One of Switzerland's top football clubs, FC Basel, has signed up to a new motor racing venture that could boost its coffers by millions of francs.
Superleague Formula marries the glamour of fast cars with the support of the world's biggest football clubs. The series, due to start in 2008, follows a similar, but unsuccessful scheme.
The cars, comparable to those once used in Formula 2, will have identical engines and sport their respective football club's colours.
Last week FC Basel joined the likes of AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven and Flamengo of Brazil, with other big international names tipped to enter teams in the near future.
Because the clubs lend their name, prestige and support base to the venture it will cost none of them a penny to enter. And organisers predict the top performers in the series could earn €14-18 million (SFr23-30 million) in the next five years through licensing agreements, sponsorship and television rights.
"Car racing and football have a lot of similarities - both sports feature speed, precision, teamwork, technology and targeted efforts," FC Basel coach Christian Gross said on the club's website.
Basel are one of the most successful football clubs in Swiss history, particularly in recent times, winning the championship 11 times and three out of the last five years but Superleague Formula supremo Alex Andreu is not concerned that they are relative minnows in terms of world football.
Sports share passion
"Obviously we would like to have the top five or six teams in the world, but Switzerland is an important market for us and we want to open this up to as many countries as possible," he told swissinfo.
"We combined motor sport and football because both have passion, colour and emotions. We did not want to just offer another race and another car, but to also offer another way for fans of both sports to generate that passion."
Unlike football, where the richest teams dominate by buying success, the new racing series will provide a level playing field for all teams.
The series has the green light to have 20 cars racing each other at six top European circuits from August to November next year with plans to increase that to 17 fixtures in future.
Drivers will be selected from a pool of young talent eager to make their mark in motor sport.
Aiming to go better
Andreu sees the new racing series complementing rather than rivalling the prestigious Formula 1 event.
But before it can get even that far it must go one better than a similar scheme called Premier 1 that collapsed before it got onto the racetrack in 2003.
"I can't tell you why Premier 1 failed, but we have all the right pieces on the table to make Superleague Formula a success. We have a strong concept, a credible product and the financing all in place," Andreu said.
"The objective is to make everyone - the organisers, the sponsors and the football clubs - as much money as possible."
swissinfo, Matthew Allen with agencies
Superleague Formula was the brainchild of Spanish sports marketing specialist Alex Andreu and British financier Robin Webb.
So far, eight football clubs have signed up to Superleague Formula: AC Milan, FC Basel, PSV Eindhoven, Olympiacos, Borussia Dortmund, Flamenco, Anderlecht and FC Porto. Discussions are being held with a number of other teams, including Manchester United, to bring that number up to 20.
The cars will be Élan/Panoz single-seater built by Élan Motorsport Technologies in the US, powered by a 750bhp 4.2-litre V12 engine designed by US-owned Menard Competition Technologies (MCT) in England.
Each team will compete in two races on race days for a slice of a €1 million (SFr1.67 million) purse offered each weekend.
The aborted Premier 1 grand prix series only attracted the interest of four clubs – Leeds United, Feyenoord, Benfica and Anderlecht – before it was scrapped.
Founded in 1893, FC Basel has been one of the most successful clubs in Switzerland, particularly in recent years.
They were Swiss Super League champions in 1953, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1977, 1980, 2002, 2004 and 2005.
And they added the Swiss Cup to their trophy cabinet in 1933, 1947, 1963, 1967, 1975, 2002, 2003 and 2007.
In 2002, Basel enjoyed their best European campaign by reaching the second group stage of the showcase Champions League tournament.