ESPN replaced NBC as the US broadcaster of Formula 1 in 2018, and in 2019 extended for three years. That deal ends this year.

ESPN made it clear they wanted to extend that partnership beyond 2022.

From 2013 to 2018, NBC paid a microscopic $4 million per year to broadcast Formula 1.

NBC even had an agreement in place to pay $40 million to continue broadcasting Formula 1 for seven years, beginning in 2018 but put the brakes on the offer when the sport announced its plan to stream races online via F1TV.

A Look at the Numbers

In 2017, the last year NBC had the broadcast rights, the average number of viewers was 538,114 for the season.

Since ESPN took over the US broadcast distribution here’s a look at the yearly averages:

  • 2018 – 547,722 viewers
  • 2019 – 672,000 viewers
  • 2020 – 608,000 viewers

The 2021 Formula 1 season averaged 934,000 viewers on ESPN. Through two races this season, Formula 1 is averaging 1.4 million viewers on ESPN, a 47% increase.

Formula One Group pocketed $787 million during Q4 2021, a 62.3% increase year-over-year.

The Bidding Class

Four bidders have emerged, two expected and two somewhat surprising, albeit not really if you account for the explosion in F1 interest stateside.

  • Netflix (already producing Drive to Survive)
  • ESPN (sources say ESPN has already bid $70 million)
  • NBCUniversal (owns Sky, which provides the broadcast for F1 on ESPN)
  • Amazon (AWS is a partner and sponsor of Formula 1)

Who becomes the most likely victor? Is it whoever has the biggest war chest?

I’m not so sure.

I would think ESPN has an advantage against most reasonable offers because of its relationship with F1 and they are already distributing. It’s plug-and-play. The other bidders would have to start from scratch to an extent.

As I mentioned in a previous post about this subject, if I was a betting man, I’d say it’s likely Netflix that makes the plunge to piggyback off of the Drive to Survive success and jump into live sports — something that keeps viewers coming back over and over again.

However, given the rising popularity of the sport in the US, all the broadcasters would be ready to bid for the new deal. ESPN, which already has an edge with Liberty Media wouldn’t hold back on making something happen. NBCUniversal owns Sky, and could leverage that and the already-great Sky coverage team. Amazon’s already involved in F1 and with various teams via AWS, they’re working on live sports deals to help revive the floundering MLB. I would fully expect Amazon Prime to make a hefty offer to bolster its live sports offering while taking advantage of the popularity its biggest competitor, Netflix, is working so hard to build.

Sound off below: where do you think Formula 1 will find its American home?