|Formula One is the world's most popular motor racing sport and will now compete with Nascar for TV audience attention in the U.S.
Through the new entity, called Grand Prix Entertainment, Wasserman and DIG purchased the exclusive, domestic broadcast TV rights to Formula One. As part of the deal with CBS, the network will broadcast four F1 races starting with coverage April 24 of the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy.
Hour-long lifestyle specials
CBS, which doesn't broadcast any motor sports, will also air the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal and the Grand Prix of Europe staged at the Nurburgring in Germany. The network will also broadcast two hour-long specials based on lifestyle elements of F1. Grand Prix Entertainment will produce the specials. In the U.S. F1 races have only appeared on cable network Speed Channel.
Executives behind Grand Prix Entertainment declined to disclose just how much it spent for the domestic TV rights, but F1 does generate annual revenues of up to $2 billion in TV rights and advertising time.
Grand Prix Entertainment wasn't looking only to buy airtime on a network to broadcast the races. "We wanted a network that was interested in growing the sport in the U.S.," said Casey Wasserman, CEO of Wasserman Media Group.
|The Renault test team in 2004 with a Renault R24 Formula One racing car.
Full-scale brand launch
As part of that growth strategy, Grand Prix Entertainment will start a full-scale brand launch, introducing the sport to U.S. audiences in the coming months, promoting the sport's expensive high-tech cars and its drivers, many of whom are superstars overseas. The campaign will include PR initiatives, on-air promos, print, outdoor and broadcast advertising, as well as a major viral marketing campaign with Seth Berman serving as Grand Prix Entertainment's director of marketing.
"We're not going to create a $100 million marketing campaign to get people to watch four races," Mr. Wasserman said. "It'll be more about creating awareness during year one. This is not going to get Nascar ratings in year one. We know what the reality is. Our goal is have F1 be successful over the next 15 to 20 years. We're trying to think long-term and do the right things to build a property."
Nationally, Nascar, which claims more than 75 million fans, has become the No. 2 sport of choice for TV viewers. Ratings show that over the course of the season, viewers watch more Nascar races than they do National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games.
Grand Prix Entertainment is hoping that F1 racing will
|Drivers Christiano da Matte, left, from Brazil and Olivier Panis from France present the new TF104 Toyota Formula One racing car in Cologne, Germany, last year.
Nascar may have already proved it's a magnet for corporate sponsors in the U.S., but F1 is the world's most popular racing sport and attracts major advertisers such as Hewlett-Packard, Vodafone, Olympus and Panasonic, among others. Last year, Red Bull even purchased Jaguar's F1 team from the Ford Motor Co. to run on its own.
"There are a lot of multinational companies that are heavily invested in the sport," Mr. Wasserman said. "And there are a lot of companies that may not be invested but are after a sophisticated demographic and look at F1 as a good way to reach those people."
Viewed in 150 countries
Grand Prix races attract hundreds of millions of TV viewers in more than 150 countries, with events luring more than 120,000 spectators to the grandstands. Racing-team budgets can reach over $300 million per season to operate the high-tech cars, considered fighter jets on wheels. Cars are built by Ferrari, Mercedes and BMW rather than Nascar's Dodge, Ford and Pontiac marques. And F1 drivers are among the world's highest paid athletes; F1 champ Michael Schumacher of Germany earned nearly $80 million last year, nearly tying with Tiger Woods.
Wasserman Media's sales team, which will handle all broadcast sales responsibilities, is working on developing marketing programs for advertisers.
Sports isn't a new territory for Mr. Wasserman. Outside of running his sports management business, he took part in negotiating the broadcast rights to get Arena Football League games aired on NBC. (He owns the Los Angeles Avengers AFL team.) He is also active in trying to bring a National Football League team to Los Angeles. His production entity, Studio 411, produces action-sports programs that will initially be distributed on DVD.
Producer of animated fare
The move into F1 racing is unusual for DIC Entertainment, however. The Burbank, Calif.-based company is best known for producing animated children's TV and home video programming revolving around characters or properties such as Inspector Gadget, Strawberry Shortcake, Where on Earth Is Carmen San Diego?, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros. and the Care Bears.
Andy Heyward, chairman-CEO of DIC Entertainment, had a strong interest in bringing F1 to the U.S., and was looking for a way to do so for years. His son, Michael, serves as managing partner of Grand Prix Entertainment, based in Los Angeles.