Liberty Media has wasted little time in putting their mark in Formula 1. Since they bought the series in January for $8 billion, the corporation has been finding ways to maximize their investment.

From wanting more races in the United States to investing more in multimedia and social media, it seems like Liberty Media has a clear game plan. But some recent comments by Liberty Media’s CEO has left people confused.

Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, CEO Greg Maffei labeled NBC’s media deal as a “popcorn fart.”

“The US is, you know, it’s a popcorn fart. It’s nothing. The opportunity is good, certainly in percentage terms, not in absolute Dollar terms. It is very low. It is with NBC, and it’s not on the main NBC, it’s on their sports channel.”

I have plenty of confusion right now about that statement. First of all, I need to know what exactly a “popcorn fart” is and it supposedly means “something which is hardly worth the effort.” It’s reported that NBC only paid $3 million for Formula 1 rights since they first bought the rights in 2013. Clearly, Liberty Media doesn’t like how NBC pays next to nothing for TV rights, but is that really NBC’s fault?

Think about this critically for a second. Former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone was who negotiated the original rights deal. Bernie Ecclestone is a lot of negative things, but one thing he did was make Formula 1 a lot of money by being a great negotiator and was able to get as much money as he could in every deal. In 2013, Speed was being converted to Fox, so they were trying to get away with most motorsports. ESPN wasn’t going to bid for Formula 1, so that pretty much left NBC.

Why would NBC pay any more than they had to? Besides, NBC usually puts four races on broadcast NBC (Monaco, Canada, USA and Mexico), which is as many as Speed did on broadcast Fox. And NBC’s ratings have gone up over the years.

So why is Maffei saying all this about a current TV partner now? NBC’s rights deal ends this season and I have to assume that Maffei is trying to drum up interest and create some sort of bidding war. The reason why Sky is paying $150 million a year was because they had competition between BT Sport and beIN Sports.

Liberty Media shouldn’t expect $150 million from anyone in the United States for Formula 1 rights, but they should expect more than $3 million. Fox Sports is reportedly interested and has NASCAR, NHRA, Supercross, Formula E, IMSA and the World Endurance Championship. So Fox Sports is more than capable of adding Formula 1 to their list of racing properties.

Although not reportedly interested yet, beIN Sports can be a potential home. They have been branching out from just doing soccer and have Moto GP rights. Given they have the top motorcycle series in the world, would be logical to have the top open wheel series in the world as well.

In addition, given Liberty Media’s added importance of digital and social media, never rule out a move to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or some other similar online outlet. Facebook and Twitter have been getting into the sports TV rights game, Formula 1 may be the next logical step for them.

So, NBC is likely to face added competition this next go-round of F1 negotiations. NBC will be hoping that a rise in ratings and investment in Formula 1 has bought them some trust to continue their relationship, but Maffei’s comments seem to indicate Liberty Media is focused on the money, and that’s all that matters. So if NBC wants to secure Formula 1 rights after this year, they’ll need to offer a sweeter deal. Otherwise, it could be just about anyone grabbing Formula 1 rights next season.


About Phillip Bupp

News and soccer editor for The Comeback and I occasionally write for Awful Announcing and Freezing Cold Takes. I also do video highlight game coverage for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook @phillipbupp

  • Mort Adell

    Not a bad deal for NBC: Low rights fee and they take F1’s international feed so production costs are low.
    The announcers are mostly in-studio (not a fan of Leigh Diffey, BTW) and Will Buxton travels as the pit reporter (and is quite good, actually).

    Not sure what F1 thinks they can mine out of this, but if they put a package together with streaming and VOD rights, they might fetch larger bucks. Everyone is looking for streaming content these days.

    Tough sell to an American audience that’s “meh” about open-wheel racing and when the schedule heads to Asia and Middle East you basically have to DVR the races because they’re at bad hours. That makes it a tough sell domestically.

  • Parts

    If it meant having Bob Varsha back with Hobbs and Machett on the broadcasts I would love a return to Fox. I really don’t enjoy listening to Leigh Diffy.

  • CreightonRabs

    Other than a token race or two in North America, does Liberty Media really think anybody in the US really cares about Formula 1 racing?

    • Sam Snee

      We do, but the numbers aren’t massive compared to other places im sure. Seeing one team of two cars dominate 95% of all qualifying and race sessions isn’t quite the thrill people in the states are looking for at the moment.

      • CreightonRabs

        No kidding. It’s not like the F1 field includes a slew of American drivers or teams.

        • Sam Snee

          The first race of the year is exciting, because you get to see if anyone can catch up to Mercedes. The rest of the year you get to wait and see which Mercedes will win.

  • Phillip Ramirez

    Lol. Nbc has done nothing but make f1 a joke. They seriously prempt f1 for bicycles or soccer. So you have to bounce from say cnbchd for pre race post race and the live race. Shit one time they couldn’t get the live race streamed

    • geek49203

      Well, to be truthful, ESPN also interrupts stuff for soccer. FOX, NBC and ESPN are all hoping that soccer coverage will gain them market share.

  • geek49203

    So to recap: NBCSN pays $3 million a year for F1, and sends maybe 2-3 people to a race, and doesn’t have to pay for any of the costs of cameras, etc. NASCAR just signed a deal for 10 years at $820 million per year, and the networks have to pay the full costs of production.

    • Nascar ratings are much higher than F1.

  • If F1 wants to get money from US television, they need ratings. NBCSN can be disappointing, but FS1 won’t be better and beIN would be worse.

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