If history proves anything, Formula 1 on ESPN will be anything but glamorous and will take a backseat to the network’s agenda that has driven its viewers away.
ESPN has been a political agenda for the last several years and it has negatively impacted how sports coverage is done on a network. If it’s not football or basketball, anything else are leftovers and motorsports is no exception. After this morning’s announcement that NBC Sports won’t cover Formula 1 in 2018 as ESPN will take over as part of a multi-year agreement, I’m livid.
What makes me believe ESPN suddenly care about motorsports if they released IndyCar’s core broadcasters of play-by-play announcer Allen Bestwick and pit reporter for 30+ years Dr. Jerry Punch early this year? I call this as an attempt to do damage control.
I wrote a column of why IndyCar needs to ditch ESPN a year early and become exclusive on NBC because I know they’ll go step beyond to propel the sport to greater heights that hasn’t been seen since “The Split” in 1996.
ESPN bringing F1 isn’t worth celebrating because motorsports has been treated as the black sheep. The network isn’t the end-all-be-all of sports coverage. There’s other networks out there that may think ahead and showcase what the sport is all about.
NHRA took forever to get in-depth exposure due to tape delay events and constant channel shifts until joining Fox Sports last year. Now, the sport is having their best coverage ever and the fans get to know the drivers and divisions in greater detail without being spoiled or left us asking more questions.
I can’t say the same for IndyCar as it gets the absolute minimum content outside of the Indianapolis 500 and gets shafted in favor of the network’s fixation of being just football and basketball.
Like F1, NBC has done many wonders for IndyCar and shows they value each sport they have on air as best as possible. There’s no denying IndyCar on NBC is a breath of fresh air.
With that in mind, ESPN should worry about who will cover IndyCar in 2018 to finish out their contract. Without Bestwick, it leaves me thinking that Marty Smith will be the sport’s play-by-play because he’s already employed with ESPN and has a racing background that could carry the sport temporarily. Rather than waiting to find a new play-by-play at the 11th hour, hire someone now and put this subject to rest.
All of those concerns is why I have no confidence towards ESPN showcasing Formula 1 like NBC and its predecessors (SpeedVision/SPEED Channel) have done. First, most of the races will be on ESPN2. Sure, the majority of the F1 races were on NBCSN, but watch something come up where they must move the race to ESPNEWS or ESPN Classic and disseminate its viewership numbers. Especially, when the unpredictable nature known was weather factors into a race.
Podium celebrations and interviews? Forget about it as most of the starting times appeared to be five minutes before the start of the race. It may not matter for some, but F1 is different than NASCAR because all they got is the weekend to cover the latest developments. They don’t have a weekly show, so the amount of time they got must be newsworthy and attention grabbing which they’ve done an excellent job.
Worse of all and why I’m saying ESPN has already lost is they’ll show the international feed. Most likely, Sky Sports which its commentators are David Croft and Martin Brundle. In other words, it’s the same thing Fox Sports does with their MotoGP coverage. Talk about being lazy. They don’t want to hire anyone which means the magic trio of Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett—one of sports broadcasting’s best I might add—will disappear.
As soon as the race ends, don’t be surprised if they have leave the broadcast and transition to SportsCenter or the latest about The Donald’s sports-related tweets. It’s going to happen if they’re only showing the international feed. Again, lazy.
Diffey confirmed he’ll stay with NBC and continue covering IndyCar and other sports. This could mean he may become the future voice of the sport while Kevin Lee shifts as a permanent pit reporter. Maybe, the future voice of the Indianapolis 500? Time will tell, but I don’t see IndyCar keeping ESPN around much longer.
Diffey, 46, can cover any form of racing and this year showcased his versatility and it’ll be silly for NBC to let go its best motorsports play-by-play announcer. I’ve seen some NASCAR fans who adore his style over Rick Allen and want him to become its play-by-play announcer. That tells you a lot when fans embrace a guy who brings something to the table on race day.
If ESPN were smart and bothered to hire a new F1 play-by-play, who replaces him? It better be someone with a motorsports background like Bob Varsha or James Allen. Maybe—just maybe—a new up and comer with knowledge that isn’t ESPN produced like most of its obnoxious personalities. We’ll never know because of their laziness of just showing the bare minimum and devalue the sport watched by millions upon millions across the globe.
Hobbs, 78, is another person who has worked with ESPN in the past and as sad it may sound, retirement will be in his vocabulary sooner than later. Hobbs has covered racing for almost 50 years for multiple networks across the world and still got it. The swan song may come into fruition with five rounds remaining in the world championship.
Matchett, 54, and pit reporter Will Buxton’s futures are too in doubt as of this time, but I can see them covering F1 beyond 2017 for other outlets. Most likely, writing columns or make sporadic appearances on television.
For American F1 fans, the news is awful because ESPN won’t capture the magic those guys (Varsha included) have done the last decade and a half. Their F1’s Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons with Buxton being their Jerry Punch, irreplaceable.
As I eluded with Hobbs, ESPN has covered the sport in the past (1984-1997) including Ayrton Senna’s rise and tragic death at Imola May 1, 1994. However, at the end of their run, it became apparent the network was shifting away from motorsports and it has taken fans decades to realize the one network that put motorsports on the map at a grander scale are also the cyanides behind its collapse.
They don’t give a damn about my sport. It’s just filler content for morning hours with the only thing to look forward to is watch the race and hear Croft and Brundle cover the race. That’s about it, then it’ll be forgotten by the network unless a major crash happens. Even its races that’ll air on ESPN and ABC including the British and Monaco Grand Prix will take a backseat to the almighty two-sport agenda.
Rather than four (U.S., Mexico, Canada and Monaco) live on over-the-air telecasts, it’ll be two (United States and Mexican Grand Prix) with Monaco being aired on ABC immediately after the Indy 500. Pathetic and a letdown because NBC’s viewership has gone up from last year. Now, it’ll be hard for the sport to see ratings go up despite the bigger name in sports networks.
There’s nothing to be optimistic about the move and it’s unfortunate NBC Sports were unable to make an agreement with Liberty Media to continue covering the glitz and glamour after 2017.
If there’s one plus side of ESPN covering F1, it’ll be the digital presentation which may have something to do with the sudden departure. The sport is shifting into streaming as its pinnacle of their broadcast and ESPN3 may be the only redeeming quality I see them doing with F1.
The future is now and maybe ESPN are the ones to do it here in America, but I won’t bank on that statement at this moment. Either way, it’s a sad day for motorsports enthusiasts who loved NBC’s coverage and expanded content with the likes of side-by-side, extensive pre- and post-race coverage.
NBC Sports has done a tremendous job since taking over in 2013 after Fox Sports (SpeedVision/SPEED Channel) set the bar of capturing the beauty of F1 from 1996-2012. Their pre-race content is unlike anything people see in other forms of motorsports. It captured the glamorous nature of the sport. Next year, you can kiss that goodbye because I promise, ESPN will shy away from appropriately capturing the world’s most prestigious motorsport.
To the guys at NBC, you will be sorely missed by American F1 enthusiasts.