ESPN Speeds into a Solid Deal with Formula One

Photo Credit: Jose Pablo Dominguez/Unsplash
Photo Credit: Jose Pablo Dominguez/Unsplash

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F1 — the premier league for open-wheel single-seater cars — has gone from zero to 223 in the past two years. Now it’s going into a higher gear.

The international racing series finalized a deal with ESPN to extend broadcasting rights until 2025, the network reported Saturday. The deal marks the latest game of tug-of-war between streamers and traditional broadcast for one of the last bastions of cable strength: the beer-bellied sports enthusiast.

The War for Sports

Sports have long settled down in homes like Fox, ABC and CBS, but streaming services, especially those with pockets flush with tech cash, are increasingly guilty of encroachment. After inking a $1 billion per season agreement, Amazon is, with mixed early results, the exclusive carrier of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Apple recently struck a 10-year, $250 million exclusivity deal with Major League Soccer. Google estimates the number of digital viewers of live sports in the US will reach 57.5 million this year and is expected to exceed 90 million in 2025, a 26% projected bump.

Now, broadcasters have poached a sport whose recent popularity was sparked by the internet. After being showcased in the wildly popular Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive, a genius production sponsored by F1’s parent company Liberty Media, the racing series has managed to take on a whole new level of mass appeal in the US. Liberty reported that F1 generated $360 million in revenue during Q1 2022, a 100% increase from the same period in 2021. With F1 gaining traction in American households in addition to its strong European fanbase, ESPN is putting up a rare win for the broadcasters:

  • F1 and ESPN haven’t disclosed how much the deal cost, but since 2019, ESPN has paid $5 million annually for exclusive broadcasting rights to the league. This new agreement will keep the current commercial-free format for live races on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC. At least 16 races will air on ABC and ESPN each season.
  • F1’s Stateside boom is only going higher. The May telecast of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix had an average viewership of 2.6 million, the largest U.S. audience on record for a live F1 race, and F1 telecasts averaged 1.2 million viewers in 2022, ESPN said.

F1 legend: It wasn’t an entirely joyous weekend for the F1 world. On Saturday, Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz died at the age of 78. The extreme sports enthusiast was instrumental in developing the brand’s racing team, which has won four Constructors Championships.