The 2018 Formula 1 season has officially started, as the Australian Grand Prix took place on Sunday, yet many Americans may not have known it even happened. The race was shown on ESPN2 live, marking the first time in years that an ESPN network has carried the world championship. That time gap certainly showed, as the broadcast was plagued with errors and technical difficulties and it is no surprise that the ratings also left much to be desired.
As reported by Adam Stern of SportsBusinessDaily, the Australian Grand Prix registered a 0.16 rating on ESPN2 on early Sunday morning, down from 0.19 in 2017 on NBCSN. It is unknown at this time how many may have tuned in for rebroadcasts of the race on ESPNEWS and online on ESPN3. Overall, ESPN’s presentation leaves Formula One fans wanting more, and that should not come as a surprise to anyone. ESPN was awarded the rights to the world championship without having to pay a rights fee, and have already cheapened the American product by simulcasting production from Sky Sports rather than creating their own. As reported by Awful Announcing, that led to a series of awkward transitions from live racing to commercials, whether side-by-side or full-screen. Often the announcers from Sky Sports would get cut off in the process.
In addition to this, even practice sessions and pre-race coverage became a challenge for the worldwide leader in sports. The network advertised the wrong time for Practice #3 for the Grand Prix, instead showing the action one hour after they had scheduled it to be. They also struggled to get the pre-race simulcast from Sky Sports to work properly, missing the first 20 minutes of their window.
Perhaps, however, this is the exact debacle that Formula One management wanted. With the upcoming F1 TV app launching in the United States, this is the perfect tool to leverage the American audience to buy the product. The OTT app would likely not have any of the same issues that ESPN encountered this weekend, and therefore may be a saving grace for Formula 1 fanatics stateside.
ESPN did release a statement apologizing for the technical difficulties encountered at the Australian Grand Prix.