Apple considers making $2bn-a-year F1 TV rights deal, pending global exclusivity

Apple in Sky's slipstream for exclusive F1 TV rights with multi-billion dollar deal

Tech giant already has foot in the door with Brad Pitt-fronted F1 movie

Apple TV+ is reportedly lining up a huge bid to secure exclusive broadcasting rights to the Formula 1 World Championship that could be worth as much as $2 billion (£1.64bn) a year to the sport’s organisers, Formula 1 Group (F1G).

If the deal comes off, it would be worth around twice as much to F1G as the organisation currently gets from selling the rights piecemeal to broadcasters in countries all over the globe.

Apple TV is said to be looking at the option of muscling in on F1 coverage after the success of its decision to purchase exclusive rights to American Major League Soccer (MLS). Apple TV subscriber numbers rocketed in the wake of Argentina’s megastar Lionel Messi signing for David Beckham’s Inter Miami outfit.

Currently, Apple TV puts its MLS coverage behind a paywall, which would indicate that if the deal were to come off and be successful, F1 TV coverage would become a pay-per-view affair globally.

The initial report, made in the BusinessF1 magazine and picked up by Planet F1, says that Apple TV’s MLS package is worth $250 million a year and is currently in the first of a ten-year deal. It is believed the company would want a seven-year-plus deal for the F1 rights if the plan is to go ahead.

Apple set up a specific channel in Apple TV+ called MLS Season Pass, with ordinary subscribers having only limited access to a small number of live games. However, despite having to pay extra to watch all the live coverage of the MLS, Apple was reputed to have added one million new subscribers almost overnight after it began broadcasting MLS, thanks to the impact of Messi’s arrival in the league.

It is reported that this phenomenal uptake of pay-per-view subscribers has allowed Apple, which has long coveted F1 TV rights but been unable to justify the costs involved thus far, to reconsider the situation and weigh up the possibility of a megabucks deal.

What of the Sky and Channel 4 F1 coverage?

In September 2022, Sky Sports announced that it had secured a deal with F1G to remain the exclusive broadcasters of Formula 1 in the UK and Ireland until 2029. Sky is also the official broadcaster of F1 in all of its operating markets, and F1 deals through to the end of 2027 exist with Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland, Austria and Switzerland.

F1 has been screened in the UK for the past eight years in a partnership between Sky and Channel 4, and the two broadcasters have extended their deal through to 2026. Sky has the exclusive rights to live coverage of all practice laps, qualifying, sprint and GP races, with viewers paying a subscription for the service. Customers can choose to pay to watch on a race-by-race basis via Sky’s Now TV service.

Channel 4’s deal allows it to show the qualifying sessions and races in highlights packages for free (with adverts), though the channel also secures the rights to broadcast the British GP — and possibly the championship-deciding race — live each year.

Motorsport fans in the UK will be keen to understand if any agreement with Apple TV would spell the end for subscription-free F1 coverage, via Channel 4 or anyone else.

Apple’s deal would be set on a sliding scale, according to the report, with the tech giant paying more money as it increases exclusivity in markets worldwide season to season. The aim is for Apple TV to have full exclusivity after five years, releasing the biggest payment for F1G.

Apple already has a degree of involvement with the top level of global motorsport, as it is involved in the Hollywood production of the impending F1 movie, which will star Brad Pitt.

Apple’s potential deal for F1 coverage, and its success with the MLS, has also raised the potential of the American company making a bid for rights to the English Premier League, as and when the broadcast rights for the football league come up for auction.

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