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Volume 20 No. 46
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NBC intends to give ‘big event’ treatment to U.S. Grand Prix next year, Miller says

Longtime NBC Sports programmer Jon Miller left Austin bullish on the network’s coverage plans for Formula One that begin next year.

So much so that he said the network wants to treat the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, which will air on its broadcast network next year, with the same “big event” approach it uses for the Kentucky Derby.

Miller was one of seven NBC Sports executives who traveled to Austin for three days around last week’s race. The network recently scooped up the rights to F1 in 2013, ending the sport’s 17-year run on Speed.

By the end of the race weekend, Miller was so impressed with the event he already had decided to increase the programming window for the U.S. Grand Prix to four hours so that NBC could offer an hour of pre-race, two hours of race and an hour of post-race coverage. He also met with F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone about getting more access for celebrities at the event because NBC wants to cover the lifestyle aspect of the sport the same way it does at the Derby.

“We want to make this the most important day in racing in the U.S.,” Miller said.

During the weekend, NBC Sports Executive Director Sam Flood and Ken Goss, NBC Sports vice president of operations, spent time with the F1 production team. Miller said the network will rely on the world feed that F1 provides for most of the races but will use its own broadcast team of Leigh Diffey on play-by-play and David Hobbs and Steve Matchett as race analysts.

The company plans to air four races on its broadcast network: the Canadian Grand Prix from Montreal in June; the U.S. Grand Prix from Austin; the Brazil Grand Prix from São Paulo, which ends the season; and either the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November or the Monaco Grand Prix in May.

“We’re leaning toward Monaco,” Miller said. “It’s a huge event in the sport but there are a lot of other factors here.”

In addition to the races, NBC plans to offer shoulder programming on the drivers like it did with “IndyCar 36,” a half-hour feature on drivers that aired before races and re-aired during the week. It also will have its owned-and-operated stations, cable channels and regional sports networks feature the sport.

It was that opportunity — as much as anything — that spurred F1 to cut a deal with NBC.

“We’re excited by what the entire group can bring,” said Ian Holmes, F1’s head of media rights. “It’s all about getting our sport in front of people who haven’t been exposed to it. F1 is not NASCAR. It’s not Indy. It’s different, and we want to expose that to people.”

NBC Sports sales executives Jay Marsac and Steve Margosian, who were both at the race, said they are beginning to approach advertisers about F1. They believe categories like financial services, technology and telecommunications will align well with the sport.

“It’s a property that fits well with the larger portfolio — the Olympics, the English Premier League, the Tour de France,” Marsac said.

The sales pitch will mostly be about lifestyle. They’ll sell deals across sports and they’ll sell F1 alone. They’ll look for people in the financial services category, technology and telecommunications. Margosian said, “All of those guys currently don’t have a position in this sport and we think they’d like to.”