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Ecclestone Challenged as F-1 Website Trails Egyptian Soccer

Photographer: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive officer of Ferrari SpA. Close

Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive officer of Ferrari SpA.

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Photographer: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Bernie Ecclestone, chief executive officer of Ferrari SpA.

Ferrari SpA is among Formula One team owners trying to push Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone into the computer age.

The auto-racing series’ website trails portals about Egyptian soccer and wrestling in a popularity ranking, and Ferrari team manager Stefano Domenicali said his team is among squads encouraging Ecclestone to boost Internet coverage of races. The sport is failing to connect with “millions of people” via computers and mobile devices, Domenicali said in an interview.

Ecclestone, 83, has shunned a stronger Internet presence for years to protect annual television rights income of about $500 million. Formula1.com, which limits race highlights to a 2 minute, 30 second video per race, is the 39th most popular sports website behind the likes of filgoal.com, about Egyptian soccer, and the World Wrestling Entertainment, according to website analytics company alexa.com

“The young generation wants to see sport in a different way: they don’t want to see an entire race for 1 ½ hours” on television, Domenicali, 48, said at a sports sponsorship conference at IESE business school in Madrid on March 31. “This is a challenge we need to” address straight away, he said.

People look at Formula1.com for an average 3 minutes, 38 seconds -- at least 60 percent less than the websites of the National Basketball Association and English soccer’s Premier League, according to alexa.com.

Ferrari has bankrolled a Formula One team since 1950 to market its luxury cars. As part of its marketing strategy, the Italian carmaker tries to strike a balance between exclusivity and “being everywhere,” Domenicali said at the conference.

Internet ‘Anathema’

For Ecclestone, “the Internet is an anathema to the way he controls the whole brand of Formula One,” according to Catherine Davies, who covers media for London-based sports business consultancy Sportcal.

“You can control individual markets and territories through TV better than through the Internet,” Davies said in an e-mail.

Ecclestone said in an interview in February last year he was “continually” evaluating Formula One’s presence on the Internet, although he remained confident “there still won’t be anything nearly as strong as television.”

He didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment for this story. Domenicali said after the Madrid conference that teams are “almost close” to persuading Ecclestone to change his long-held media strategy.

Even if Formula One did decide to add a more extensive highlights package to its website, it’s harder to condense the action than in other sports, Davies said, adding there isn’t much overtaking.

Pit Stops

“You could show pit stops, for example, but they don’t have the same appeal or impact as a goal” in soccer, Davies said. “If you want to sit down and watch an F-1 race, you want to watch the whole thing.”

As the oldest and most successful team, Ferrari enjoys more favorable terms than rivals, and company chairman Luca di Montezemolo has a seat on the board.

He met Ecclestone in London last week to discuss new rules that are unpopular with some fans because drivers have to go more carefully to save fuel.

Domenicali said the sport’s media strategy is also a pressing issue for Ferrari.

“People have a more impulsive way of living” today, Domenicali said. “We need to be able to connect with them.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net Peter-Joseph Hegarty

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