Formula One CEO Stefano Domenicali talks about US media rights.


Formula 1 treads familiar ground again this weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix, a glamorous race that has been a fixture since 1929.

While many of the track’s contours and views of the Côte d’Azur have changed little, the auto racing circuit itself has a decidedly refreshed look. Earlier this month, he made a flashy debut in Miami, the latest leg of his US expansion, which will take him to Las Vegas next year. That bow followed the arrival of the final season of the hit Netflix documentary. drive to survivewith the show adding pop culture gloss to negotiations for a potentially lucrative new US media deal.

“The US market is ready for F1,” Stefano Domenicali, CEO of Formula One Group, told Deadline in an interview ahead of today’s race. “Being ready means we have to keep working on the fact that we have to stay connected with our fans in the US. We need to speak the same language, we need to give context.”


The Miami event provided the latest template, as celebrity attendees including Tom Brady, Matt Damon, Serena Williams and Bad Bunny mingled with corporate dealmakers, brand sponsors and a cross-section of others in town 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 US.

Italian-born Domenicali succeeded Rupert Murdoch’s former lieutenant Chase Carey as chief executive officer of Formula One in 2020. Previously, he led sports car maker Lamborghini and served a long executive stint at Ferrari. Formula One Group is part of the Liberty Media portfolio of billionaire media investor John Malone. It is the parent of the Formula 1 circuit, which is a wholly owned subsidiary and has minority interests in several other holdings.

Formula 1 dates back to 1950 and its current world championship season runs from March to November, with 23 races in 21 countries on five continents. Boosted by Miami’s ratings, year-to-date TV ratings are up 49% from 2021 levels.

Domenicali said Miami had “the right energy”, blending traditional sports with fashion, music, technology and other spheres, as F1 intends to do. “This world is moving towards us if what they see is interesting,” he said of the event’s bold names. “Otherwise, they do other things.” The executive added that it was “very, very significant that business leaders were 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 observers wonder what all this momentum could mean in terms of ongoing rights talks. The current US F1 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 as much as $75 million a year, but many variables remain, including the nature of the bidding and the length of the term.

Domenicali preferred not to talk about specific numbers or suitors, emphasizing that there are still several possibilities up for grabs. He acknowledged speculation that Netflix, despite its earlier vows not to follow live sports, could be swayed given the popularity of drive to survive, which has just been renewed for two more seasons. Tech titans Apple and Amazon can’t be ruled out as possible streaming-only homes due to their aggressive moves with the NFL and Major League Baseball. New streaming players like Peacock and HBO Max have also been added to the list of those looking to grab parts of the sports market, especially through a property with the added dimension of the F1 lifestyle.

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

On Liberty’s earnings call last February, a Wall Street analyst asked executives if they coveted broad exposure even if the dollar value of a rights deal isn’t very high, unlike a path like the UFC’s. , which is seen through the subscription service ESPN+ (whose audience is a fraction of ESPN’s) but at a hefty premium. Liberty CEO Greg Maffei said the company opted to have a “broader hedge on the money” in the latest deal, “and I think that paid off.” In the current evaluation, he added, “We will weigh what is available to us. And I don’t think that, as you know, it’s a complete compensation. There will be degrees of access, degrees of coverage and there will be degrees of money”.

Demographics, not just ratings momentum, appear to be another element in F1’s favour, as advertisers increasingly look for ways to hit 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 fan base grew 8% in the US, reaching 40% of the total, while the number of fans between the ages of 16 and 24 increased between 6% and 22. % of the overall mix.

It is also worth remembering that the US market is only a small part of the total, as F1 attracted 500 million fans and 5 billion viewers worldwide last year. The average age of those fans, globally, fell from 39 years old to 37 years old from 2017 to 2021.

Netflix’s global footprint has been a good match for F1’s extensive network of fans. 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 in the company’s most recent earnings interview and refused to rule out a rights offer, though he said it hasn’t been a primary focus, especially given the company’s approach. on demand and not live. programming. “I’m not saying we never play sports,” he said, “but we’re going to have to see a way to grow a big revenue stream and a big profit stream with it.”

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 you need to be two to be happy, otherwise there is a problem.”