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IndyCar's worse nightmare: Another take
Lynn Hunting writes in pressdog.com, News came out today that NBC has bought the rights to televise the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and the final 19 Nationwide Series in 2015. (Note that’s 18 months from now). (Story here.)

Thirteen of those NBC races will be on NBC Sports Network, the same network that now carries the majority of IndyCar races. IndyCar’s contract with NBC Sports Network expires in 2018.

So, barring some kind of contract buyout, IndyCar will share a network with NASCAR for four seasons (2015, 2016 and 2017 and 2018).

The question is … is that good or bad for IndyCar?

I say good for a few reasons …

1. Having 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN for short) will likely increase the penetration of said network into homes in America as NASCAR fans adjust their home viewing situation so they can get NBCSN. Having the network in more homes (or more people aware that it is in their home) just increases the amount of potential viewers for everything on the network, including IndyCar. That’s a no-brainer good thing.

IndyCar’s TV ratings on NBC Sports Network look putrid until you compare them to other shows on the network. Doing that shows that IndyCar, with about 250,000 viewers average, is among the most-watched shows on NBCSN. That means that NBCSN in general isn’t attracting viewers. The network has shown growth in its NHL coverage. Adding NASCAR should continue the trend of attracting more viewers in general, which helps everything on the network.

2. NBC is making the right moves to become the destination network for racing. This year they secured U.S. rights to F1 racing. They’ve had IndyCar and soon they will have NASCAR. All three of those properties add value to NBCSN brand, and that is a good thing for all three. Consider: NBC will have a great motive (profit) to promote NASCAR and F1 during their NASCAR races and vice versa.

Give NBC credit for investing in securing the rights to these racing broadcasts. NASCAR did not come cheap. NBC securing NASCAR emphasizes their commitment to racing in general.

3. It’s good news that IndyCar can now see 18 months into the future re: its TV situation. That means they have a year and a half to do a few things:

  • Solidify their relationship with NBC Sports Network.
  • Increase the value of IndyCar to NBC Sports Network through increased fan numbers and other means. If IndyCar is more valuable to NBC Sports Network, it will get more attention AND potentially be more valuable to other networks who may be interested in bidding for rights in 2018.

The clock is officially ticking. I hope it creates a sense of urgency for IndyCar leadership.

Much of the angst generated by this news seems to be around the theory of IndyCar becoming the expendable property once NBCSN secures NASCAR, or that NASCAR will suck all the production and promotion resources away from IndyCar, making it the neglected step-child of the network.

To have such angst you have to believe that NBCSN is only holding onto IndyCar until the contract is done, using it essentially as a placeholder until a valuable property such as NASCAR shows up.

Or maybe you believe that given the HUGE disparity in revenue generation -- NASCAR will make NBCSN exponentially more money just by virtue of the exponentially larger audience it attracts -- will cause IndyCar to get the scraps when it comes to production resources.

I understand these views, but as they say in court they rely on facts that are not in evidence. If anything, most fans have praised the production values NBCSN brings to IndyCar. Fans say it’s better everything compared to ABC/ESPN produced shows. Will NBCSN say “psych!” and transfer all the good stuff to NASCAR once it shows up? Doubtful. They'll have plenty of racing-related on-camera talent eager to come over an work for NBC in 2015, so there won't be a shortage of talent.

Was the IndyCar production investment made strictly to woo NASCAR (“Look how great we do for IndyCar! We’d do way better for you, NASCAR!!”) Hard to say. That's a pretty cynical theory, honestly. There’s no evidence that it will so far, and I’m not willing to get freaked out based on such random speculation.

Here’s some economic reality, though: what motivates every network is exactly the same thing — profit. NBC is very likely interested in making money, so if IndyCar can show or make itself valuable NBC, it will continue to get attention and draw resources.

Of course the always-for-profit network won’t lavish money on a property that generates little or no return on investment. NASCAR is going to get more resources, more air time, more ancillary programming and coverage. If you or I were running the network, we'd do the same thing (or get fired.)

It’s unreasonable for fans to expect IndyCar to get the super premium resources and treatment from NBC when NASCAR generates about a billion percent more return on dollars invested in it. Don’t blame NBC for being good at math. But that does not mean that IndyCar won't continue to get good, quality production.

If anything, the coming of NASCAR will add some urgency to IndyCar’s plans to improve and attract more fans both at tracks and on TV. Ratings matter a LOT to television companies. Ask anyone who is responsible for generating revenue at a TV company. But thinking the plug gets pulled when NASCAR shows up in 2018, especially with so many details yet to be worked out over the next 18 months, is a bit premature. pressdog.com

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