- Netflix is pursuing Formula 1 rights in the US, sources have told Insider, in its first foray into live sports.
- Disney’s ESPN, which has owned the rights since 2018, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal are also seeking the rights.
- The Netflix documentary series “Drive to Survive” has fueled American interest in global luxury motorsport.
US media rights for Formula 1 are up for grabs and
is among the suitors, according to three people familiar with the talks.
Netflix has been in talks for months, the sources told Insider, with Disney-owned ESPN, which has held the rights to Formula 1 in the United States since 2017. One person told Insider that Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which owned the rights for the previous five years, is also in the mix, as previously reported by Sports Business Journal. ESPN submitted an opening bid of around $70 million, one such person said, noting that figure is well below the $100 million Formula 1 is now targeting.
A third person said talks over Netflix had become more serious, but added that the ground was tricky given that the company did not have an in-house sports negotiator. The Los Gatos-based streamer has been instrumental in stoking American interest in team-based motor racing events — Grands Prix that take place in swanky locations such as Monaco and Montreal — through his long-running documentary series, ” Drive to Survive”, directed by Box to Box Films.
ESPN confirmed its discussions in a statement from John Suchenski, Director, Programming and Acquisitions. “We are aggressively pursuing a renewal – we feel we have a distribution package and presentation of events that cannot be matched in the industry and the growth in audience and exposure they have received since their returning to ESPN platforms in 2018 reflects what we can do for them,” he said. “It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“It’s understandable that they are considering other options,” Suchenski continued. “We had some very good meetings with them in Miami recently and are in constant communication.” Sports Business Journal previously reported on the Miami talks.
Netflix and NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to comments.
“Based on the success of ‘Drive to Survive’, it would seem obvious that Netflix would be an interested participant and that Formula 1 would feel the same way,” said Sean Bratches, the former Formula 1 chief commercial operations officer. , who previously served as ESPN’s EVP of Sales and Marketing.
Bratches, who joined Formula 1 when it was acquired by Liberty Media in 2017, sealed the deal to land the documentary series after recording market research interviews with fans from Beijing to Barcelona who felt they couldn’t get near the cars or the drivers. “Drive to Survive” delivered what they asked for.
Formula 1, which boasts a global fan base and a minimal royalty fee compared to major US sports, would be a good fit for Netflix for other reasons. A new
Licensing would begin in 2023 – ESPN’s rights expire at the end of this year – and could give a boost to Netflix’s new ad-supported subscription tier, which is currently slated to launch in late 2022. .
ESPN said its May 29 television broadcast of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix averaged 1.4 million viewers, up 43% from the 2021 edition of the race. The next race is set for June 12 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
If Netflix wins the rights, it would be another major pivot for the company, which has long shunned live programming, advertising and sports, only to reverse itself after suffering a 200,000 subscriber drop in the first quarter that wiped out $50 billion. beyond its market value. Netflix engineers have been working on creating live programming capabilities for the streamer.
Netflix co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos have spoken with TV sports executives for years, probing the industry, weighing the players and costs involved, and meeting with leagues and even rival companies in the game. space.
While Apple recently struck a deal to stream Major League Baseball and bid on the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket,” Amazon is gearing up to launch exclusive NFL Thursday Night Football streaming, and Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery are already armed with a range of sports content on their streaming. services, it’s easy to see how Netflix could be left behind if it doesn’t compete for sports rights.
In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel in September 2021, Hastings sparked speculation about buying Netflix in the sports category. “A few years ago the rights to Formula 1 were sold,” he said. “At the time we were not among the bidders, today we would think about it.” He added that Netflix would only be interested if it could score the rights exclusively.
The UK and Irish rights to Formula 1 are held by Comcast’s satellite broadcaster Sky under a deal that runs until 2024. While NBC and NBCSN now closed, had their own Formula 1 commentators, ESPN’s coverage brings the Sky Sports stream and its pundits to American viewers. Formula 1 races can also be streamed on its F1 TV Pro app, which costs $80 per year.
A sports industry executive speculated on Insider: “Formula 1 remains at Disney/ESPN for just over $75 million.”