Update: I did hear from the nice folks at ESPN that the broadcast would be using the F1-produced world feed including announcers who have not been determined yet, which is what NBC and SPEED used if I have my facts correct, and that there would be no ESPN announcers involved in the broadcast. Now this adds a different slant to the situation.
Big news in the US! As is typical, the end of a broadcasting contract means that the bidding war begins and just like Speed losing F1 to NBC, this time it is NBC losing out to ESPN/ABC for the 2018 season.
I’ve known for some time now that the NBC folks were in discussions with F1, as well as others, about continuing their broadcast relationship and knowing the folks like I do, I know NBC’s F1 broadcast team were putting together some very nice digital platforms and options to bring a more immersive experience for US-based F1 fans. NBC offered this statement earlier today:
“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.”
In the end, it is about money and who is willing to pay the most as well as which broadcast package Formula 1 Management believes can deliver the scope, reach, frequency and digital platforms to achieve what they want in the next three years.
Many will believe it’s just a case of ESPN offering the most but F1 has a role in this as it is their product and they will vet all offers with a view to achieving the mission which will include more scope and digital than in previous years.
I can confidently say that what a group such as F1, NFL, MLB and others require from a broadcaster is immense. They look for massive financial commitments, broadcast technology SLA’s, digital platform creation and much, much more. Imagine being Sean Bratches of F1…you are going to want the network you choose to offer as much of the heavy lifting from a marketing and digital platform developments standpoint as you can, right?
To put it simply, if you have 10 things on your list of world domination, you’ll want ESPN or NBC to do as many of the ten things as you can. Sure, in the end, money is a factor and the highest bidder will stand the best chance for sure but there is more at play here than just the highest bidder.
The first question everyone will want to know, and ESPN/ABC will surely know, is who will the on-air talent. I have not spoken to Steve, Leigh, Will or David on this so please do not take this as something you can write on a rock.
First, on-air talent is contracted and usually in line with the master contract. In the case of Bob Varsha and SPEED, it was my understanding that Bob had a contract with Fox—owners of SPEED—and therefore didn’t make the jump to NBC.
I am not aware of the current NBC F1 broadcast team’s contracts but I will say that Leigh is a complete broadcast guy and covers more than just F1. He does the Olympics, Indycar and many other sports so my hunch is that Leigh is a sports broadcaster, not just an F1 guy and NBC is a good fit for him but that’s just looking at it from the outside. It would not surprise me if he didn’t make a jump to ESPN because I think he has a great deal and opportunity as a NBC sports broadcaster as it is. I could be very wrong if ESPN/ABC offer him and equally lucrative package that would have him calling all kinds of sports across the ABC network.
As for Will and his team on the ground as well as David and Steve, I would imagine it would make sense to at least consider speaking with ESPN as they are a very cohesive and professional group and bring a lot to the US broadcast in continuity as well as the know-how and paddock connections to the sport. ESPN would find that attractive surely.
Having said that, there is also the factor that perhaps Bob Varsha would like to step back in to the fold if he has no contractual obligations preventing it. Also, I think it is worth bearing in mind that ESPN has their own talent who may be looking at this as a real opportunity for them to take the helm of F1 as well.
Will ESPN want to keep continuity like NBC did by retaining the same players from NBC? Will they want to start an all-new broadcast team with their own style and approach to F1? I don’t know the answer to that. It’s hard to ignore the connections and paddock tribal knowledge that Will, Jason and the on-site crew have as well as team connections that Steve has. Very hard to ignore.
Complete Press Release from ESPN/ABC:
- Flag to Flag Coverage of All 21 Races of Championship Live Across ESPN and ABC
- Immersive Race Week Approach With All Practices and Qualifying Airing on ESPN Platforms
ESPN and Formula 1 have agreed to a multi-year linear and digital partnership that brings the FIA Formula One World Championship back to its original television home in the United States starting in 2018 when ESPN and ABC will televise all 21 races in the championship. The first Formula 1 race ever aired in the U.S. was on ABC in 1962.
Beginning with the season-opening Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on March 25, and ending with the Nov. 25 Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, all of the races will air live in the United States on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. All in more than 125 hours of Formula 1 programming, including all practice sessions, qualifying and races, will air live and in replay across ESPN platforms in 2018.
“ESPN has had a long commitment to motorsports, and Formula 1 is a crown jewel in the sport,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming & scheduling. “There are many passionate Formula 1 fans in the U.S. and we look forward to bringing the pageantry, spectacle and excitement of F1 to viewers across the ESPN platform.”
Among the season highlights will be the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, May 27 (Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.), which will air live on ESPN at 7:55 a.m. ET and re-air later in the day on ABC at 3:30 p.m. after the Indianapolis 500. The United States Grand Prix in Austin, Tex., on Oct. 21 and the Mexican Grand Prix on Oct. 28 also will air live on ABC while the Canadian Grand Prix (June 10) and British Grand Prix (July 8) will be featured live on ESPN. The Singapore Grand Prix, the only night race of the championship, will air on ESPN2 on Sept. 16.
“We are excited about the return of the world’s foremost motor racing platform to the ABC and ESPN platforms,” said Sean Bratches, managing director, commercial operations at Formula 1. “ABC’s Wide World of Sports first started airing live grands prix in the early 1960’s and this linear and digital partnership with ESPN represents a significant step forward in achieving Formula 1’s aim of broadening the sport’s appeal. The U.S. market is very important growth opportunity for Formula 1 and we are looking forward to working with ESPN to ignite the growing fan interest.”
Formula 1 made its debut on American television with the airing of highlights from the Monaco Grand Prix on ABC’s Wide World of Sports on June 10, 1962, one week after the race was run. Select races appeared on ABC until 1988. ESPN began televising F1 races with a 10-race schedule in 1984, expanding to 14 races from 1985-1988, and then 15 from 1989-1993. ESPN aired 16 races in 1994, then a high of 17 in 1995, followed by 16 in both 1996 and 1997, the last years the championship appeared on ESPN.
2018 FIA Formula One World Championship Schedule on ESPN and ABC
(all times Eastern)
|March 25||12:55 a.m.||Australian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|April 8||1:55 a.m.||Chinese Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|April 15||10:55 a.m.||Bahrain Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|April 29||8:55 a.m.||Azerbaijan Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|May 13||7:55 a.m.||Spanish Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|May 27||7:55 a.m.||Monaco Grand Prix||ESPN|
|3:30 p.m.||Monaco Grand Prix||ABC *|
|June 10||1:55 p.m.||Canadian Grand Prix||ESPN|
|June 24||7:55 a.m.||French Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|July 1||7:55 a.m.||Austrian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|July 8||7:55 a.m.||British Grand Prix||ESPN|
|July 22||7:55 a.m.||German Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|July 29||7:55 a.m.||Hungarian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Aug. 26||7:55 a.m.||Belgian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Sept. 2||7:55 a.m.||Italian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Sept. 16||7:55 a.m.||Singapore Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Sept. 30||7:55 a.m.||Russian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Oct. 7||12:55 a.m.||Japanese Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Oct. 21||2:55 p.m.||United States Grand Prix||ABC|
|Oct. 28||2:55 p.m.||Mexican Grand Prix||ABC|
|Nov. 11||10:55 a.m.||Brazilian Grand Prix||ESPN2|
|Nov. 25||7:55 a.m.||Abu Dhabi Grand Prix||ESPN2|