Walt Disney Co. wants to keep auto racing on track.
The company’s ESPN has extended its current rights deal with Formula 1 racing, a pact sports agents have suggested has become surprisingly lucrative for an agreement not tied to football or basketball. The new contract will keep F1 races on ESPN networks in the United States through the 2025 season.
“Formula 1 and ESPN have been a strong and successful team and we’re delighted to extend our relationship,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of programming and original content, in a statement. “We look forward to serving fans in some new and innovative ways in the next three years as we continue to bring the reach and relevance of the Walt Disney Company networks and platforms to Formula 1.”
Under terms of the new deal, at least 16 races will air on ABC and ESPN each season, more than in the previous five years since F1 returned to ESPN networks in 2018. All the race telecasts on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 will continue to run commercial-free presentation, a format that ESPN says has proven popular with viewers in the league’s past five seasons.
What’s more, the new deal expands ESPN’s direct-to-consumer rights, giving flexibility to how it distributes Formula 1 telecasts over the next three years, including on the streaming outlet ESPN. The company said details related to streaming would be announced at a later date.
The first Formula 1 race ever aired in the U.S. was on ABC in 1962, and ESPN aired races between 1984 and 1997. In 2017, Disney and Formula 1 struck a new rights pact, moving the sport from NBC to ESPN and ABC the following year. John Malone’s Liberty Media acquired Formula 1 that year for $4.4 billion, and one of its goals was said to be to find new ways to transmit the sport to its fans, including broadband avenues.
ESPN said Formula 1 has gained new traction during its recent run with the Disney-backed sports-media giant. Its 2021 season was the most viewed on U.S. TV, with an average of 949,000 viewers watching each race. ESPN said average viewership “has moved into seven figures in 2022.” Through 18 races, live F1 telecasts are averaging 1.2 million viewers on ESPN networks. Earlier this year, the telecast of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on ABC generated an average viewership of 2.6 million, the largest U.S. audience on record for a live F1 race, according to ESPN.
“The ESPN networks have played a huge part in that growth with their dedicated quality coverage. We are excited to expand our relationship and continue to bring the passion and excitement of Formula 1 to our viewers in the US together,” said Stefano Domenicali, president and CEO at Formula 1, in a statement.
ESPN intends to create additional ancillary programming on its platforms to support its F1 coverage over the next three years. Some of its popular studio shows , including “SportsCenter,” will continue on-site coverage from races in the U.S., including a new event set for Las Vegas in 2023.