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There are terrible start times for sports television, and then there’s the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Las Vegas.
The race is scheduled to begin at sleep-deprived time (especially for East Coast and Midwest F1 fans) at 1:00 a.m. ET this Sunday (10:00 p.m. local time Saturday night in Las Vegas) on ESPN , ESPN+ and ESPN Sports. There is huge anticipation for the race, the celebrity factor will be off the charts (I mean, it’s Vegas) and the visuals will be stunning (and also absurd). But the preparatory period also had its share of problems. This all makes for an interesting juxtaposition given that Las Vegas is one of the most high-profile races in the sport’s recent history, as our Luke Smith notedbut the race is much better organized for the public in Europe and Asia.
None of this is a surprise to ESPN. John Suchenski, director of programming and acquisitions for the company that manages ESPN’s business relationship with F1, said F1 officials have long been transparent with ESPN about the desire to make Las Vegas a night race .
“It was always intended to be a late-night race on Las Vegas time, and I think it fits the Vegas theme well,” Suchenski said. “The city that is up at all hours. Other major events taking place there, whether they’re boxing matches or UFC pay-per-views, also usually end up being late. So we knew from the start that it was going to be a night race. Then we react accordingly.
This reaction focused on educating ESPN viewers about the start time of the race as well as the qualifying sessions. There have been mentions of F1 on “Monday Night Football,” and Suchenski said the race will be heavily promoted during ESPN’s college football windows this Saturday.
F1 is a hot property in the United States, but viewership has cooled a bit this year. The series is averaging 1.1 million viewers per 2023 race to Las Vegas, down 8% after a record year last year. (Last season, there were an average of 1.21 million viewers per race on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, a 28% increase from the previous U.S. TV record of 949,000 average viewers set in 2021.) Many have Been written about why the numbers are down, and undoubtedly competitiveness is a problem. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has won 17 of 20 races so far this season and won the drivers’ championship more than a month ago.
Suchenski said he wasn’t worried about ESPN’s viewership and believed the property had room to grow in the future. Additionally, as he rightly pointed out, it is important to keep in mind that one of the benefits of having global programming is that it provides live content when otherwise it would take do something studio related. Scheduling eats away at innings, as the baseball vernacular says. ESPN has U.S. rights through the 2025 season.
“The numbers we reported this year are slightly lower than last year’s record,” Suchenski said. “The rate at which we grew the audience year on year over the last two or three years was significant. Even though we are currently down 8 percent, much of that is due to the Max Verstappen factor. He won 17 of 20 races. He has already finished the regular season. Many races have not been very competitive on track. But we are still seeing a lot of positive numbers. This year alone we had three of the four most watched races in the United States of all time. We always see races that set all-time (viewership) records, most recently the Mexican Grand Prix. We are still very optimistic about the property.
ESPN is using Sky Sports’ coverage, as they always do, and pre-race coverage will begin at 11:30 p.m. ET. ESPN will also offer its own preview show, “Countdown To Las Vegas” on social platforms and the ESPN app starting at midnight.
Long term, ESPN has no plans to move away from presenting Sky Sports, but Suchenski said he expects ESPN to continue to amplify its presence at US-based events. UNITED STATES. “SportsCenter” will be on hand for the Vegas race, with anchors Nicole Briscoe and Gary Striewski reporting from Las Vegas this week after the race begins. (ESPN says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner will do a live interview with “SportsCenter” after the race.) In synergistic support, ABC’s “Good Morning America” is airing segments from Las Vegas on Friday.
Time difference poses a huge challenge for broadcasters, as executives at Fox Sports and NBC Sports as rights holders for the World Cup and Olympics can tell you. Conventional wisdom suggests the Las Vegas race will be below the season average given the start time. But it’s a unique ride given the location and the novelty, and it’s possible that ESPN will entice curious people to check in early Sunday morning just to see what the show is like.
“We’ll see what the audience is when it comes in and then try to put into context how that compares to the rest of the F1 season or other types of events that happen late at night,” he said. said Suchenski. “Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised. I don’t have any expectations in mind, but the amount of buzz could potentially make it something special. It’s not the end all be all of success or failure, but I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised when the numbers come out.
Las Vegas Grand Prix mailbag: What does success look like at F1’s most glitzy race?
I had a great conversation with Jason Benetti, new broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers as part of my latest sports media podcast. We discussed his move from the White Sox to the Tigers, his reaction to the Tigers pursuing him, why he ultimately left the White Sox, the tension between someone who has a national job in addition to the local and the importance of purchasing a property title. broadcast, among many other subjects. Benetti is a particularly transparent interview. I also recommend this excellent article on Benetti Since AthleticismIt’s Cody Stavenhagen.
• My former Sports Illustrated colleague, Tim Rohan. has a new two-part podcast this week – “Volley and Serve” – which features Sergiy Stakhovsky, a Ukrainian tennis player fighting on the front lines of the war. Stakhovsky beat Roger Federer in the second round of the 2013 Wimbledon tournament – an unprecedented upset at the time – and Rohan traveled to Ukraine to tell his story.
• Gary Myers, longtime NFL writer and major player in HBO’s popular “Inside the NFL” franchise, wrote “Once A Giant” which focuses on the post-football life of the 1986 Super Bowl champion Giants and the mental, physical and financial challenges they faced in their 50s and 60s.
• University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism has an excellent Povich symposium Friday (you can stream it online) with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, along with a series of writers (including Athleticism‘s David Aldridge) on the future of the NBA.
• Kevin Harlan played in his 500th NFL game last Sunday.
Some things I’ve read in the last month that interested me (Note: there are a lot of paywalls here):
• How to embezzle a quarter of a million dollars in rare Japanese Kit Kats. By Amelia Nierenberg of The New York Times.
• Excellent piece of Athleticismit’s Jeff Reuter, which examined CBS’s handling of Carli Lloyd’s investment in Gotham during their broadcast of the NWSL Championship, in which Lloyd served as a studio analyst.
• Most Americans still have to commute every day. Here’s how that experience changed. By Lydia DePillis, Emma Goldberg and Ella Koeze from The New York Times.
• The untold story of the Washington Football Team’s first black cheerleaders. By Washingtonian’s Luke Mullins.
• Bills legend Jim Kelly was mad about how much he lost. Now he focuses on what he found. By Dan Pompei from Athleticism.
• Saudi Arabia’s tightening grip on sport. By Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Washington Post.
• Shortest career in NHL history? 1 shift. 4 seconds. 0 regrets. By Peter Baugh of Athleticism.
• The librarian who couldn’t take it anymore. By Ruby Cramer of the Washington Post.
• When bullied students take their own lives, parents sue. And the schools pay. By Donna St. George of the Washington Post.
• The Secret History of Alan Alda’s M*A*S*H Dog Tags. By Andy Lewis of The Ankler.
• Inside an OnlyFans empire: sex, influence and the new American dream. By Drew Harwell of the Washington Post.
• Secrets of the JFK assassination archives. By Scott Sayare for New York Magazine.
(Red Bull Racing Las Vegas Grand Prix livery photo revealed Tuesday: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)