Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 27
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Race is on: NBC makes big F1 push

The network that coined “Breakfast at Wimbledon” is looking to start a new tradition — Mimosas at Monaco, you might call it.

NBC will pre-empt its Sunday morning staples “Today” and “Meet the Press” this May to show the Monaco Grand Prix live. The telecast, which will air May 26 at 7:30 a.m. ET, marks the first time the famed race will be aired live on U.S. broadcast TV.

The Monaco Grand Prix will be the first of four F1 races airing live on NBC this year.
“Monaco’s certainly on a level with the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 when it comes to the biggest event in a given sport,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports president of programming. “It’s a chance to celebrate the sport. Montreal, Austin and Brazil [which will also air on NBC] jump off the page, but Monaco captures what Formula One is. It’s got the glamour and the celebrities.”

NBC last year spent more than $3 million to acquire the rights to F1, ending the sport’s 17-year run on Fox-owned Speed. The Monaco Grand Prix will be the first of four F1 races that air live on NBC this year. The other three — Montreal on June 9; Austin, Texas, on Nov. 17; and Brazil on Nov. 24 — give F1 unprecedented network coverage in the U.S. Another 13 races will air on NBC Sports Network and two races will air on CNBC because of a scheduling conflict with the Tour de France on NBC Sports Network.

It will televise its first race on NBC Sports Network this Sunday from Australia at 1:30 a.m. ET with a re-air at 1 p.m. ET. The subsequent 18 races will air live on Sundays between March and November. Races in Asia, which start between 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., and races in Europe, which start at 7:30 a.m., will re-air on NBC Sports Network each Sunday afternoon.

NBC’s move to land F1 surprised many in the media industry, but the network is making the series a sales priority, and Miller said that the advertising market has responded well to F1 programming.

The network’s sales team signed a deal with Rolex that makes the watch company the presenting sponsor of all of its F1 coverage. It also picked up advertising commitments from ExxonMobil, Mercedes-Benz, Pirelli, John Deere and other companies. NBC sales executives also were targeting categories like financial services, technology and telecommunications that they believe align well with the sport.

“We’ve gotten tremendous sponsor and advertising support before we’ve even broadcast one race,” Miller said, who added that NBC is selling F1 separately from the IndyCar Series, which it
Promotional spots for Formula One on NBC highlight the speed of F1, as well as its cultural significance to a global audience.
also broadcasts.

NBC Sports plans to block off three hours of coverage for every F1 race. It will offer a half-hour of pre-race commentary, two hours of racing and a half-hour follow-up show called “F1 Extra.” It will complement its coverage of all 19 races with a minimum of four features on F1 drivers. Those features will be part of its “36” series, a half-hour show that follows athletes from MLS and NHL for a 36-hour period before big games.

Race coverage will be hosted from NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Conn., by Leigh Diffey on play-by-play with analysts David Hobbs and Steve Matchett. They will be on-site for the races in Monaco, Montreal and Austin. Longtime F1 journalist Will Buxton will travel to each race and serve as a reporter during the broadcast.

NBC developed two, 30-second promotional spots with creative that focuses on the speed of F1 and aims to appeal to the upscale sports fan by highlighting its international appeal and cultural significance. The spot currently is running on NBC Sports Group properties such as Golf Channel, NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

In addition to the ad, Miller said that NBC plans to promote F1 across the entire suite of NBC Universal channels and shows in much the same way it promotes the Kentucky Derby. He expects the open-wheel racing series to be featured on networks like E! and Style and shows like “Access Hollywood.”

“All of them will be involved and part of this, especially when we get to Austin,” Miller said. “That’s when you’ll see those different parts working together.”