ESPN announced Wednesday it is taking over exclusive U.S. broadcast rights for Formula One in a multi-year partnership that begins in 2018, replacing NBC Sports, which opted not to renew its contract. Starting with the Australian Grand Prix in March, all 21 F1 races will air live on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC, including every practice and qualifying session, totaling more than 125 hours of programming in the first season.
The move marks a return of sorts to the ESPN family, as affiliate network ABC broadcast the first F1 race in the U.S. in 1962 when it showed the Monaco Grand Prix on its “Wide World of Sports” flagship program. It continued to televise F1 races until 1988. ESPN also broadcasted Formula One races from 1984 to 1997.
“We are excited about the return of the world’s foremost motor racing platform to the ABC and ESPN platforms,” Sean Bratches, managing director, commercial operations at Formula One, said in a statement. “ABC’s ‘Wide World of Sports’ first 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 One’s aim of broadening the sport’s appeal.”
Formula One’s new owners, Liberty Media, are pushing plans to offer the sport as a direct-to-consumer streaming option in the future, similar to Netflix or Hulu, according to motorsport.com. Liberty, which also owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team and the SiriusXM satellite radio station, last year purchased F1 and turned its attention to strengthen the brand stateside.
“ESPN has had a long commitment to motorsports, and Formula One is a crown jewel in the sport,” Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling, said. “There are many passionate Formula One fans in the U.S. and we look forward to bringing the pageantry, spectacle and excitement of F1 to viewers across the ESPN platform.”
NBC Sports limited its communication about the switch to a statement attributed to an unnamed spokesperson: “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.”
NBC Sports took over U.S. Formula One coverage from Speed, which had broadcast races for 17 years, signing a four-year deal that started with the 2013 season. The network retains broadcast rights for NASCAR, and it has in recent years acquired lucrative U.S. broadcast rights for the Barclays Premier League, one of the world’s top soccer leagues.