Formula One will move from NBC to ESPN for the 2018 race season, according to multiple reports. The reported move will be the first time in five years that F1 has switched television networks in the U.S., since the NBC deal—which the CEO of F1’s new owners called a “popcorn fart” earlier this year—began in 2013.
The Associated Press reports that all F1 races in 2018 will be on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, and that the deal includes more than 125 hours of F1 programming. It’s kind of a fitting move, seeing as the AP reports that the first F1 television coverage shown in the U.S. was on ABC in 1962. It was highlights of the Monaco Grand Prix, a week after the race occurred. (It’s worth noting Jalopnik’s parent company, Univision Communications, has broadcast rights to F1.)
Coverage has gotten better than that over the decades, but the AP didn’t have too many details about the new ESPN deal yet. All that was reported was that the Monaco Grand Prix will show live on ESPN before the Indianapolis 500, and that a re-air will be on ABC later in the day after the 500. The report also said the U.S. Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas in Austin and the Mexican Grand Prix will both be live on ABC.
After American company Liberty Media bought F1 for $8 billion in 2016, Forbes reported that its CEO, Greg Maffei, called the more than $3 million fee paid by NBC for an F1 television deal a “popcorn fart.” That, in plain english, meant it was hardly worth the effort. He also seemed unhappy that a majority of races aired on NBC Sports Network rather than the main NBC channel.
But Forbes quoted Maffei as saying the “opportunity is good” to have U.S. race coverage, especially since Liberty Media is a U.S. company. So perhaps ESPN, which let its NASCAR rights go to NBC after the 2014 season, coughed up a bit more cash to make the new owners happy. Or maybe the network agreed to that microphone idea.
Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t.
Update 9:25 a.m. NBC’s released the following statement on the loss of its F1 television deal:
“Although we take great pride in having grown Formula One’s visibility and viewership since we became its exclusive U.S. media rights holder in 2013, this will be our last season with the series. In this case, we chose not to enter into a new agreement in which the rights holder itself competes with us and our distribution partners. We wish the new owners of F1 well.”
Also, interestingly, Sports Business Daily reported on the deal and said ESPN is not believed to be paying a rights fee for the programming and will instead “rely on a world feed to carry the races.” The report didn’t confirm the fee statement, saying neither side would comment on the financials of the deal.
Here’s part of the story:
The circuit’s OTT rights are not part of this deal, as F1 will retain control over those rights. F1's talks with NBC, which had carried races on NBCSN since ‘13, apparently broke down over the length of the deal. NBC pushed F1 to sign a longer-term deal, but F1, which is trying to build up the league under new ownership, did not want its U.S. rights to be tied down in any kind of long-term deal, sources said.
Sports Business Daily also had more details on which channels the races will be on. According to the report, 16 races will be on ESPN2, three will be on ESPN and two, as mentioned above, will be on ABC. The report also said ESPN agreed to show all practice and qualifying sessions both live and on replay on one of its platforms next season.
Update 9:37 a.m. ESPN sent Jalopnik the broadcast schedule, which has the Monaco Grand Prix, British Grand Prix and the Canadian Grand Prix listed as its three ESPN events. All others, besides the U.S. Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix, will be on ESPN2.