Formula 1 Heading to ESPN With New Multiyear Rights Deal

ESPN and ABC will televise all 21 F1 races in 2018, but F1 will retain OTT rights

ESPN and Formula 1 have signed a multi-year linear- and digital-rights deal that brings the FIA Formula One World Championship back to its original U.S. television home starting in 2018. ESPN and ABC (which aired the first F1 race ever in the U.S. in 1962) will televise all 21 races beginning next year. The deal marks the end of Formula 1’s four-year stint at NBC Sports Group, which began in 2013. According to SportsBusiness Journal, ESPN is not believed to be paying a rights fee for the programming and will rely on a world feed to carry the races. In addition, F1 will retain control over OTT rights as part of the deal, according to SBJ.

The deal comes on the heels of Liberty Media’s acquisition of F1 in January. Also of note, 27-year ESPN veteran Sean Bratches (formerly, EVP, sales and marketing, for the network) was named Formula 1’s managing director, commercial operations, on the deal’s closing.

“ESPN has had a long commitment to motorsports, and Formula 1 is a crown jewel in the sport,” says Burke Magnus, EVP, programming and scheduling, ESPN. “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.”

Beginning with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 25 and ending with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov. 25, all the races will air live in the U.S. on ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC. All told, 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.

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 on ABC at 3:30 p.m. after the Indianapolis 500. The U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, TX, on Oct. 21 and the Mexican Grand Prix on Oct. 28 also will air live on ABC; 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,” says Bratches. “ABC’s Wide World of Sports started airing live Grands Prix in the early 1960s, 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 a very important growth opportunity for Formula 1, and we are looking forward to working with ESPN to ignite the growing fan interest.”

The deal signals the end of the NBC Sports Group era for F1. The Peacock had exclusive rights to F1 races in the U.S., presenting them primarily on NBCSN along with a handful of high-profile races on NBC each year.

“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,” NBC Sports Group said in a statement. “In this case, we chose not to enter into a new agreement in which the rightsholder itself competes with us and our distribution partners,” referring to new F1 owner Liberty Media.

Through 14 races this season, NBC’s F1 coverage averages 548,000 viewers, up 13% from the same point last year.

“We wish the new owners of F1 well,” NBC added.

Formula 1 made its debut on American television with the airing of highlights from the Monaco Grand Prix on Wide World of Sports on June 10, 1962, one week after the race was run. Selected races appeared on ABC until 1988. ESPN began televising F1 races with a 10-race schedule in 1984, expanding to 14 races from 1985 to ’88 and then 15 from 1989 to ’93. ESPN aired 16 races in 1994, 17 in ’95, and 16 in both ’96 and ’97, the last years the championship appeared on ESPN.

2018 FIA Formula One World Championship Schedule on ESPN and ABC (all times Eastern):

Date Time Event Network
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 (re-air)
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. U.S. 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


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