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Formula One owner Liberty Media eyes MotoGP acquisition

The world of racing is gearing up for what could be among the most notable deals in recent times. 

Formula One owner Liberty Media is in talks to buy Dorna Sports, the company that owns the motorbike racing franchise MotoGP in a deal worth over €4 billion ($4.32 billion), the Financial Times reports. 

The potential purchase, which is still in the works, could mean two of the flagship racing championships will be run by the media company chaired by billionaire John Malone.

“Essentially what they [Liberty] do is they lock down the two premier motorsports in the world— two wheel and four wheel—within their portfolio, which will bring some very interesting synergies,” Yanni Andreopoulos, a sports industry expert who served as a commercial director at Formula E, told Fortune on Thursday.

A number of parties threw their hat in the mix to buy Dorna—from sports and entertainment group TKO and Paris Saint-Germain owner Qatar Sports Investments. The Madrid-based Dorna is involved in well-known sporting championships including MotoGP and MotoE, and is responsible for about 250 races spanning 20 countries.  

The massive growth potential amid bumps

Liberty bought a multi-billion-dollar controlling stake in F1 from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners in 2016 at a time when it was eyeing bringing the European dominated sport to the U.S. And it’s worked—the F1 franchise has seen its popularity soar in recent years, thanks to Liberty’s efforts in promoting the sport, including through the Netflix reality show Drive to Survive. The proof is in the pudding as F1’s operating profits were up 64% in 2023 to hit $392 million.

MotoGP, for its part, has also seen its fanbase expand globally—especially across the Americas. 

It’s unclear if Liberty will acquire a majority or minority stake in Dorna, if the acquisition pulls through.

The tentative deal, while promising, would most likely attract scrutiny from competition watchdogs. 

It wouldn’t be the first time European watchdogs stepped in to break up what looked like a sporting hegemony. Back in 2006, before CVC bought F1, it owned Dorna and therefore, the MotoGP series. However, the European Commission gave the private equity firm a go-ahead to buy F1 only if it sold Dorna. This time could be no different (if not worse, given that EU watchdogs have their radar up on most big deals).

“There is precedent,” Andreopoulos said, referring to CVC’s case. “I think, absolutely, the watchdogs are going to want to take a look at it [the deal].”

Still, the upsides of the deal are clear. By having F1 and MotoGP under one umbrella, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei could appeal to a large group of racing enthusiasts globally. He also has the opportunity to do to MotoGP what he did to F1 by smothering it with glamor and creating a new-found interest in the sport. 

Andreopoulos said that even though MotoGP trails behind in terms of its popularity and reach to audiences now, a deal with Liberty’s could be a gamechanger.    

“They [Liberty] have proven with Formula One and with other investments that they can come in, they can structure the teams and the series in a way that captures the imagination,” Andreopoulos said. 

Dorna and F1 didn’t immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.

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