Formula 1 to be sold again?

IT is only a month since Bernie Ecclestone announced that he had sold 37.5% of the Formula One Holdings empire to the investment company Hellman & Friedman for $1bn. Now it seems the American company may be about to get a very quick profit with suggestions that Ecclestone has convinced the media group EM TV to part with at least $2bn to get joint control of the company. This means that Hellman & Friedman could make as much as $250m on the deal, Morgan Grenfell, which bought 12.5% of FOH in November, could double the $325m it paid and Ecclestone could walk away with another $200m simply for putting the deal together and agreeing to sell one share to give EM TV control of the company. Ecclestone will almost certainly have included a contract which will see him continuing to work as chief executive of F1 for as long as he pleases.

The deal makes a considerable amount of sense for EM TV, a quoted media company with enormous holdings in the licensing, merchandising, television rights sales and syndication industries, controlling lucrative brand names such as The Muppets, Popeye, the Pink Panther, Elvis Presley, James Bond, Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker. The boss of EM TV is Thomas Haffa who spent many years working for German TV magnate Leo Kirch (who provides much of F1's income from his digital TV service) before setting up his own company in 1996. An early listing on the stock exchange in Frankfurt helped to fund a spree of acquisitions which culminated in the purchase of the Jim Henson Company recently for $680m. The EM TV company is now turning over around $300m a year and with F1 could double that with TV rights sales and merchandising operations.

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