Red Bull 'sizes up F1 rights in Austria' but ORF still in the equation
Red Bull, the Austrian energy drinks brand, is reported to be looking to expand its already considerable involvement in Formula 1 by acquiring the broadcasting rights to the top motor racing series in its home market, but faces a challenge from incumbent ORF.
Red Bull, which is headed up by billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, operates two Formula 1 teams in Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri (formerly Toro Rosso), and is the naming rights sponsor of the country's Red Bull Ring, wants to secure rights for its free-to-air television channel Servus TV for 2021 onwards, according to Austrian media reports.
Public-service broadcaster ORF is the long-time home of Formula 1 in Austria, but its current deal expires at the end of the 2020 season, and has yet to be renewed.
However, it is evident that the network is not giving up without a fight, with sports director Hans Peter Trost quoted saying: “Of course we will make an offer.”
ORF averaged 534,000 viewers for its live Formula 1 races in 2019, up from 515,000 a year earlier.
The sport is also televised in Austria by pay-television operator Sky as part of a deal to the end of 2020 that also includes Germany and German-language rights in Switzerland.
This year will be the 16th successive Formula 1 season involving Red Bull, whose main team, now known as Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, features young Dutch star Max Verstappen, third in the drivers’ world championship in 2019. The team finished in the same position in the constructors’ standings.
Red Bull also helped ensure the return of the Austrian Grand Prix to the Formula 1 schedule in 2014 after it acquired and redeveloped the old A1-Ring, which was rebranded as the Red Bull Ring. The circuit's hosting contract with series owner Liberty Media expires at the end of 2020, but is expected to be renewed.
Servus TV already holds rights to motorcycling's MotoGP World Championship in Austria and Germany, and recently attracted its highest-ever audience in Austria of 738,000 viewers, and market share of 45 per cent, for home tennis player Dominic Thiem’s five-set defeat to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open.
Asked about the Austrian Formula 1 rights in a recent interview with Speedweek.com, Mateschitz said: "We are not a sports broadcaster. We have to think carefully about such an option. F1 rights are always interesting for a broadcaster, but we cannot say anything about them now. We have to wait and see what ORF decides and what Sky does. It depends on the market situation, it must always be interesting."
ORF retained the rights to Formula 1 in a deal in 2016 valued at under €10 million (then $11.4 million) per year, down from the around €15 million it had been paying, with the broadcaster saying at the time this was "in line with our reasonable expectations" given its financial situation.
In 2014, ORF was hit by a reduction in funding as a change in legislation meant that the Austrian government would no longer compensate the broadcaster for licence fee exemptions, prompting talk it could withdraw from the sport.
The public-service broadcaster first questioned whether it would renew its Formula 1 rights back in 2013, at a time of cost-cutting measures, and as some within ORF preferred to spend the outlay on Austrian television content and films, but the return of the Austrian Grand Prix, after an absence of 10 years, helped bring about a new deal.
Meanwhile, ahead of the 2020 Formula 1 season, the AlphaTauri team has prolonged its sponsorship deal with Japanese design and technology company RDS.
The firm has experience in product development for motorsport, medicine, welfare and robotics.
AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost said of the extension: “After our best-ever finish (6th in the constructors’ world championship) in the hybrid era, we’re delighted that RDS has extended their partnership with us. Our respective organisations share a common philosophy based on design and performance excellence.”