The Deal

Liberty Media, the US media giant and owner of motor racing’s Formula 1 (F1), on Monday (April 1) confirmed its acquisition of Dorna Sports, the commercial rights-holder and organizer of motorcycling’s premier MotoGP series, for a deal valued at €4.2 billion ($4.5 billion).

The agreement will see Dorna remain an independently run company attributed to Liberty Media’s Formula One Group tracking stock.

Liberty agreed the deal with Bridgepoint, the UK-based private equity firm and largest shareholder in Dorna.

Greg Maffei, Liberty Media president and chief executive, said: “MotoGP is a global league with a loyal, enthusiastic fan base, captivating racing, and a highly cash flow generative financial profile.

“[Dorna CEO] Carmelo [Ezpeleta] 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.”

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Why it matters

The acquisition bolsters Liberty’s sports portfolio and puts the company in an extremely commanding position in motorsport where it could potentially combine the commercial operations of F1 and MotoGP.

Liberty acquired F1 in 2016 and has grown the series’ global appeal (across various new markets) and commercial value significantly over the last eight years, partly thanks to the popularity of the hit Netflix documentary series surrounding it, Drive to Survive.

The company recently revealed that F1’s revenue for 2023 climbed to $3.2 billion, up from $2.57 billion in 2022.

The 2024 F1 season is set to generate over $500 million in annual sponsorship revenue, according to a new GlobalData report.

Aside from Liberty, other parties understood to have been interested in a deal with Bridgepoint included tech and content giants such as Apple, Disney, and Netflix.

There were also reported attempts by Qatar Sports Investments, that country’s sovereign wealth fund, and TKO Group, the company formed out of the merger between the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) promotions, to buy the series.

Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis and consulting at Sportcal (GlobalData Sport), has said: “The takeover of MotoGP by Liberty Media represents a new era in two-wheel racing. Whereas previously, there was a clear delineation of fans in terms of two and four-wheel racing, the takeover by the owners of F1 should be seen as an opportunity to bring MotoGP to the same level of popularity as its four-wheel counterpart.

“Seeing what Liberty has managed to achieve since taking over F1 from Bernie Ecclestone [the series' previous head] should excite everyone associated with MotoGP, and the likelihood is that the same focus and resources will be pushed into making MotoGP a success.

“As evidenced from Drive to Survive, Liberty is willing to take risks and employ non-traditional means to attract new fans, and from a commercial standpoint, sponsorship and media rights deals will likely be struck covering both properties.

“Much like the move from IMG/Endeavor in creating TKO for both UFC and WWE and the crossover appeal there, Liberty is likely to adopt a similar playbook for F1 and MotoGP.”

The details

Liberty will acquire 86% of MotoGP, with the series' current management retaining approximately 14% of their equity in the business.

The transaction reflects an enterprise value for MotoGP of €4.2 billion and an equity value of €3.5 billion with the existing debt balance at MotoGP expected to remain in place after it closes.

Carmelo Ezpeleta, Dorna’s chief executive since 1994, will remain in his position and continue to run the business with his management team headquartered in Madrid, Spain.

The acquisition is expected to be completed by year-end 2024 and is subject “to the receipt of clearances and approvals by competition and foreign investment law authorities in various jurisdictions.”

Bridgepoint bought its interest in Dorna from CVC Capital Partners in 2006.

The group owned 40% of MotoGP, with Dorna and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) holding smaller stakes. CPPIB bought its holding in 2012.

Bridgepoint paid around €500 million to buy CVC’s 74% stake in Dorna 18 years ago, while the stake’s value when Bridgepoint transferred it from one fund to another in 2019 came to around €2.5 billion.