Murdoch deal is `close to zero` chance: Ecclestone

Updated: Apr 28, 2011, 18:45 PM IST

London: Rupert Murdoch has a "close to zero" chance of buying Formula One and talk of a takeover is being driven by the media and advisers seeking to make money, the sport`s supremo Bernie Ecclestone said on Thursday.

A person familiar with the situation told Reuters this month that Murdoch`s News Corp was in the early stages of talks to form a consortium to acquire control of Formula One motor racing.

Formula One is owned by private equity firm CVC and managed by Ecclestone. News Corp held preliminary talks with at least one big car manufacturer, thought to be Ferrari, and with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who already has links to the sport, the person said.

"It`s media driven," Ecclestone told Reuters in a telephone interview. "It looks very much like someone who is trying to see if they can make (money).

"All of these people that get involved with these things, they get some victims and say `We can make this happen, I`m sure we can do this` and then all they do is keep pumping fees in."

Analysts have also pointed out that the big manufacturers and advertisers traditionally want the sport to be shown on free-to-air channels as they draw the biggest possible audience, as opposed to Murdoch`s paid-for TV channels such as BSkyB in Britain or Sky Italia.

Asked if coverage on free-to-air TV was still an issue, Ecclestone replied: "Definitely, 100 percent.

"If, and I think the chances are close to zero, but if Murdoch was to buy certainly he`d have to broadcast some free to air like it is now."

Murdoch has made sport a cornerstone of his pay-TV operations and it has also been a prime motivation for many of his deals, and analysts see a logic to his involvement in Formula One.

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world`s largest advertising group WPP and a director of Formula One, said he had no problems with a media company owning the rights to the sport.

"I see no harm whatsoever in a pay-TV company investing in or owning Formula One," said Sorrell, who has clashed with Ecclestone in the past. "I see no problem with that.

"From what I`ve seen, I don`t think CVC have indicated that they want to sell the business. I`m sure there would be interest because Formula One is a very strong property.

"But (I make) those comments as a WPP employee and not as a Formula One director."

Bureau Report