Liberty Media Moves to Bolster Formula One With Reallocation

(Bloomberg) -- John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp. moved to shore up its Formula One Group auto-racing unit, shifting some assets among Liberty’s wide variety of properties and injecting more cash into the division.

The holding company reattributed $1.5 billion in net asset value to Formula One from Liberty SiriusXM Group, the satellite-radio operator, and reattributed another $1.5 billion in net asset value to Liberty SiriusXM from Formula One, according to a statement Thursday.

Though the equal allocations make it look like an even deal for the two units, the mix favors Formula One. Liberty shifted Formula One’s entire stake in troubled Live Nation Entertainment Inc. to Liberty SiriusXM, and moved a net of $1.4 billion in cash to Formula One from Liberty SiriusXM.

The Liberty shares representing its Formula One stake rose as much as 12% to $28.79 in New York trading Thursday, while Liberty SiriusXM shares fell as much as 8.4% to $27.49 before turning positive later. The separately traded shares of SiriusXM Holdings Inc. were up as much as 7.5%.

In a call with investors, Liberty Media Chief Executive Officer Greg Maffei said the move reduces the risk to investors by separating two companies -- Formula One and Live Nation -- that rely on live events that have been postponed due to the coronavirus.

Lack of ‘Firepower

Maffei said Liberty was moving the Live Nation tracking stock into a group that “could handle it better” financially, citing the stronger financial position at SiriusXM. Maffei said the Formula One tracking stock “didn’t have the firepower” to support Live Nation’s business, whose prospects have been threatened as the coronavirus cancels live concerts.

The move also makes Live Nation “more strategically aligned” with SiriusXM since both companies are in the music business, he added.

“We believe this reattribution provides certainty in an uncertain time on the number, timing and nature of races that F1 may be able to achieve,” Maffei said.

Jason Bazinet, an analyst at Citigroup, said he’d long called for Liberty to link up Live Nation and SiriusXM. “We view this as a logical step that could foreshadow a Sirius + Live Nation combination to create a vertically integrated music firm that can take on the music labels,” he said in a note.

Maffei said the move includes a “call spread” that enables the Formula One tracking stockholders to benefit if Live Nation’s stock increases in the near term.

The CEO said he and Malone “plan to exercise our subscription rights in full” as part of the rights offering, in which they plan to raise $750 million.

Several Scenarios

Liberty Media has advanced money to some Formula One teams that are struggling financially, Maffei said, and Liberty is looking at several scenarios in which the racing league could return. He said one possibility -- holding races with no live audience -- would hurt the finances of certain Formula One teams that rely on fan attendance as a major revenue source.

Formula One is looking at ways to returning to racing when authorities allow it in a way that’s beneficial for fans “but doesn’t have teams bankrupting themselves,” he said.

Malone, the Denver-based billionaire media investor, paid $4.4 billion for Formula One in 2017. The racing competition series has been globally popular for decades but has contended with flat revenue and a shrinking television audience in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled races worldwide, silencing Formula One along with the rest of the sports world.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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