When Formula 1 announced the move away from FOX Sports, which had taken over from long-time rights-holder SPEED, in 2013 in favor of NBC Sports, a great amount of skepticism was met by fans and media alike. Over the next five years, however, the burgeoning sports network won their fanbase over, thanks in large part to an extremely knowledgable, enthusiastic, and entertaining series of hosts, behind-the-scenes production staff, and compounded with NBC Sports’ willingness to create additional content. This included ample pre-race and post-race programming, extensive promotion, and generally a commitment to making the most of the F1 opportunity.
The result? The audience grew. From 187,000 in 2013, to 440,000 by the end of 2017.
The actual result? Losing the contract to ESPN for 2018 and beyond, a move that was confusing to many fans, but the speculative business reasons behind it are the most curious.
When Liberty Media acquired Formula One from 2017 and beyond, the directive was clear… modernize the sport. To their credit, we’ve seen a number of improvements. Extensive YouTube content, more interactive elements, and a general relaxing of some of the “no access” dogma the sport has become accustomed to.
Where it hits a head is when it comes to broadcasting. While Netflix and Hulu have undeniably blown up the reality of streaming content as a viable means of living room entertainment, to this point there has been one hold out: live sports.
We’ll answer this question at the beginning. We don’t know. But it’s going to be a big question of 2018 and 2019.
Open wheel racing, whether internationally in Formula One, or domestic with IndyCar, is facing an uphill battle in the fight for relevancy. With a youth culture continually moving away from a love of high powered automobiles, and major automotive manufacturers moving marketing and development resources toward movements like autonomous driving and eco-friendly, it’s an interesting period in automotive history.