Shareholders of Liberty Formula One FWONAFWONK could soon be excited as the global racing league continues to expand and grow its viewership across the U.S. The success will likely increase the amount the league gets in a new media rights deal.
What Happened: As Benzinga previously reported, the media rights for Formula One are up for grabs in 2023. Renewing the rights will be no easy task for Walt Disney Co. DIS unit ESPN, which has held the U.S. rights to Formula One since 2017.
Other interested parties in the rights include Netflix, Inc. NFLX, Amazon.com Inc. AMZN and NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp. CMCSA, according to Business Insider.
“We are aggressively pursuing a renewal — we feel that we have a distribution package and event presentation that can’t be matched in the industry,” ESPN Director Programming & Acquisitions John Suchenski said calling it a “mutually beneficial relationship.”
NBCUniversal had the rights for five years prior to ESPN, and Comcast’s UK segment Sky holds rights in several countries through 2024.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has expressed his interest in acquiring Formula One rights over the years.
“A few years ago, the rights to Formula 1 were sold. At that time, we were not among the bidders, today; we would think about it,” Hastings said in 2021.
Netflix has played a role in the increased interest in the league in the U.S. with its docuseries “Drive to Survive.”
Formula One is targeting $100 million for the rights, according to Business Insider.
The sport also has big-screen aspirations. Apple Inc. AAPL recently announced that a movie about a Formula One driver, starring Brad Pitt, is in the works. The film, which comes from the same creative team behind "Top Gun: Maverick" for Paramount Global Inc. PARAPARAA, is expected to get a theatrical release before hitting the Apple TV+ streaming platform.
While “Drive to Survive” helped boost viewership for the sport, a theatrical movie centered on the sport called “Rush” released in 2013 grossed only $29.6 million domestically and $97 million worldwide. The movie, which starred Chris Hemsworth, was based on a true story about the rivalry between racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Why It’s Important: Depending on who wins the media rights to Formula One, it could be a lucrative deal. Amazon has grown its presence in the sports space with deals with the National Football League and others.
Netflix, which reported a loss of subscribers in the recent quarter, has not entered the sports space and a deal for a global league could help boost its subscriber base and grow out a sports vertical. A deal could also help Netflix grow with sports streaming against rivals Amazon and Apple, which have both added sports rights.
“I’m not saying we never would do sports, but we would have to see a path to growing a big revenue stream and a big profit stream with it,” Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos said on the company’s recent earnings call.
A deal with ESPN or NBCUniversal would play a smaller role in their parent company’s operations.
The real winner in the media rights deal is likely Formula One itself, a publicly traded sports league.
ESPN landed the rights to Formula One in 2017 and extended its contract in 2019 for a rumored $5 million a year. The new contract would increase this annual figure substantially.
Interest in the U.S for the races has grown and there will be three live U.S. races in 2023, something broadcasters are also seeing as a potential win.
The first ever Miami Grand Prix was broadcast on ABC, which is owned by Disney, and had a record 2.6 million viewers — the largest live Formula 1 U.S. television audience. The broadcast hit a peak of 2.9 million viewers and averaged 735,000 in the 18-49 age demographic.
Through the first five races of the 2022 Formula 1 season, the league is averaging 1.4 million viewers per race in the U.S., up 49% year-over-year. The 2021 season was the most viewed Formula One season for U.S. viewers.
The successful viewership in the U.S. was one of the strengths reported by the company in its 2021 financial results and is proving to be a major catalyst in 2022.
Price Action: Formula One shares trade at $57.64 at the time of writing versus a 52-week range of $39.36 to $64.70.
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