Formula 1 Leaves SPEED Network in 2013


// Formula 1 Leaves SPEED

Following a 17 year partnership with Formula 1 as their exclusive US broadcaster, Fox Sport's SPEED network will conclude their coverage of Formula 1 at the end of the 2012 season. A new contract for the U.S. broadcasting rights of Formula 1 has been signed with the NBC network beginning in 2013. The SPEED network and their on-air personalities, Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Will Buxton, have been the face of Formula 1 in America, doing their part to connect US fans with the sport since the network started showing F1 in 1996.

Earlier today, Fox Sports Media made a statement regarding the decision of Formula 1 to move forward with another media partner beginning in 2013.

"It's disappointing to learn that F1 has elected to move forward with a different media partner. SPEED had been the US voice of F1 since the mid '90s, and it was a passion for many people at the network. FOX Sports Media Group made what we believed to be a fiscally responsible bid based on the sport's current viewership levels, but F1 has elected to go in another direction. We wish them well." FOX Sports Media Group spokesman

According to AP News (via Jalopnik), FOX Sports was in a bidding war with NBC and was unable to match the deal NBC put forth to Formula One Management. In further discussions with AP News, FOX Sports said they produced a "fiscally responsible" bid for the contract but this was not enough to keep their position as the broadcaster of F1 in America. The financial terms of the contract have not been released but chances are with two US F1 races in the calendar in 2013, whoever holds the contract has a lot to work with.

So what does this mean for Formula 1 fans in America? It's very likely many of the current SPEED team could be picked up by the NBC network to help lead their Formula 1 coverage.  Keep in mind that David Hobbs and Steve Matchett were both covering F1 with ESPN prior to joining SPEED. Will Buxton, SPEED's  pit-lane reporter, is one of the few professional broadcasters permanently credentialed by the FIA and with the right experience to lead the on the ground efforts at each race. Bob Varsha on the other hand, fills a few more roles for the SPEED network which would prevent him from moving over to NBC. 

In many respects, the resources that NBC brings to the table are potentially tremendous for the sport. One major factor that contributes to the slow growth of Formula 1 in America is the lack of accessibility to the SPEED network. As a premium channel on any cable/satellite provider, the network is not part of many household's standard collection. This brings up a similar issue to the discussions late last year about the Sky Network taking over from the BBC; free-to-air access always trumps subscription in terms of viewership. So far, there's no indication whether this deal with NBC includes provisions to include the races on their national broadcast or if this will be run on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN).

For Formula 1 to gain the level of viewership needed to make it a permanent part of the American sports landscape, much of the burden sits on the shoulders of the broadcasters tasked with bringing the sport to the screen. Having a group of experienced broadcasters like the current SPEED crew as part of their team, NBC has the potential to bring great coverage to a wider audience and help elevate the sport to a whole new level. Making sure to invest in providing top-notch coverage and easy access will help ensure both the long term success of the network and the growth of the American Formula 1 audience.