Sunday, July 01, 2012


Problems in the Eurozone just might be good for America. At least -- strangely enough -- when it comes to Formula One.


The FIA said the other week it would (again) examine ways to reduce the cost of competing for the world championship. A media statement let out the word that the governing organization is engaged in "active discussions with teams regarding cost control."

You don't have to be a Financial Times subscriber to figure out that Formula One is extremely vulnerable to what some smart people think is an impending collapse of the European economy.

Bernie Ecclestone has grown very comfortable over the last couple of decades in having local, state and national governments spend taxpayer dollars to subsidize his series. Such funding both helped make mandated facility improvements and pay the rights fee to stage a Grand Prix. Given F1's worldwide TV audience and impressive roster of blue-chip corporate sponsors, politicos would justify the spending based on prestige and money brought into the local economy.
Well, these days, Greece is the word and governmental leaders are having an extremely difficult time making that case. Our Boy Bernie sensed the political earth shifting under his feet a few years ago and moved a couple of his previous dates from Europe to the Middle East, where oil money was his to be had. Of course, with that came the risk of political instability, as shown with last year's cancellation and this season's questionable running in Bahrain. I have a copy of what in the U.S. we call the prospectus for the floatation of shares in the Williams team last year. Political instability in host countries was prominetly cited as a risk to investors.

The French GP (where this form of racing began in 1906) hasn't been staged since 2008. Troubled Spain has had two in recent seasons but that's likely to change. It's difficult to imagine F1 racing without Spa but, according to some reports, that could be the case in Belgium. The recent French elections and arrival of a new president seems to have derailed a plan for France and Belgium to host in alternate years starting in 2013. Even the popular and successful Australian round has a ? attached to its future, due to cost. I remember every year I went Down Under for the CART race in Surfers Paradise, the local papers had stories questioning the subsidy provided by the state of Queensland.

And when Ferrari -- the biggest of the big spenders -- sounds the alarm, you know it's serious. The Spanish banks are troubled and Santander (I think it's the Eurozone's largest) reportedly has a contract with the Prancing Horse through 2017 and a big sponsorship with national hero driver Fernando Alonso. Plus McLaren and event signage. It's reasonable to ask just how solid the future of those deals might be. Germany, with its strong economy, is under constant pressure to lead a Eurozone rescue (what we call a "bailout") and financial reform that certainly would come with it could lead to significant cutbacks in F1 sponsorships. German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who agreed to help Spain and Italy last week -- could indirectly become as important to F1's biz health as Ecclestone himself.

As they know even over in NASCAR (especially in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series), America has its economic issues -- that could get better or worse depending on the outcome of November's presidential and congressional elections. In comparison with non-Germany Europe, though, these shores look more like a safe haven -- even after the recent bank downgrades and stock market plunge. I bet Ecclestone must have had this thought: "Any port in a storm."

Which brings us to Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Tex., and the temporary course announced in New Jersey (with New York City as the backdrop.) The U.S. GP has been anything but a stabilizing anchor (Sebring, Watkins Glen, Long Beach, Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, Indianapolis) throughout its history. But maybe, just maybe, we're looking better to Bernie. Although he continues to (and always will) play the "game" as seen with his unwillingness to remove doubt that New York/New Jersey will actually make the 2013 schedule. Ecclestone always has his foot full-down on the "pressure" peddle and those who dare to do business with him had best accept that as a fact.

But, a few words of caution: Let's be sure to remember all the internal CotA issues that have made headlines and that rightfully will cause skepticism going forward despite a string of recent positive announcements. And if Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in Sprint Cup title contention that same race day in the NASCAR finale at Homestead, well, Austin will be nothing more than a local event on these shores. As for NY/NJ, I can only assume the organizers believe they have concessions from Ecclestone on things such as TV rights, title sponsorship, signage and/or hospitality (revenue Bernie typically claims for himself) because that's the only possible way I can see this enterprise making business sense since all involved swear no taxpayer money is involved.

Meanwhile, check out this link to see just how profitable the world championship can be:

My friend Bob Jenkins announced in May he'll retire from TV after this IndyCar season and that, no surprise, has stirred-up speculation on who will replace him. Since I laid-out a plan here on Sept. 6, 2010 ("How to Fix the IRL on Versus") -- link here -- that some general elements came to be, I'll come back with more.

The proper role of an anchor is to professionally call the action and direct "traffic" among the other announcers. He has to be willing to keep his own ego in check and allow others to have a higher profile. He has to have a sense of what the news is, the stories are, be fair, and absolutely MUST HAVE UNQUESTIONED CREDIBILITY. The name I keep hearing as the front-runner to become the New Man Upstairs would be a huge mistake because he doesn't have the above qualities. My recommendation is another friend of mine, Rick Benjamin. He can do it because Rick's pretty much done it all in race broadcasting -- he's a PROVEN pro.

I'd also spice-up the booth by pairing Paul Tracy with Tommy Kendall on a permanent basis. This just might well be the most entertaining duo since the days when Paul Page had to referee Bobby Unser and Sam Posey. Jon Beekhuis could continue with tech features and play a sort of Larry McReynolds "strategist" role outside the booth.

They did it again. Network TV is one of the few places where executives can make a $10 million mistake -- paid for ultimately by shareholders -- and get away without consequence. It took years for CBS News' executive management to be held accountable for the $15 mil-a-year-for-five-years Katie Couric disaster. Now, NBC has done it, paying off Ann Curry to that reported number as she got the boot after one bad year co-hosting the ratings-threatened Today show. (And what a self-absorbed on-air farewell she made.) Her selection as "next in line" was a mistake from Day One and is an object lesson in the arrogance of television execs. With Today the No. 1-rated morning show for decades -- and a huge moneymaker -- and the successful transition from Couric to Meredith Vierra, the bosses seemingly just figured they could put whoever in that spot and merrily roll along. The audience didn't agree. Of course, the politically correct TV columnists tripped over themselves to defend the miscast Curry, one even calling her a "scapegoat." The New York Times outdid itself, referring to her "journalistic curiosities." The correct description would have been: activist liberal agenda. And picking journalistic lightweight Savannah Guthrie as Curry's replacement looks to be yet another misjudgment.

John Roberts, the chief justice of the U.S., must have a sense of PR. I'm not an attorney (I did take some pre-law in college) but a review of his written decision in last week's Obama health care law case leads me to believe Roberts mixed in a little PR thinking with his legal opinion. To me, it had all the look of a result looking for a justification, and Roberts I think thinks one of his jobs is to maintain the High Court's supposed reputation as even-handed. I think he thought another 5-4 "conservative" decision would damage the court's standing in the court of public opinion. So Roberts, in part, made a PR decision.

And, once and for all, let's take the "spin" out of what is officially the "Affordable Health Care Act." Emphasis on "affordable." Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona released this statement after the Supreme Court's decision:

"Since the introduction of the reform bill, we have expressed our concern that many of its provisions will increase the cost of healthcare. While the law goes a long way to extend access to more people, it falls short on affordability. The next challenge for policymakers will be to address the staggering cost of healthcare."

I hope people still have enough money to buy race tickets after their premiums get jacked-up higher than Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 during a pit stop.

[ a special commentary on the sixth anniversary of this blog next Monday . . .