Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali talks US media rights and ratings boom – Deadline


Formula 1 is back on familiar ground this weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix, a glamorous race that has been around since 1929.

While many of the track outlines and views on the French Riviera have changed little, the motor racing circuit itself has a decidedly revamped look. Earlier this month he made his Miami debut, the latest leg of his US expansion, which will take him to Las Vegas next year. This arc followed the arrival of the final season of Netflix’s hit docu Drive to survivethe show adding a pop culture flare to negotiations for a potentially lucrative new US media deal.

“The US market is ready for F1,” Formula One Group CEO Stefano Domenicali told Deadline in a pre-race interview today. “Being ready means we have to keep working on the fact that we have to stay in touch with our fans in the United States. We have to speak the same language, we have to give context.”

The Miami event provided the latest model, as celebrities like Tom Brady, Matt Damon, Serena Williams and Bad Bunny mingled with corporate dealmakers, brand sponsors and a cross section of others in the city over the weekend. On Sunday’s race day, 2.6 million viewers tuned in to ABC, making Miami the most-watched F1 race in the United States.

Domenicali, of Italian origin, succeeded Rupert Murdoch’s former longtime lieutenant Chase Carey as CEO of Formula 1 in 2020. He had previously led sports car manufacturer Lamborghini and exercised a long tenure at Ferrari. Formula One Group is part of the portfolio of Liberty Media, billionaire media investor John Malone. It is the parent company of the Formula 1 circuit, which is a wholly owned subsidiary, and holds minority stakes in various other holdings.

Formula 1 dates back to 1950 and its current world championship season runs from March to November, covering 23 races in 21 countries across five continents. Thanks to Miami tuning, TV ratings so far this year have jumped 49% from 2021 levels.

Domenicali said Miami has “the right energy”, pollinating traditional sports with fashion, music, technology and other spheres, as F1 sets out to do. “That world moves towards us if what they see is interesting,” he said of the names in bold at the event. “Otherwise, they do something else. The executive added that it was “very, very important that business leaders are there”, noting that the Miami race followed the successful restart several years ago of the Austin Grand Prix as part of the F1 world championship. It drew 400,000 attendees last fall in Texas.

Media watchers are wondering what all this momentum could mean in terms of ongoing rights talks. F1’s current US deal, extended by ESPN in 2019, is due to expire at the end of the year. Recent reports have suggested the circuit could ask for up to $75 million a year, but many variables remain, including the nature of the bidding and the length of the tenure.

Domenicali preferred not to talk about specific numbers or suitors, pointing out that a number of possibilities are still in play. He acknowledged speculation that Netflix, despite past vows not to pursue live sports, could be induced given the popularity of Drive to survive, which he has just renewed for two more seasons. Fellow tech titans Apple and Amazon can’t be considered possible streaming-only houses, given their aggressive moves with the NFL and Major League Baseball. New streaming players like Peacock and HBO Max have also joined the list of those looking to carve out share of the sports market, especially via ownership with the added lifestyle dimension of F1.

“We are exploring all opportunities,” Domenicali said. “We are in no rush to make a decision.” He also went out of his way to praise ESPN’s production work and commitment at an important early stage in F1’s development.

During Liberty’s earnings call last February, a Wall Street analyst asked executives whether they covet broad exposure even if the dollar value of a rights deal isn’t exorbitant, as opposed to a path like that of the UFC, which is viewed through the ESPN+ subscription service (whose viewership is a fraction of ESPN’s) but at a premium price. Liberty CEO Greg Maffei said the company chose to take “broader silver coverage” in the most recent deal, “and I think it paid off.” In the current assessment, he added: “We will assess what is available to us. And I don’t think, as you know, that’s a complete compromise. There will be degrees of access, degrees of coverage, and there will be degrees of money.

Demography, not just ratings momentum, seems to be another element in F1’s favor as advertisers increasingly look for ways to reach well-defined targets.

“If you compare the demographics of F1 and NASCAR, our population is much younger” and more female, Domenicali said. From 2017 to 2021, the company said its female fanbase grew 8% in the US, reaching 40% of the total, while the number of fans aged 16-24 jumped 6% to 22. % of overall mix.

It’s also worth remembering that the US market is only a fraction of the total, with F1 attracting 500 million fans and 5 billion viewers worldwide last year. The average age of these fans, globally, increased from 39 to 37 from 2017 to 2021.

Netflix’s global footprint matches well with F1’s vast network of supporters. Drive to survive uses an unusual degree of in-season access to drivers, crews, owners, sponsors and other stakeholders to create episodic drama from the previous season, whetting the appetite for the next.

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos spoke about the series during the company’s latest earnings interview and declined to rule out a rights offering, though he said it hadn’t been a primary focus, especially given the company’s focus on on-demand and not direct. programming. “I’m not saying we’ll never do sports,” he said, “but we’ll have to find a way to develop a big revenue stream and a big profit stream.”

The streaming giant “has been very important to our growth,” Domenicali said. “On the other hand, we were also very important to them. … As always, in a marriage, it takes two to be happy, otherwise there is a problem.


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