BSkyB looks at F1 deal

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Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB is considering an investment in Formula One Holdings, the Grand Prix group that Bernie Ecclestone hopes to launch on the stock market this autumn, according to a source close to the banking syndicate formed to help sell the shares.

Neither BSkyB nor Formula One would comment, but BSkyB's chief executive Sam Chisholm is known to be close to Mr Ecclestone, who has made most of his money from a series of lucrative TV deals across Europe.

BSkyB and Mr Ecclestone are thought to have discussed a deal in which the satellite broadcaster would take a stake in Formula One and gain the right to show Grand Prix racing on pay-per-view TV in the UK next year. This will become possible when BSkyB starts its planned digital satellite TV service next year, broadcasting up to 200 channels.

Formula One has pay-per-view TV arrangements already in place in the other big European markets - with Kirch in Germany, Canal Plus in France and Telepiu in Italy.

Mr Ecclestone, one of the highest paid men in the world with a salary of pounds 54m last year, plans to sell shares in Formula One Holdings in a public flotation this autumn that he hopes will value his company at up to pounds 1.5bn.

The company is expected to show revenues of pounds 200m this year with pre- tax profits of around pounds 85m.

Most of its income comes from selling TV rights to show the 17 Grand Prix races that take place between March and October across the world from Australia to Brazil.

ITV grabbed the UK broadcast TV rights a few months ago, paying Mr Ecclestone many times what the BBC had previously paid.

Mr Ecclestone leaves nothing to chance in maximising all possible revenues from his 25-year licence to manage and exploit Formula One racing.

He employs a team of 200, who run a company-owned film unit that produces the six tracks of digital signals needed for pay-per-view TV.

A UK deal would be welcome for both sides. Mr Ecclestone needs heavyweight investors to back his company as there is some scepticism in the City that he will be able to float it at anything like the valuation he is seeking.

Landing the UK pay-per-view rights could provide a much needed boost to the BSkyB share price. From a high of 663p in February the shares have slumped to 446p, wiping pounds 3.7bn off the company's stock market valuation.

A deal would also represent a grand finale for Mr Chisholm, who put BSkyB on the map when he negotiated the Premier League soccer deal.

He recently announced that he would be leaving BSkyB at the end of the year, citing his asthma condition as the reason for his departure.

City analysts have speculated, however, that Mr Chisholm's exit is connected with the increasingly important role played at BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch's daughter Elizabeth.