Formula 1 is the fastest growing sport in America. The international auto racing series regularly sees about 1.4 million American viewers each week, that’s a 53% increase in viewership from last season. This rise in viewership is thanks, in part, to the tumultuous championship race at the end of last season where decisions by the race authorities allowed for a dramatic ending. Max Verstappen snatched the title of World Champion from the hands of race leader (and 6 time World Champion) Lewis Hamilton at the last second after a very tense and evenly matched season. The rise in viewership also owes much to Disney+ competitor, Netflix, who produces a show about the racing series called Formula 1: Drive to Survive.
It’s this series that prompted something of a bidding war for the rights to stream F1 races in America with Netflix vying to wrest the rights from Disney, who currently owns the streaming rights and regularly airs races on ESPN. In the end, Disney won out but it cost them. In order to keep the rights they paid 1500% more (you read that correctly, that’s 15 with two zeros). That’s not an insignificant chuck of change. In fact, that’s approximately 75 million dollars. This secures Disney the exclusive rights to stream the growing sport in America for another 3 years.
If this season is any indication, Disney made a good choice. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Redbull’s Max Verstappen are locked in a close race for the championship. Its either mans game at this point. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is throwing his hat in the ring as well and making a comeback against all odds. It’s definitely a season to remember.
Next year will see an additional race come to America which will drive the sports popularity even higher in the country. For years, the US Grand Prix in Austin Texas was the only time the racing circuit came to America, making it relatively easy to forget in the minds of Americans. Next year however, they will race in Austin as they’ve done for years, Miami for the second year in a row, and they will add a race through the streets of Las Vegas for the first time ever. That will be a race worth seeing and well worth Disney’s bid for the streaming rights.
This is not the first time F1 and Disney have teamed up! In 1995 F.O.C.A Administration (which would later become Formula 1) signed an exclusive merchandising deal with Specialised Licensing Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney. More recently, however, F1 legend Michael Schumacher and current drivers Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettle, and Lewis Hamilton lent their voices in Pixar’s animated film, Cars.