What the Apple x MLS TV Deal Means for Formula One
Apple shows off its deep pockets
If I’m Formula One and Liberty Media leadership right now, I am salivating.
It’s been reported that Liberty Media is looking to sell its US media rights for $100 million per year. ESPN came in with a bid for $70 million, which right now, is looking like an ultra-lowball offer.
Major League Soccer recently sold its TV rights to Apple for 10-year, $2.5 billion, which is close to the $300 million annually they were looking for, per reporting last December from CNBC.
The expiring deal was worth $90 million annually. In March, reporting from The Athletic suggested that MLS did not have suitors outside of ESPN and Univision, both longtime league partners.
Let me make it clear, I am not saying that F1 and MLS are an apples-for-apples comparison when it comes to TV viewership. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some numbers and thoughts.
The early season “El Traffico” derby between the Galaxy and LAFC drew a 0.10 rating on regular FOX and 477,000 people watched it, according to ShowBuzzDaily.com.
This past weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which started at 7:00 am on the east coast of the United States, drew 832,000 viewers on ESPN.
FOX is free-to-air. ESPN is on cable, albeit most basic cable packages carry ESPN.
Generally, MLS matches are unable to top the 500,000 viewers mark for the majority of their matches. The 2021 average on ESPN was just under 280,000.
Formula One, on the other hand, averaged 934,000 on ESPN for the 2021 season.
The Formula Advantage
What Formula One has done to raise interest in the United States is nothing short of amazing. Taking a cultural moment and converting it to actual race watchers is not easy.
F1 has embraced social media
Formula One doesn’t block footage from being shared online, which has become a huge boost to their social media presence.
This chart is telling. Formula 1 doubled its online engagement during a pandemic while leagues like the NFL, Champions League, and MLB all faltered.
We can no longer take away the amount of influence Netflix has on why people are watching. Between a cultural phenomenon (Drive to Survive) and ESPN’s increased coverage both on TV and on social media, it’s the perfect storm.
F1 is nurturing digital communities
Digital communities like subreddits, booming TikTok presence, and quality YouTube content is just one thing. However, I look at the number of creators spending their time and money to create content in these forums as an indicator of what the future holds.
By allowing creators to use content without fear of takedown (mostly), you nurture community.
F1 teams and drivers are now allowed to use social media to build their own followings and communities, embracing meme culture and banter amongst digital teams.
F1 races are events
Races aren’t just for race day. They are three-day festivals of culture, entertainment, and speed. You’re getting a Super Bowl-like atmosphere at most Grands Prix.
Verizon reported a 52% increase in data used during the Miami Grand Prix over the Super Bowl in February 2020 at the same location.
Vincenzo Landino @vincenzolandinoWith the success of the Miami GP for @Verizon, they are now a candidate to become an @F1 regional partner. And according to @brandon_snow F1 will also be looking to co-market with other leagues and gaming properties as it did with the NBA and Rocket League last year. #F1 https://t.co/7LLTqwEoDY
I took inspiration from Jacob Feldman’s thread on ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sports’, check out his thread from last October:
What Formula One has learned is that embracing the personality of the sport, the allure of the destinations, and the technology, plays right into what social media does best: create something aspirational.
All Out Bidding War
We talked about the bidding war in a previous post, where ESPN is being pushed by NBCUniversal, Amazon, and Netflix for the rights in the United States.
But this was nine days ago. And if I learned anything from watching Formula 1 this season as a Ferrari fan, circumstances can change in a matter of moments.
While I don’t believe Apple is making a push for Formula 1, they recently signed Brad Pitt and Lewis Hamilton’s F1 movie project with an expected budget of $150 million. That’s a blockbuster-type budget.
Additionally, Apple is already doing live sports with Major League Baseball. And I’ve got to say, it’s really good. The graphics package is clean and they’ve got a rotating lineup of commentators that are doing a great job as well. Dubbed Friday Night Baseball, Apple paid $85 million per season for two games a week!
I’m going to take a swing here and say that Apple could be a new dark horse in the US media rights for F1. The pockets are very deep, they’re learning how to do live sports and surely have the resources to improve on the product.
Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, knows he can get more than $70 million per year for these rights, and I’m here to say that he can thank Apple and MLS for raising that bar even higher.
Just how high can it go?