Formula 1 is getting a new TV rights deal in the US and thanks to the sport’s sudden popularity, demand for the rights is at an all time high. Four bidders are said to be in the running for the series in a deal that F1 owners Liberty Media hope to multiply by twenty.
According to Business Insider, current ESPN owners are taking on NBCUniversal, Amazon and Netflix to resume Formula 1 coverage from 2023. Disney currently reportedly pays $5 million a year to broadcast Formula 1 races in the United States and while they put in a $70 million bid, Liberty Media is now looking for $100 million a year.
All four companies are motivated to invest in Formula 1. ESPN and Netflix are to be commended for the popularity of the series so high. ESPN may not pay much and using Sky Sports’ UK feed saves them money, but the races have free advertising with minimal commercials during practice and qualifying. It’s cultivated a lot of goodwill from US-based F1 fans and with the plan to keep the shows commercial-free, most fans probably want to keep things as they are.
Netflix doesn’t have live sports, but they had a big influence on Formula 1 with Drive to survive. While the show is heavily dramatized and rubbed some drivers the wrong way, the intrigue and conflict served as an introduction for many new fans before they actually watched the races. While Netflix’s top brass have talked about bidding on F1 rights over the past year, the company is in the process of transformation due to falling share prices and falling numbers of fans. subscribers. Given that, with more Apple and Amazon buying up the sports rights, it makes sense to seek out the sport they have the closest relationship with in order to begin their foray into live sports.
NBC makes sense for two reasons. First, the network had the rights in the four years prior to ESPN and it could be a good way to cross-promote with their IndyCar coverage. Two, Comcast owns Sky Sports, so instead of having a rival network borrow its UK feed, they can just cut out the middleman and look to put it on their own network. Fans might be a little worried given NBC’s reputation for having a lot of commercials on their sports broadcasts.
Amazon is probably the biggest underdog of the four, but they’ve been a bit of a hybrid between ESPN and Netflix. Although they don’t have Formula 1, Amazon Prime has the rights to select New York Yankees games on YES as well as a handful of WNBA games and a weekly NFL game on Thursday nights. On the documentary side, Amazon may not have Drive to survive but they were in the F1 docuseries space before Netflix with Grand Prix driver and Fernando who followed McLaren and Fernando Alonso respectively.
Honestly, from my perspective, ESPN is in pole position to retain the rights. Unless Amazon and Netflix really break the bank and offer crazy money, they’re having an uphill battle over F1 TV. Liberty Media retained the OTT rights for its own streaming service that if a streaming service were to show racing, it would defeat the purpose of F1 TV Pro, which costs $80 per year.
That leaves ESPN and NBC and it’s probably going to come down to cost. I feel like if ESPN matches Liberty Media’s asking price, they’ll stay. Both parties have a lot going on and any breakups could slow progress. That being said, Liberty Media won’t take any deals and will need ESPN to at least come close. Despite rapidly rising costs, $100 million and minimal production costs, it’s still a bargain compared to other sports. Besides adding a Las Vegas race, it’s a broadcast deal that could be worth ESPN spending a bit more.