A look behind the scenes at FOTA: Part 2
Posted by David
Last week, I had the chance to talk to the former secretary general of the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA), Oliver Weingarten. In part one, Weingarten spoke about a series of subjects, including how he felt the FOTA fan forums went and whether Formula One Management (FOM) is behind the times where new technology is concerned.
In the second and final part, I quizzed Weingarten about the current state of Formula 1, and also about whether Formula 1 moving to pay television is really the right thing for the sport. Part 1 can be found here.
The F1 Broadcasting Blog: Formula 1 is all about politics. Do you think some teams wanted FOTA to fail without thinking about the greater good?
Oliver Weingarten: There were factions in the sport that wanted [us] to fail, and there were those who perceived it [FOTA] no longer had relevance. However the majority of teams were in favour of FOTA, and recognised the benefits of having an organisation which could conduct matters on their collective behalf, and also provide an infrastructure where they could coalesce as and when needed, and also have the ability to respond in a swift manner with a unified voice. The fact is that FOTA conducted matters also on behalf of teams that were not members of FOTA, such as testing agreements [with circuit owners], and negotiations with Pirelli, whilst most generally wanted to be involved in fan forums. Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso [in 2013] was the star of the UK fans’ forum!
F1B: We’re seeing more often than not motor sport going down the pay TV route, of course the BBC and Sky deal from a few years ago and more recently, MotoGP to BT Sport. Whilst I know that you’re not part of the two wheeled paddock, do you think eventually we will see Formula 1 in the UK and the other territories go pay TV only? Do the teams feel that pay TV is the way forward in order for the sport to flourish? [note: I asked OW this question before it was announced that MotoGP was going to have a highlights show on ITV4]
OW: In my opinion, and those of the teams when I was at FOTA, the belief may not have matched the market reality. Free to air has its inherent benefits, in respect of generally obtaining more eyeballs and exposure for sponsors, but there has to be a recognition that the trend for sports rights over the years has seen a migration to pay TV. Public service broadcasters have seen severe budget controls imposed which has impacted on their ability in markets to obtain sports rights.
F1B: …even with the BBC budget cuts though, for example, that doesn’t mean we should completely forget the free to air viewer. I’d argue that a bit of both [free to air and pay TV] may be the best solution.
OW: A mix of free to air and pay TV can work well. In the UK, arguably more people watched the  Malaysian Grand Prix via a mix of Sky Sports F1’s excellent live coverage and thereafter BBC highlights, as opposed to if it had just been on the BBC in the early hours of the morning. The competition amongst broadcasters has also improved the offering for consumers. Accordingly I believe sponsorship deals are not conducted anymore in F1 just on the basis of the amount of exposure on free to air. Sponsors are becoming a lot more sophisticated and understanding of the business model.
F1B: Lastly, do you have any regrets from the past few years, and what do you think Formula 1 has learnt about itself as a result of FOTA, if anything?
OW: My biggest regret is not achieving what I was hired to achieve, or at least provide assistance to achieve. The landscape changed dramatically within two months of my employment commencing. Teams had resigned, were arguing over cost control, the Geneva office was being closed down, and most significantly teams struck individual deals with the Commercial Rights Holder (CRH), meaning that the idea of collectively bargaining to achieve a better commercial position, was made redundant. The perception of FOTA became negative, and whilst there were a lot of positives, these were never championed loudly, and sometimes not even publicly. A lot of ideas I had from my previous role, were therefore never utilised. The teams recognise that whilst there is so much competitiveness and self-interest across the paddock, it makes it difficult for FOTA to operate on contentious issues, particularly when the structure of the CRH is as it currently is.