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Liberty got "very lucky" to buy F1 from Ecclestone to exploit untapped potential

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Reflecting on how F1's new American owner had transformed grand prix racing since it took ownership in 2017, its president Greg Maffei claims that some of its advances were helped by there being low-hanging fruit from day one.

In particular, Maffei says that Ecclestone's deliberate attitude of not being interested in social media, as the former supremo felt it would devalue the live television experience that he sold to broadcasters, was an easy thing to change and exploit.

Speaking in an interview in the latest edition of the James Allen on F1 podcast about how the reality of owning F1 was shaping up, Maffei said: "Frankly, I think it's only gotten better than we would have hoped. I'd like to think we made some smart moves, but I also think we got very lucky.

"There's been some great racing. There's been some great storytelling, not only with Drive to Survive, but what the drivers have done themselves on social media, something we helped them open up that wasn't really allowed before.

"The excitement that we've seen from fans around things like fan zones, and the exhibitions we've had, and the showcases in London and now most recently in Washington, DC, all those have really opened up the fan base to a new reality. And I think that's turned out much better than we might have hoped."

Pushed on the stance adopted by Ecclestone, Maffei said the previous regime had done tremendously good things for F1 but had perhaps failed to adapt to changing times.

Formula 1 in Depth event with Greg Maffei, CEO of the Liberty Media

Formula 1 in Depth event with Greg Maffei, CEO of the Liberty Media

"Bernie deserves massive credit for what he built with the sport, an unbelievable genius," he said. "But things change.

"And I think the reality is you went from a world where you were worried or thinking about, what are my broadcast partners going to pay me if I put all this stuff for free, to a world where other Sports had already embraced it and let their athletes, their participants become huge players in social media?

"Opening up that world attracted a new group of fans, and gave fans a much greater connection. Now all the broadcast partners recognise it, that trade-off about what am I giving them versus how much more engaged they are, has proven to be massively more to the side of social media.

"So it's a huge win, and really a way to increase your brand, not a way to reduce it."

But while F1 is hugely successful, Maffei says Liberty Media must not get complacent about things and thinks fans will stay interested if the racing is not comPetitive enough.

Asked about areas where he felt threats exist – including complacency – Maffei pointed out several issues that F1 needed to be mindful of.

"Absolutely, complacency you rightly point out, I think that's one to point out," he said. "And I worry, as I pointed out, we've attracted a whole group of new fans, how do we keep them interested?

"In some places, sustainability is a real concern. We have a good sustainability story, but we need to make sure it's known and understood, and that we're carrying it out. And that people have belief in it."

Further expanding his thoughts, he said: "I think issues about ensuring comPetitive racing. And the reality is, as the bar is continually raised, I mentioned how we worked hard to catch up in social media. We worked hard to catch up in some of the things that other modern Sports are doing.

"It's incumbent upon us to continue to thrive, [and] ensure that we have a good relationship with the regulator. At various times, we've had disagreements, ensuring that we're moving in the right direction. You know, those are the kinds of things that I think about at night."

 

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