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F1 owner Liberty Media takes over MotoGP in $4bn deal with Dorna

Dorna Sports has officially announced that Formula 1 owner Liberty Media has finalised its purchase of the MotoGP World Championship.

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The American entertainment company, which has owned the rights to Formula 1 since 2016, will take over Dorna, which has owned MotoGP since 1992 and also controls WSBK and the MotoE World Cup, in a deal valued at €4.2 billion.

Liberty will take 86% of the shares of the Spanish company, with the remaining 14% remaining with MotoGP management.

Previously, 40% owned by Bridgepoint - the investment firm based in London that acquired its stake in 2006 from CVC Capital Partners - and 38% by the Canadian pension fund (CPPIB). The remaining 22% was divided between various Dorna executives, with Carmelo Ezpeleta (10%), the CEO, as the leading figure.

The confirmation of the deal has taken longer than both parties would have wanted, given that they had been in agreement on the terms for some time. In fact, the initial plan was to announce the move even before the opening round of the MotoGP season in early March. The deal is expected to be officially completed by the end of 2024.

However, the possible intervention of the European Commission's body that regulates the competition market led the American side to put the brakes on the agreement.

It remains to be seen how the European Commission will react once it has analysed the case.

In 2006, CVC wanted control of both F1 and MotoGP, but the European antitrust authorities forced the Luxembourg fund to get rid of its interests in MotoGP in order to finalise its purchase of F1, as the European body felt one company owning both series would not be good for competition within the European Union.

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Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

In 2022, the last year with a trace in the Companies Register, Dorna Sports generated a turnover of €474.8 million, which was 33% more than the previous year (2021), which left a loss of €7.8m, as a result of the echoes of the pandemic.

Also in 2022, the Madrid-based company refinanced its debt to €975m in order to increase its liquidity, a move which, at the same time, allowed it to distribute dividends of €390m to its shareholders.

For Dorna, Liberty's was always the preferred route but not the only one. Qatar Sports Investments, Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, and TKO, the media and entertainment conglomerate that, among other things, owns the rights to the UFC fighting championship, were also in the running.

Autosport understands that the alternative offered by Liberty is the one that offers the most guarantees to ensure as organic a transition as possible.

It is expected that those in key positions that manage MotoGP, Ezpeleta and his son, Carlos (sporting director), will remain at the helm for a period of time that has probably been established by contract.

In any case, it is logical to expect that Liberty personnel will soon be in the MotoGP paddock, especially as the next event is the United States Grand Prix, scheduled for 14 April at the Circuit of the Americas.

“We are thrilled to expand our portfolio of leading live sports and entertainment assets with the acquisition of MotoGP,” Greg Maffei, Liberty Media President and CEO, said in a statement.

“MotoGP is a global league with a loyal, enthusiastic fan base, captivating racing and a highly cash flow generative financial profile. Carmelo and his management team have built a great sporting spectacle that we can expand to a wider global audience. The business has significant upside, and we intend to grow the sport for MotoGP fans, teams, commercial partners and our shareholders.”

“This is the perfect next step in the evolution of MotoGP, and we are excited for what this milestone brings to Dorna, the MotoGP paddock and racing fans,” Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, added.

Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing, Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO Dorna Sports

Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing, Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO Dorna Sports

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“We are proud of the global sport we’ve grown, and this transaction is a testament to the value of the sport today and its growth potential. Liberty has an incredible track record in developing sports assets and we could not wish for a better partner to expand MotoGP’s fanbase around the world.”

With Liberty's entry on the scene, it is understood that the entertainment giant intends to replicate, with nuances, the success obtained after taking over F1 in 2016.

The changes applied at all levels and the exposure of a discipline through a mass platform such as Netflix - with the documentary series Drive to Survive, which coincided with the pandemic - led to levels of popularisation never seen before.

At the same time, the calendar has been growing and its footprint is increasingly present in the United States, a territory in which Dorna has had its sights set on for some time now.

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