F1 returns to ESPN/ABC for 2018

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.

On-air Talent:

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)

DateTimeEventNetwork
March 2512:55 a.m.Australian Grand PrixESPN2
April 81:55 a.m.Chinese Grand PrixESPN2
April 1510:55 a.m.Bahrain Grand PrixESPN2
April 298:55 a.m.Azerbaijan Grand PrixESPN2
May 137:55 a.m.Spanish Grand PrixESPN2
May 277:55 a.m.Monaco Grand PrixESPN
3:30 p.m.Monaco Grand PrixABC *
June 101:55 p.m.Canadian Grand PrixESPN
June 247:55 a.m.French Grand PrixESPN2
July 17:55 a.m.Austrian Grand PrixESPN2
July 87:55 a.m.British Grand PrixESPN
July 227:55 a.m.German Grand PrixESPN2
July 297:55 a.m.Hungarian Grand PrixESPN2
Aug. 267:55 a.m.Belgian Grand PrixESPN2
Sept. 27:55 a.m.Italian Grand PrixESPN2
Sept. 167:55 a.m.Singapore Grand PrixESPN2
Sept. 307:55 a.m.Russian Grand PrixESPN2
Oct. 712:55 a.m.Japanese Grand PrixESPN2
Oct. 212:55 p.m.United States Grand PrixABC
Oct. 282:55 p.m.Mexican Grand PrixABC
Nov. 1110:55 a.m.Brazilian Grand PrixESPN2
Nov. 257:55 a.m.Abu Dhabi Grand PrixESPN2

* re-air

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Andrea_Rae

Meh, just another in a long line of stupid decisions by ESPN, overpaying for overvalued commodities. Their on air “talent” is in the bin after their most recent purge. They seem to be shifting to sophmoric talent and coverage, I suppose to appeal to younger viewers, which won’t suit the limited domestic F1 viewership.

charlie white

As a long-time critic of NBCSN’s F1 broadcast, I am very pleased about the change. NBCSN’s broadcasts were getting so bad that I were ready to give up F1 after 2017. The interesting point here is the subject of streaming. ESPN pushes its streaming services very hard.

The Captain

Sadly I fear we’re about to see rock bottom and not a move ‘up’ from NBCSN. ESPN is loosing employees (two rounds of layoffs in two years) and money.

Tom Firth

“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.”

An over-the-top streaming service by FOM coming to a tv near you soon?

Negative Camber

Yeah, it sounds like a key feature that F1 wanted collided with what NBC is currently providing and perhaps its distribution partners. Would imagine it is a digital platform.

The Captain

It’s also strange of the reports that Liberty wanted a short term deal. Perhaps they have something else in the plan that effects the local broadcast deals other than the streaming rights too?

Negative Camber

It is interesting. I have no way of knowing but if it were me and I have several long-term broadcast contracts around the globe and I knew I was leading to an entirely new world and different digital package as well as broadcast rights program in the near future, I would want to make sure that my new contracts lined up with the roll-out of a master plan in the future and I would want all the contracts to end at around the same time so I could launch a new platform and keep all options open. That’s just me,… Read more »

Tom Firth

A few –

CAN 2019
GBR 2024 (New contract signed from 2019-2024)
GER – End of 2017
FRA – 2020

Its a bit all over the place really in terms of when you can do it.

Negative Camber

Aside from UK, it all culminates in 2020 along with the tech regs and sporting regs and F! prize money etc. Seems like 2020 will be a big year for F1.

Tom Firth

Netherlands, Belgium and a few others shouldn’t be too big an issue anyway. Already on Liberty owned channels.

Mat

You are on the money Todd

Mat

Gotta be. Which can only be good news for US fans. Especially for cord cutters.

Side note, I like the whole NBCSN crew and would love for ESPN to sign them all. But at the very least, they have to get Buxton. He is the best in the world at this, genuine guy and an F1 nut.

Darren Wellenreiter

Agree!

Junipero Mariano

I really hope so! I’d especially like archival footage and exploration of F1 beyond the immediate race.

peter riva

My opinion? Can’t be any worse. ESPN is more accessible than NBCSN, CNBC, NBC, partial coverage, stupid commercial inserts, unwatchable split screens and, always, inane comments from (sorry NC, I know you like him) Leigh and missed questions from I-want-to-be-liked Will in the pit lane.

Negative Camber

I hate commercials, Peter, but I know the guys at NBC and they are really terrific people. Will and Jason on the ground have serious tribal knowledge of F1 and connections as does Steve.

Samouri

The amount of commercials that NBCSN ran during a race, was truly maddening, and seemed to have popped up for every 5 laps. I suspect that ESPN will be not much better. Bad news if some races will be broadcasted for only 2 hours.

Hopefully that Sam Posey’s visual essays will continue with ESPN, because they are simply a joy to watch.

Negative Camber

There’s certainly value in retaining the crew NBC has and I know the challenge of commercial breaks are difficult and often times maddening at best. It almost, at times, seemed like any on-track action was always missed. It is a for-profit broadcast company though and part of the landscape. I suspect ESPN will be similar but you never know, maybe they’ll sell all their ad space before and after or have a different approach.

Guy Fawkes

I understand broadcast TV and the need to pay the bills but somehow Univision can carry the world feed flag to flag (plus podium ceremony) uncut and turn a profit, or at least not lose their shirts. NBC managed to miss the VSC restarts from Japan both times, the first by over a full lap! The last two seasons I’ve listened to the NBC feed while watching Univision for just this reason. How is it possible for one for-profit network to cover an event commercial free and the other to run coverage that appears to be a commercial showcase interrupted… Read more »

Jimmy27

Watching other sporting events on ESPN (and random stops on the website) leads me to believe that they will be just as bad, if not worse with commercials. It’s going to happen no matter how much we complain about it.

I would love to see a compilation or the Sam Posey clips that he does prior to races. Seems like they used to air much more in the past and it was a top reason I wanted to catch pre-race show

Samouri

Agree with your general conclusions, and especially regarding Sam Posey’s pictorial essays.

Ralph

Agreed couldn’t stand Duffey’s chutney Aussie accent. Brockton is just annoying.

Guy Fawkes

I agree with peter riva. Hard to get much worse. I have no issues with the on-air talent (though, honestly, David Hobbes may be getting a bit old to continue) but I’ve gotten tired of the NBCSN coverage subsidizing the commercial free coverage on Univision. It’s nearly unwatchable.

Now let’s hope ESPN doesn’t decide that Daryl Waltrip and Kyle Petty would be a good on air team. Cuz, you know, it’s all cars, right?

Junipero Mariano

I hope to see Steve Matchett continue. Will Buxton does alright, too. I’d like to see other announcers in the mix, though. I’ve seen David Hobbs flub too many calls and driver’s names, etc.

The Captain

Todd I applaud the really nice spin you put on this news. And be sure i’m not using “spin” in a negative connotation here. But lets jut say you did your best to put a positive face on this pig. Form the reports I read today ESPN didn’t ‘outbid’ NBC. Instead NBC waned the streaming rights, Liberty wouldn’t budge on it, so NBC basically ‘passed’. Liberty also seems to have wanted a short term deal and NBC wanted a long term one. So ESPN became the next in line. According to some sources ESPN is not even paying a rights… Read more »

subcritical71

It caught my attention that there was no mention of practices being broadcast on TV which had me apprehensive. Now with the background you provided I’m not convinced this is a good move for the fans.

Could we bring back Chalk Talk? That was my favorite part of the weekend outside of the race.

Edit: I must have missed where it said all practice sessions would be broadcast – disregard my first comment… Now its just about Chalk Talk :)

Negative Camber

LOL. Yeah, I would imagine they will offer all session via streaming app. That would be my hunch. There’s an element to the digital streaming and I wrote about this before that it is the disruptive model that will challenge NBC and other broadcasters. ESPN apparently isn’t bothered by it. I wrote several posts last year speaking to the fact that the streaming is a bigger impact to broadcasters and sponsors than we fans are making it sound like. It’s disruptive to the existing broadcast model that many are still relying on to keep the lights on. Inevitable I suspect… Read more »

Negative Camber

I haven’t had time to read all the other articles and they all may have more insight than what I have had a chance to read but your point is well taken. I believe there is a digital component that both NBC and F1 know are crucial and it may have not been to NBC’s taste to have F1 retain that as they offer it now. Their Gold App for example. I am intrigued about the choice given the level of toxicity that ESPN is having at the moment. No matter where you stand, the network seems more interested in… Read more »

The Captain

ESPN has been getting a lot of hate (which it rightly deserves) for focusing so much on politics rather than ‘sports’ but it’s slide started well before that. It could be more accurately said the ESPN turned to ‘outrage’ politics and sports commentary as an easy cheap way to make up the viewers it was losing anyway.

The last round of layoffs for example they laid off mostly reporters and noticeable kept all of their ‘shock jock’ annalist.

Hockey fans like to joke that ESPN dropping the NHL for Poker was the best thing to happen to the NHL.

Negative Camber

Agreed. I’m not sure what its slide, if present, is. I’ve read and heard that they have had a downward slope in viewership in recent years but I’m not there and have no way of knowing why. I would assume the recent political commentary they engaged in hasn’t helped.

Tom Firth

Are many issues for ESPN, most of which centre around being the ‘market leader’ at a specific time in history and struggling to adapt quickly enough to the landscape changing beneath them, which is no different to Microsoft, Sega, Nokia etc.

Cord-Cutting is ESPN’s biggest challenge. It demands far higher carriage costs than its rivals of which are a growing amount, so gets hurt most when the subscription numbers fall. ESPN/ABC/Disney are launching their own online subscription service very soon to adapt, but some could argue that it is five years too late at doing so.

Samouri

I believe that your sort of dire predictions, are truly what F1 fans here face.
Good post!

Fred Talmadge

Maybe NBC will pick up IMSA and we can watch more sport car racing.

Joseph Simmons

12 million dollars well spent by NBC for F1! What did F1 US fans get in return; multiple channels, no F1 report show, no tech talk, recycled talking heads, little to no promotion, and a retreaded Bob Hope road show. So what can we expect from ESPN; multiple channels, no F1 report, no tech talk, recycled talking heads, little to no promotion, and the old NASCAR road show! My wish would be to have Bob Varsha and Nico Rosberg. Rosberg has been seen at Stanford University researching opportunities. If available, he could easily handled the technical and racing combination. And… Read more »

Negative Camber

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.

The Captain

Hmmm, that can be read a couple of different ways.

Speed and NBC used the world feed and THEIR own announcers technically. ESPN saying there would be no ESPN announcers involved in the broadcast makes me worried they are talking about using the world feed announcers who may not be determined for next year yet (this year was DC an someone else I think?).

Perhaps they mean to set up the F1 announcing crew as contract employees so we could still get Steve, Will, David but they wouldn’t ‘work’ for ESPN?

Negative Camber

Agreed. There are several way to read that or insinuate how that could play out. It would seem that retaining Steve, Will, production folks and others would make sense for sure. If I’m Leigh, I would have to have a really compelling reason to leave NBC because he’s a multi-sport broadcaster and good talent for NBC. A great guy too!

I know a lot of people who would be elated just to carry the Sky broadcast but there are those who have issues with that too. :)

The Captain

Yea I would be very sad if we loose a U.S. centric broadcast.

Meine Postma

What you’ll probably get is a few commentators in a studio in the US doing the commentary.

charlie white

So it may mean Matchett, Hobbs and another player TBA would be broadcasting from Bristol, Connecticut instead of Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t think Leigh will jump ship to ESPN; he’s a part of the NBC’s Olympics coverage both Winter and Summer Games.