- Netflix is chasing the rights to Formula 1 in the US, sources told Insider in its first foray into live sports.
- Disney’s ESPN, which has held the rights since 2018, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal are also bidding for the rights.
- The Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive has sparked American interest in global luxury auto racing.
The US media rights for Formula 1 are up for grabs and
According to three people familiar with the talks, the suitors are among the suitors.
Netflix and Disney-owned ESPN, which has owned the rights to US Formula One since 2017, have been in talks for months, the sources told Insiders in the mix, as previously reported by Sports Business Journal. ESPN made an inaugural bid in the region of $70 million, one of those people said, noting that the number is well below the $100 million that Formula 1 is now targeting.
A third person said Netflix talks have become more serious, but added that the playing field is difficult as the company does not have an in-house sports negotiator. The Los Gatos-based streamer played a role in sparking American interest in team-based auto racing — grands prix held in fancy locations like Monaco and Montreal — thanks to its long-running documentary series, “Drive to Survive,” produced by Box to Box movie
ESPN confirmed its talks in a statement from Director, Programming & Acquisitions John Sucheski. “We’re aggressively pursuing a renewal – we feel we have a distribution package and event presentation unmatched in the industry, and the viewership and awareness growth they’ve received since their return to ESPN platforms in 2018.” , reflects what we can do for them,” he said. “It was a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“Understandably, they’re looking at other options,” Sucheski continued. “We recently had very good meetings with them in Miami and are in constant contact.” The Sports Business Journal had previously reported on the talks in Miami.
Netflix and NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to comment.
“Based on the success of ‘Drive to Survive’, it seems likely that Netflix would be an interested participant and that Formula 1 would feel the same way,” said Sean Bratches, former managing director of commercial operations at Formula 1 EVP of sales and marketing from ESPN.
Bratches, who joined F1 after it was acquired by Liberty Media in 2017, made the deal to land the documentary series after recording market research interviews with fans from Beijing to Barcelona who felt they liked the cars or the Drivers couldn’t get close. Drive to Survive delivered what they wanted.
Formula 1, which boasts a global following and a bite-sized rights fee compared to major US sports, would be suitable for Netflix for other reasons. A new
The license would begin in 2023 — ESPN’s rights expire at the end of this year — and could kickstart Netflix’s new ad-supported subscription tier, which is currently slated to launch in late 2022.
ESPN said its May 29 televised coverage of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix averaged 1.4 million viewers, a 43 percent increase from the 2021 edition of the race. The next race will be held on June 12th in Baku, Azerbaijan.
If Netflix gets the rights, it would be another major turning point for the company, which has long shied away from live programming, advertising and sports, only to find itself falling from 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of $50 billion -Dollar nullified, reversing from its market value. Netflix engineers have been working to develop live programming capabilities for the streamer.
Netflix co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos have spent years speaking to TV sports execs, researching the industry, weighing up players and the costs involved, and meeting with the leagues and even competing companies in the space.
With Apple recently inking a deal to stream Major League Baseball and bidding on the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket,” Amazon is gearing up to launch exclusive streaming of NFL’s Thursday Night Football, and Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery are already equipped with a range of sports content in their streaming services, it’s easy to see how Netflix could be left behind if it sits out bidding for sports rights.
In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel in September 2021, Hastings ignited speculation about a Netflix purchase in the sports category. “A few years ago, the rights to Formula 1 were sold,” he said. “Back then we weren’t among the bidders, today we would think about it.” He added that Netflix is only interested if it can grab the rights exclusively.
The British and Irish rights to Formula 1 are held by Comcast’s satellite broadcaster Sky in a deal that runs until 2024. While NBC and the now-defunct NBCSN had their own Formula One commentators, ESPN’s coverage brings the Sky Sports feed and its pundits to US viewers. Formula 1 races can also be streamed through the F1 TV Pro app, which costs $80 per year.
A sports industry exec speculated to Insider, “Formula 1 will remain with Disney/ESPN for just over $75 million.”