ESPN (DIS) has had an eventful week. The company finalized a distribution deal with Altice (ATUS); terms of which are particularly notable, as the deal represents the first of several renegotiations in a new round of carriage fee talks with pay-TV operators. On the content side of the business, the company announced a partnership with Cycle Media to create branded original programming and acquired the broadcast rights to Formula 1 racing (FWONA), beginning in 2018. As for talent, the company hired Katie Nolan, formally of “Garbage Time” on FS1 and confirmed reports of a new late-night show on ESPN2, hosted by Barstool Sports’ Big Cat & PFT Commenter.
Howie Long-Short: In the end, Altice caved. They agreed to pick up nearly every ESPN channel (including the SEC & ACC Networks), implement a rate increase for those channels and raise minimum household penetration thresholds. What choice did they really have? It’s not like they can afford to let subscribers walk. As for the FWONA deal, it’s noteworthy that the terms enable the racing organization to maintain OTT rights to their races.
Fan Marino: Nolan is a star that FS1 oddly wasn’t using. She’s got a great sense of humor, a sharp tongue and Sports Emmy to her name; a strong addition to the ESPN roster. For those not familiar with Big Cat & PFT Commenter, they are the hosts of Pardon my Take; a sports podcast that draws 2 million listeners/episode. You don’t have to be a fan of Barstool to like these guys. PFT is one of the funniest personalities in sports.
After a big week, ESPN is becoming cool again
Formula 1 (FWONK) is entering the esports arena, launching a gaming series with the help of esports operator Gfinity (LON: GFN). The series will focus on the new official F1 video game published by Codemasters; and will coincide with the on-track world championship. The inaugural season which will run from September-November, is Formula One Group’s latest attempt at embracing digital media (they also recently announced a partnership with SNAP). Qualification will begin in September and the series will culminate with a 20 person, 3 race event, at the F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi. The “esports World Champion” will receive automatic entry into the 2018 competition, passes to the 2018 Grand Prix and will become a character in the 2018 F1 video game.
Formula 1 Entering Esports Arena With Official Championships To Start In September
Howie Long-Short: F1 has been around since 1950 and has a fan base that attracts +/- 400 million TV viewers. In 10 years, esports has amassed an audience that saw 320 million people watch video games on television in 2016, with that number expected to rise past 400 million this year. Wise idea for F1 to try and attract real fans through the virtual world.
Fan Marino: From the gamers POV, F1 2017 is receiving strong reviews. A new “championship” game mode and series of vintage racers are new to this year’s edition.
Formula One teams have just one week remaining to purchase equity in FWONK, the stock that tracks the performance of the auto racing series, and invest in their own future. The teams have had this opportunity since the January 23rd Liberty takeover, with shares up 59.4% since that time, but all have passed thus far. The series is facing several issues; race organizers have terminated contracts early with others choosing not to renew contracts, there is a corruption investigation occurring in Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and in 2020 Liberty’s existing team contracts expire, along with the guaranteed F1 income. Need a reason to be optimistic? Start with the potential for an increase in corporate sponsorships.
Teams Have A Week To Buy Shares In Formula One
Howie Long-Short: Eliminating the potential conflict of interest between the teams and Liberty/F1 is key for their long-term success. It’s early, but sounds like they’re not off to a great start.
Fan Marino says: With Sean Bratches, a former ESPN executive, leading commercial operations, it would seem to be just a matter of time before F1 “embraces debate“.
Update (July 25): The investment opportunity offered to Formula 1 teams to purchase shares of Series C Formula One common stock (“FWONK”) has expired.