One holding company to German programming and merchandising group EM.TV in 2000, for $1.62 billion.

Still, industry insiders contend the EU should have done more to counter what an antitrust watchdog once described as one of the “worst antitrust breaches ever.”

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