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American fans outraged by ESPN coverage fiasco


As Formula One's new owners seek to expand the sport in their home country they might want to give more thought to TV coverage first as American broadcaster ESPN drops the ball.

This was the big one, the first race of a new era under the ownership of Liberty Media, and along with a Hollywood anthem, a new logo, new font, new TV angles and graphics, fans (a new buzzword for FOM) were promised that now they come first.

However, just one day before the first practice session it was revealed that the launch of the much-hyped F1 TV streaming service had been postponed for "testing" with no insight given as to when they can expect the revolutionary service.

However, while fans in the UK voiced their concern over the 'dumbing down' of many of the TV graphics and the absence of vital information at race end like the full results, fans in the United States were suffering much worse.

Already confused by ESPN's broadcasting of the practice sessions on different channels, some of them not recognised by their recorders, frustrated American F1 fans were left hoping that it would all come together on race day. It didn't.

To use a Daily Mail expression, "Twitter went into meltdown" as fans vented their fury.

Reader Kathy Bradley explains why: "Scheduled to start at 12:30 am. See skyline of Melbourne for 30 seconds then several minutes of commercials, repeat, repeat, repeat again and again then see videos of crowds (no audio) commercials, repeat.

"By now I've taken to twitter to see what's being said. See a tweet from ESPN that they're live with pre show. I can't help myself. I make a comment about no audio. I'm controlled at this point. After this set of commercials talking heads come on with a show about basketball or something in a studio. I lose it. I go back on twitter... the counter under ESPN is spinning so fast it can barely keep up. People are going insane. Not only can't we hear announcers now we can't see.

"ESPN tweets about wait and see upcoming live race. I again can't resist and tweet 'if you air it'. Finally 19 minutes into the scheduled F1 show the picture comes back on. 30 or 40 seconds later the audio comes on and show finishes at 01:00. Race starts. Too many commercials."

Other than the lack of analysis it was also the failure to re-cap following ad breaks... of which there were many. Indeed the endless commercials were the source of many fans ire, one actually coinciding with Haas driver Romain Grosjean's retirement, the broadcast not continuing until after the re-start and with fans given no subsequent information on what had just happened.

"You guys must be joking!" tweeted @Vdrop93. "1st you run free practice 1 & 2 on ESPN 3 which I don't even get. Now I'm trying to watch free practice 3 on ESPN News only to find out it just got bumped for Outside the Lines! You should have left F1 coverage to NBCSN! Great start guys."

@ZackDodd13: Can someone give me an explanation to why 5 cars have retired? @ESPNF1 sure hasn't explained as they prefer showing F1 fans advertisements instead of F1.

@TheRangerCat: The @ESPNF1 side by side commercial thing is annoying because you can see what good coverage looks like but you can't hear it because someone's trying to sell you cheese fries or some shit.

@DeanMoniz: So far, I grade your F1 coverage... "F" Extremely unprepared and poor. Never seen such a bad broadcast. Shameful.

@sahyder1: Going to be annoying watching Formula One coverage on ESPN. @ESPNF1 goes to commercial when @SkySportsF1 doesn't. The stuff American audience misses during commercials isn't recapped after commercial breaks. F1 has dropped the ball big time with this TV deal.

@paulcjones: Brought to you by @MothersPolish proud sponsor of the worst @F1 broadcast in US history. And the latest baseball app commercial. And some prescription drug ads. Atrocious broadcast

@Danieljyoung: ESPN @F1 coverage, as we all know, was the worst imaginable. No consideration for US #F1 fans at all. Pre program 'lost'. Race coverage was for the UK and you just took the live feed. No post interviews. ESPN and Liberty Media need to step it up quickly. NBCSN set a high bar.

@nickrgeorge: The @espn F1 coverage was absolute garbage... who the hell is timing these commercial breaks? Literally every time something exciting was happening... a commercial. And the abrupt ending after the podium interviews... cut to a basketball show mid-sentence!?? Not a great start.

@brad_dwight: The prerace control room fiasco isn't what deserves an apology @espn. The apology should be for butchering the recycled @SkySportsF1 feed with an inordinate amount of poorly timed long commercial breaks. Time to hire a @F1 announce crew & pit reporter of your own!

@JayBrownKUSI: So... you are paying @SkySportsF1 for commercial free feeds of the races, yet you cut off the commentary to show lame car wax commercials. How hard is it too add some value to your production.

@MonacoEzze: This apology is rubbish. The REAL issue was the ill-timed commercials throughout the race at key moments. Horrible production. Let's not use a middle school TV production class to run the show in Bahrain.

In the midst of all this, ESPN's PR had indeed tweeted an apology.

"We deeply apologize to Formula 1 fans for the technical issues that caused them to miss the first 20 minutes of the pre-race show for the Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry that our first F1 telecast did not go as smoothly as we would have liked but we are taking steps to prevent those same issues from occurring in the future. We thank the fans for watching and for their incredible passion for Formula 1."

Welcoming the new season, last Wednesday, Burke Magnus, ESPN's Executive Vice President, Programming & Scheduling, said: "It's been a long time since we've had Formula 1 on ESPN and we're very happy to have it back.

"There are a lot of exciting storylines heading into the season and race fans are intrigued about what's to come," he added. "They'll be able to see it all unfold on our TV and digital platforms and we look forward to getting started."

However, as US fans wait (and wait) for F1 TV, it should be noted that ESPN has little or no incentive to invest as it got F1 for free and is taking coverage from a sister channel - ESPN is owned by Disney which has an agreement to buy Sky. Indeed, it's a great deal for ESPN as any audience that it drives is pure profit.

And let's not forget F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches words on Saturday as a new F1 docu-series on Netflix was announced.

"Formula 1 is a global sport that we are actively repositioning from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment brand," he said.

Might ESPN's fiasco become the new norm?

Check out our Sunday gallery from Melbourne, here.


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1. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 09/04/2018 19:50

"Not to harp on, but yesterday's race was run commercial-free on ESPN2

Maybe the "outraged" posters below would like to comment further - or maybe they are all disgruntled NBC employees........."

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2. Posted by Paul C, 30/03/2018 4:09

"Hapless, hopeless, helpless. Everything else has been said and resaid. ABC's Indy USGP broadcasts with Indy 500 broadcaster Bob Jenkins and the 2005 Indy Bridgestone tire test GP were barely better. ESPN handles the National Spelling Bee better. Please bring back NBCSN, Fox Sports or even FUEL."

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3. Posted by C5, 29/03/2018 6:35

"Typo. I of course means F1 on ESPN... "

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4. Posted by C5, 29/03/2018 6:33

"I was familiar with the Sky broadcast from a couple of trips abroad and a few times where I had to find the race footage in the gray corners of the internet because my DVR had a hiccup. So I knew what was coming...

I don't actually mind the ads too much when down side-by-side if the breaks weren't many laps long. No, my issue is that I find the actual commentary extremely annoying and very boring.

David Croft is an idiot, who screams into the microphone. We didn't see it to much in Melbourne because there wasn't really that much action. But you just wait..

And the constant yapping! You'd think they were broadcasting on radio, the way they keep relaying what you can see with your own eyes! I'm sure the geeks are happy, but entertaining it is not. When muting improved the experience, something is seriously wrong.

Paul Di Resta is about the only highlight I can think of. He's informative, witty, and entertaining. But he's only on for a few minutes before the yappers grab the mic back.

Heck, if I have to rely on the RACE keeping me awake all hope is out. I'll just read the results on Pitpass and downs my summer Sundays doing something useful. Or not. Anything really is an improvement over F2 on ESPN...


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5. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 28/03/2018 14:39

"@ mickl
All the footy coverage over here shows each half uninterrupted, with ads in the halftime break - same for rugby. I am still totally mystified at the outbursts over ESPN's coverage. Informed commentary seems an alien thing here - obviously domestic viewers here must prefer Matchett continually "explaining" DRS or tyre (tire) regs, rather than picking up that one/other driver missed an apex and compromised a lap, or something similarly insightful. Ah me, the trials of being an alien!!!"

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6. Posted by mickl, 28/03/2018 11:04

"Question for our US friends on here. When a football match (non US version) is shown on US tv, do the broadcasters put ad breaks in during the play or only at half time?"

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7. Posted by JoeF1, 27/03/2018 19:30

"ESPN are making so much money now on ads, ads & more ads all by not paying a penny for rights, what a great windfall for them. Its going to turn into a big loss for F1.

Carey & Co. are alienating the very market they've repeatedly called a key market for the sport. So key we now get second hand coverage.

I think I'll finally cancel cable, F1 was the only thing keeping me tied to it. Worst attempt at F1 coverage ever and I don't say that lightly, I've been watching since the 80's in 4 different countries.

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8. Posted by Cigarsmoker, 27/03/2018 14:46

"Conclusion: ESPN coverage is the worst I've seen in years! Using Sky sports without acknowledging US viewers when running commercials (updating what happened during the commercial); cutting out half of the Grid Walk; no post race commentary or interviews after the podium; on and on...

Liberty or FIA (whomever decided to use ESPN for US tv coverage) has made a terrible mistake. If the goal was to improve US viewer numbers they have failed. If the situation does not improve it will result in loss of viewers not an increase.

A US viewer has a hard time understanding the British accent of the announcers and while this may be wrong it will also cause some to not watch.

ESPN needs to improve if they want to hang on to the US viewer."

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9. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 27/03/2018 14:27

"And one wonders why F1 is such a marginal sport in the US. Totally baffles me why people seem to prefer what went before on NBC, and Fox before that - with British commentators who, for the most part, weren't actually commentating on the action on-track."

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10. Posted by 4SQUARETYRES, 27/03/2018 14:08

"Univision Deportes carries it commercial free. Can't understand announcers but there's no coverage on ESPN so uninterrupted race wins. Maybe my spanish will get better......"

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11. Posted by Mark, 27/03/2018 9:06

"Very poor. ESPN can't even be bothered to put up a graphic with the finishing order. Just do us a favor and, if you lose the announcing audio, at least leave the picture up. Make some effort."

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12. Posted by Barslug, 27/03/2018 1:47

"ESPN, you SOB. That was downright painful to watch. It is apparent that you have no interest in giving us American fans a proper broadcast. It seems you put a 18 year old stoner inturn in charge of the broadcast. What a slap in the face! F1 had better fix this or myself and scores of others will tune out.

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13. Posted by mickl, 27/03/2018 0:46

"To those complaining about why the commentators don't do a recap of what happened during the commercial break it's because the Sky UK doesn't have commercial breaks during the race, it's an uninterrupted live feed that UK viewers pay through the nose to get. They don't know that there has been a commercial break on the US side and would look stupid to the rest of the world who also takes that feed if they repeat exactly what they talked about 30secs later.

@danielmb the rest of the world understands Paul di Resta fine."

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14. Posted by danielmb, 26/03/2018 20:24

"I cannot express in words (or at least not in words that are suitable for this forum) how utterly disappointed I am in the ESPN coverage. First and foremost, IT IS NOT EVEN ESPN COVERAGE!!! We are watching Sky's broadcast for the UK market. Half the time, I can't even understand what Paul di Resta is saying. Maybe British viewers are better able to understand his heavy Scottish accent, but I surely can't.

Why on earth would Liberty arrange for such horrible coverage in their home market? It is my understanding that Liberty orchestrated this fiasco rather than bidding out the broadcast rights like what has been done in the past.

Also, by all accounts ESPN is the premier sports broadcaster in the US and maybe in the world. They know sports, as it is their only gig. Why would they agree to such a mangled mess that puts their reputation at risk?

We need our own broadcast crew, even if they are just sitting in a studio somewhere in Connecticut. Where is Bob Varsha (who I much preferred to Leigh Diffey) when you need him? Although I would certainly take Leigh in a heartbeat. Where is David Hobbs and Steve Matchett? Where is Will Buxton, who was always there in the pit lane with timely and informative commentary?

It is bad enough that it looks like it will once again be the Mercedes show this year (notwithstanding Vetel's fluke win because of a virtually safety car loophole). I cannot and will not watch anymore knowing that the US is getting sloppy leftovers from UK coverage.

This is simply a poor attempt by Liberty to force us into buying their own coverage package, which, by the way, we apparently CAN'T EVEN GET YET!!!"

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15. Posted by zoom, 26/03/2018 19:58

"I second all the horrible reviews of ESPN's coverage. I might have been watching an entirely new sport which I didn't like. The announcers/broadcasters seem to be oblivious to the audience--was like listening to a bunch of guys, with 1 too many adult beverages, shooting the sh-t in a dive bar. While Steve Matchett & David Hobbs had their flaws, they never forgot the fans. I'm giving it one more race then I'm out. I'm willing to be irritated by the race(that's part of the experience) but I'm not willing to be infuriated by the coverage. Not the way to gain US fans but a sure fire way to lose them."

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