By R.L. Bynum
If you are a big Formula One auto racing fan, you enjoyed a crazy race with multiple wrecks, penalties on drivers and a close finish.
If you’re a fan of North Carolina or Georgia Tech, your mind was racing trying to figure out why you missed the entire first half of the Tar Heels’ 79–62 Sunday win that was supposed to air on ESPN2.
Instead of watching RJ Davis score 10 points and Caleb Love eight in the first half, viewers instead didn’t even see racing. They saw drivers and commentators talking.
There were reasons, but they aren’t going to satisfy frustrated UNC and Georgia Tech fans.
It came down to contracts and the lack of other available ESPN channels where the basketball game could be shifted.
“Regrettably, the F1 race ran longer than anticipated due to multiple stoppages and post-race coverage was extended due to championship implications,” said an ESPN spokesperson. “Other ESPN networks, including ESPNU and ESPNEWS, were tied up with live programming, so the start of the basketball game was moved to ESPN3 and the ESPN App.”
ESPN was contractually obligated to show all post-race coverage from Sky Sports on ESPN2.
There was no other channel available because of college football bowl preview coverage on ESPN, a Canadian Football League playoff game (Saskatchewan at Winnipeg) on ESPN News and college basketball games at 2 p.m. (Minnesota at Mississippi State) and 4 p.m. (Kansas State at Wichita State) on ESPNU.
ACC Network wasn’t an option, either, since it aired the Tennessee at Virginia Tech women’s basketball game at 2 p.m. By the time that game was over, live coverage of UNC-Georgia Tech had already started on ESPN2.
Had the UNC-Georgia Tech game been assigned to ESPNU rather than ESPN2, there wouldn’t have been a problem.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix broadcast started at 12:25 p.m. but the race began late because of red flags and took much longer than a normal race. Because of all the drama and intense points race with one race left in the season, the post-race show went on longer than normal.
The other frustration for fans is that there was a note at the lower-right part of the screen indicating that the UNC-Georgia Tech game was available on ESPN app. But most fans who went there instead saw the same Formula One post-race coverage.
Some fans reported being able to see at least some of the first half if they had an ESPN+ subscription.
The situation will remind longtime UNC fans of a 75–70 win at LSU on Feb. 10, 1985. A tennis match on ESPN went long and fans couldn’t see the game until late in the first half.
Defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton earned his third consecutive victory to pull even with Max Verstappen in the points standings heading into the season finale next Sunday in Abu Dhabi.
The good news for Tar Heels fans is that Carolina’s only game next weekend is on Saturday night at home against Elon. It won’t conflict with the race!