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Ari Emanuel reveals Endeavor nearly bought Formula One before Liberty

Agency giant's CEO says the ‘US$10bn’ price tag put off bid.

2 June 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • Motorsport series was sold by CVC to Liberty Media for US$4.4bn
  • Endeavor bought a majority stake in UFC for US$4bn back in 2016

Endeavor chief executive Ari Emanuel has revealed that the agency giant nearly bought the Formula One motorsport series around the time of the sale to Liberty Media seven years ago.

Formula One was then majority owned by private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and would later be acquired by Liberty in January 2017 for US$4.6 billion. Speaking on the Freakonomics Radio podcast, Emanuel said that he “had been working CVC for two, three years”, to put the agency in pole position to buy the series.

Emanuel also revealed that the opportunity to acquire Formula One came about shortly after Endeavor had acquired a controlling interest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) promotion for US$4.4 billion. However, he failed to find sufficient support to launch a bid for Formula One, with the suggested US$10 billion price tag proving too high at the time.

“All of a sudden, it comes up”, recalled Emanuel. “They want to sell. So we have a meeting. Brexit had just happened. We hadn’t done anything yet with the UFC.

“I wanted to buy Formula One right away. Now at the time, they didn’t have the [Drive to Survive] TV show, a bunch of stuff had not been in place, which [Liberty has] done an incredible job [with]. We understandably, because, you know – I think it was US$10 billion – said no. I understand why, because we had just bought this [UFC]. We had not even accomplished anything.

“The timing was wrong. So that was one that got away that I wish it wouldn’t have.”

Speaking about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sports industry, Emanuel praised Liberty for growing Formula One’s fanbase through the Netflix-produced ‘Drive to Survive’ series, which saw its popularity explode during the lockdown.

“Formula One did a great job, because what they did is they created that TV show in a time when everybody was sitting home watching stuff, and then everybody became a fan through that show,” Emanuel added.

Of late there has been talk that Liberty wants to move on from Formula One, but the media company’s chief executive Greg Maffei recently clarified that the series was not for sale. Reports earlier this year suggested that Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund (PIF) had made a US$20 billion bid.

Endeavor, meanwhile, has expanded its sports portfolio further with the acquisition of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and merged the wrestling promotion with the UFC to form ‘TKO Group Holdings’, with the new company valued north of US$20 billion.

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