Electric racing series Formula E lost $29 million in its fourth season

Electric racing series Formula E posted a €26.4 million (about $ 29 million) loss during its fiscal year ending July 31st, 2018, despite generating a record €133.4 million (about $ 149 million) of revenue, according to a new financial statement filed with the United Kingdom’s Companies House registry.

The results for the fiscal year Formula E reported in this filing cover the racing series’ fourth season, which began in late 2017 and ended with a pair of races in New York City in July 2018. Formula E had lost €20.8 million (about $ 23.2 million) on €94.5 million (about $ 105.7 million) worth of revenue in the previous year. It lost €35.2 million (about $ 39 million) on revenues of €56.6 million (about $ 63 million) the year before that.

The electric racing series — which is overseen by the same governing body as Formula One — is currently in the middle of its fifth season. There are a number of likely reasons why it has carved out a niche in the crowded world of motorsports, even though some critics estimated it would never make it this far when it launched in 2014. The series has embraced its differences, like operating on temporary street circuits built in or near the center of major cities.

Formula E has also brought many of the world’s premiere automakers into the series, including Audi, BMW, Nissan, and soon, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. It’s kept costs down for those teams, too. Jaguar, for example, has put at least €36 million (about $ 40 million) into the sport so far. (For some perspective, championship-winning Formula One teams have spent an average of about €250 million (about $ 280 million) per season over the last decade.)

But the significance of Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag’s willingness to keep plowing money into the series while operating at a loss — all while keeping a growing portfolio of shareholders happy — should not be overlooked. Adding the newly reported €26.4 million loss, the series has now lost more than €150 million (around $ 168 million) since its inception.

In other words, Agag is essentially operating the series like a Silicon Valley startup — and the strategy seems to be paying off. Not only has Formula E attracted those big-name manufacturers, the series more than doubled its attendance to 476,000 in season four, and increased its television viewership from 223 million to 330 million, according to the filing.

This was all before Formula E unveiled its second-generation racecar, which is faster, lasts longer (meaning drivers don’t have to switch cars mid-race), and has a dramatic styling so unique that it looks unlike basically anything else run by the competition. The new car made its debut in season five, which started in December 2018, and wraps up this summer. So far, it’s seemingly only increased interest in the series.

At some point, Formula E’s shareholders will likely want to see some kind of return on their many investments. But they seem to be happy for now. Last year, Agag launched a €600 million (about $ 671 million) bid to take control of Formula E. But he quickly withdrew the bid because Liberty Media and Discovery Communications, which collectively own nearly 40 percent of Formula E, wanted to hold on to their stakes in the series. “[T]hey’re long-term investors in Formula E,” he told Autosport last September. “They believe in the future of the championship and they want us to continue working together and they don’t want to sell.”

In the meantime, Agag is clearly finding new sources of revenue that could help eventually lift the series out of the red. While the “race and service related revenues” stayed largely flat compared to the previous year, the series saw a huge €42 million (about $ 47 million) jump in revenue from “race promotions and licensing income.” About €12 million (about $ 13 million) of that came from Swedish corporation ABB, which became the title sponsor this past year. Formula E also signed a number of smaller sponsorship deals with big-name brands like Heineken and Bosch during this time frame.

But a big chunk of the increase in revenue also likely came from Saudi Arabia. Last May, Formula E signed a 10-year deal with the Kingdom to host races there. The value of that deal, which has not been previously reported, is around $ 260 million spread across the 10 years, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement.

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