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ESPN keen to ride wave of F1’s US growth ‘a lot longer’

ESPN is eager to continue to build on Formula 1’s growth in the United States and “ride this wave a lot longer” beyond the end of its existing contract.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21, and the rest of the field at the start

ESPN gained the rights to broadcast F1 in the United States from the start of the 2018 season, taking over from NBC Sports.

Its tenure as the rights holder has coincided with a boom for F1 in the US, accelerated by the success of the Drive to Survive series on Netflix. October’s United States Grand Prix in Austin enjoyed a record crowd of 400,000 fans, while a second US race will join the calendar this year with the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.

ESPN reported that 2021 was the most-viewed F1 season on American television on record, enjoying an average viewership of 934,000 per race that marked a 54% increase on 2020 and was almost 200,000 greater than the previous record set in 1995.

2022 marks the final year of the existing contract for ESPN to show F1 in the US, but the network is clear in its ambitions to keep building on the gains that have been made.

Speaking on the Sports Media with Richard Deitsch podcast, ESPN president of programming and original content Burke Magnus said he felt “proud” of the growth the broadcaster had seen with F1 since taking on the rights.

“Kudos to Chase Carey and Sean Bratches, who came to us, and the conversation started and they were solving every problem or every complication that we raised,” Magnus said. “Under the guise of taking a fly at a low-risk, high-reward possibility, we were able to really put our shoulder behind it.

“Despite Drive to Survive being successful, I think we had something to do with it as well, in terms of building the fan base. They made the US fanbase a priority, the Liberty guys and F1. Miami is going to be off the charts. The interest there, I cannot even fathom.

“So yeah, we’re very, very bullish on it. Now that we’ve been in it for four years, we want to continue and ride this wave a lot longer.”

A TV Camera operator

A TV Camera operator

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

ESPN signed an initial two-year deal to broadcast F1 after taking over from NBC at the end of the 2017 season, but penned a fresh three-year agreement by the end of 2019.

F1 is currently ESPN’s sole major motorsport property, but Magnus was clear about his long-running passion for racing.

“I go way back in motorsports, one of my first big breaks at ESPN was I ran the motorsport category in the late 90s and early 2000s,” he said.

“This is back when we had everything. We had F1, we had IndyCar, CART, the Indy 500 on ABC, NHRA drag racing, motocross, super cross, everything - crazy stuff like hydroplane racing, if you recall.

“I’ve always loved the competition around motorsports. NASCAR was an enormous property for us back then, and maybe some day again.”

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