Live events are the ‘great unknown’ says Liberty

Michelle Foster
Australian GP empty stands Melbourne PA

As some countries begin to open e-commerce, the general consensus is that large gatherings and live events are still on hold.

And that, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei says, is shrounded in uncertainty.

The 2020 season has yet to get underway some two months after Formula 1 was expected to go racing in Melbourne.

The sport’s owner, Liberty Media, is hoping the hiatus will be over in just a few weeks with a July start to the season.

That, though, has yet to be set in stone.

Asked about live events during a virtual annual meeting, reports Maffei as having said: “That’s the great unknown.

“I think we’re taking a cautious attitude to the belief that things will adjust and change, that we can build businesses that can operate in a post-COVID world.

“Whether that’s through therapeutics or a vaccine, or just changed procedures, there will be ways to have live events.

“Will they be as scale or profitable as historically? I think that remains to be seen, so we’re taking a step-by-step cautious attitude.

“One of the reasons we strengthened the FWON [F1] balance sheet was because of that potential, that things may not be as positive going forward, and particularly in the case of FWON, where we may need to provide support for some of the teams.

“We’re hoping for the best in terms of therapeutics and vaccines, but we’re not counting on that as our investment thesis.

“We’re trying to create attractive vehicles that have upside in any situation.”

Those ‘vehicles’ include behind-closed-doors grands prix with the 2020 season expected to begin with back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring.

Neither event will be watched by spectators while the media is also banned. It is instead a TV-only double-header.

“The original thesis of live events perhaps being the best place to be on content for television or for digital distribution I think remains intact,” Liberty founder and chairman John Malone added.

“Unfortunately we’ve had this pandemic. I personally believe there will be a therapy and/or a vaccine sooner rather than later that will get as back closer to normal.

“There’s undoubtedly going to be a hangover in terms of valuations, and obviously like anything else if this depression in valuation is excessive it presents opportunity for those of us who believe in the longer term thesis that this is a good place to be, live events, particularly when you have a substantial part of the revenue has little to do with gate attendance and a lot to do with television, and ultimate digital distribution.

“So the question is how do you manage your hand from here? And I would say the number one thing obviously is that everyone has been scrambling to improve their balance sheets so that they don’t have liquidity problems over the period that this is expected to really depress the business.

“But I think the thesis of live events is still a good one, and I believe that there will be a health solution here, not a structural solution, that will return these events.

“Human beings are gregarious by nature. I can tell you the bars here in Florida are now open, and they’re pretty packed.”

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