ESPN, which broadcasts Formula 1 races in the United States, has reported an average viewership for the Bahrain Grand Prix of 1.353 million, with a peak audience of 1.54 million. Given that around 122 million homes have TVs in the US there is obviously room for growth in the future.
Formula 1 coverage in the United States was patchy for a long time, with the ABC network having a deal to cover the Monaco Grand Prix, but little else beyond that. It was the ABC Monaco deal the gave F1 its biggest US audience back in 2002 when 2.78 million people tuned in to see David Coulthard win the Monaco GP.
The cable channel ESPN had begun covering races in 1984 with a 10-race deal, which expanded in the years that followed to all the races except Monaco. There was a regular ESPN crew at events but the highest audience achieved in that era was 1.74 million for the Brazilian Grand Prix on 1995, the opening round of that’s year championship. ESPN lost the deal in 1997 when the rights were acquired by the then new Speedvision, which had big ambitions but struggled financially and was bought by Fox in 2001 and transformed into Speed Channel. There was a side deal in 2005 with the CBS network agreeing to broadcast four races, with Speed Channel doing the rest.
The Speed Channel deal continued until 2013 when NBC acquired the rights, building up the viewing numbers to an average of 538,000 in 2017. ESPN then outbid NBC and a new era began, although there was no direct involvement as the deal was for ESPN to take the feed produced by Sky Sports, using the British commentary team. The average viewership went from 554,000 in 2018 to 672,000 in 2019 and by last year had hit 927,000. The growth was largely due to the Netflix F1: Drive to Survive series, which kicked off in 2018. The most-watched race last year was the US Grand Prix with an audience of 1.2 million.