A two-year Formula 1 broadcasting rights deal with ESPN in the United States was the best approach for the sport to take advantage of future growth, according to Sean Bratches.
It was announced last month that the rights in the U.S. will switch from NBC to ESPN, with the latter agreeing to a two-year deal that is set to see limited programming around the live race coverage provided by a central world feed. Bratches, who is F1’s managing director of commercial operations, says the short-term deal allows freedom for the sport in the coming years as new owners Liberty Media hope to make major gains across the board.
“We think that we are in a unique position to make this sport substantively better on virtually every metric over the next few years,” Bratches told RACER. “So from a media rights standpoint we’re trying to do shorter-term deals to take advantage of what we believe is going to be the rapid growth in the value of the sport over the next couple of years.
“Secondarily, the sports media rights marketplace is going through volatile change right now with a number of digital players looking to invest and we want to be in a position where we can take advantage of that to the extent that we think that’s right for our brand in respect to territories around the world.”
In playing down the length of the deal in relation to Formula 1 directly delivering its own Over The Top (OTT) content, Bratches says the sport plans on having an OTT product from next season for U.S. fans.
“The short-term deal has no bearing at all on OTT. We are unencumbered starting with the next grand prix season to launch an OTT product. We plan to do that and we’re working through exactly what that is going to be right now, how it’s going to be priced, how it’s going to be packaged, what the compilation of the both live and non-live OTT products will be and we think it’s going to be a very good year for Formula 1 fans in the United States and around the globe.
“Furthermore, we couldn’t be happier with our partners at NBC. Personally, they are absolute unequivocal professionals who have done an extraordinary job to begin the development and growth of this sport prior to what we think are fundamental changes at the operating level.
“At the same time, we thought looking at is holistically the ESPN agreement was just a better deal for us at this point in time. So we’re excited about what they will bring to bear and it should be a good year.”
Asked if the ESPN deal allows OTT freedom that other deals wouldn’t have, Bratches replied: “Listen, these agreements are complicated.
“They are the product of arms-length negotiation and there are ins and outs on a number of different points. But the agreement we have in place allows us to bring to market products and services that we think will serve Formula 1 and Formula 1 fans well going forward.”