Walt Disney, the entertainment giant and owner of US sports broadcaster ESPN, has confirmed a three-year rights extension with premier motor-racing series Formula 1 (F1) in a deal that will see races aired across the US on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 through the 2025 season.

Under the extension, announced during the US Grand Prix at the weekend (October 22) in Austin, Texas, ESPN will continue to provide live coverage of all F1 grands prix, with at least 16 races per season broadcast on free-to-air sister channel ABC.

All race broadcasts will be aired without advert breaks.

As part of the extension, ESPN will continue to broadcast all three practice sessions and qualifying, as well as pre-race and post-race coverage. The broadcaster will also air more qualifying sessions on ESPN and ESPN 2.

Under the terms of the new deal, ESPN will not have exclusivity for the rights, and F1’s streaming service F1TV will continue to be available to subscribers in the US.

ESPN Deportes, the broadcaster’s Spanish-language channel, will continue to be the Spanish-language home of the series in the US.

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Burke Magnus, ESPN president of programming and original content, said: “F1 and ESPN have been a strong and successful team and we’re delighted to extend our relationship.

“We look forward to serving fans in some new and innovative ways in the next three years as we continue to bring the reach and relevance of the Walt Disney Company networks and platforms to Formula 1.”

ESPN presently holds live F1 rights in the US, a key target market for series owner Liberty Media, until the end of the ongoing 2022 season, with the last deal between the two having been struck in 2019.

The new extension was first reported in June. At the time, it was said the network had seen off competition from Comcast-owned NBC and streaming giant Amazon Prime to keep the series for another three seasons by agreeing to significantly increase its rights fee from $5 million per year to between $70 million and $90 million.

Financial details of the now-announced extension have not been disclosed.

Starting next year, the US will host three F1 races after the addition of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, which will join races in Austin, Texas, and Miami, Florida. Other races in the Americas each season are held in Canada, Mexico, and Brazil.

F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said: “We are delighted to announce that our partnership with ESPN will continue.

“F1 has seen incredible growth in the United States with sold-out events and record television audiences, and the addition of Las Vegas to the calendar next season, alongside Austin and Miami, will see us host three spectacular races there.

“The ESPN networks have played a huge part in that growth with their dedicated quality coverage. We are excited to expand our relationship and continue to bring the passion and excitement of F1 to our viewers in the US together.”

For the 2021 season, ESPN generated an average 949,000 viewers per race, a 58% year-on-year viewership increase.

For the 18 races so far this season, the broadcaster’s coverage has averaged 1.2 million viewers, with several records broken for F1 audiences in the country.

In May, ESPN’s coverage of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on ABC saw an average viewership of 2.6 million, the largest US audience for a live F1 race.

This year’s Canadian Grand Prix (June 19) averaged 1.72 million viewers on ABC, marking the largest audience on record for the race. The previous high was 1.5 million for the 2007 race on fellow network Fox.

F1’s growing popularity in the US has been largely attributed to the huge interest generated by Netflix docuseries Formula 1: Drive to Survive, which follows the series behind the scenes. The strong growth numbers in TV audiences led to F1 securing the Las Vegas race.

The top motor racing series and Netflix extended their deal for the docuseries in May to return for its fifth and sixth seasons, respectively, in 2023 and 2024.

Meanwhile, ServusTV, the Austrian free-to-air broadcaster, has extended its exclusive rights agreement in the country to F1 for another three years.

The deal, which will see the broadcaster hold distribution rights for the series until the end of the 2026 season, also includes rights to second-tier Formula 2, third-tier Formula 3, and the Porsche Supercup.

The extension adds to ServusTV’s extensive motorsports rights portfolio, which also includes MotoGP, the Superbike World Championship, the World Rally Championship, the World Endurance Championship, Germany's DTM, World Rallycross, the Hard Enduro World Championships, and the 24H Series.

ServusTV chief executive Ferdinand Wegscheider: “It is totally in terms of [Red Bull co-founder] Dietrich Mateschitz that we have been able to convince the management of Formula 1 with our high-quality broadcast and performance and that we are going to continue our successful partnership for another three years.

“Motorsport has always been his passion. The big winners are primarily the Formula 1 fans, who will be able to watch their favorite sport for free on ServusTV as well as on ServusTV On, also in the future.

“At the moment there is no broader and more significant motorsport program available for free across Europe.”

Image: Peter Fox/Getty Images