NASCAR Bolting ESPN could be a risky business
A new 10-year deal announced Tuesday with NBC supplanting ESPN and Turner Sports essentially will reset the broadcast landscape to where it was a decade ago.
NASCAR races will disappear from ESPN in 2015.
Will stock-car racing also vanish from the 24-hour sports network that's become one of the primary arbiters for determining whose star athletes, marquee events and powerhouse teams matter to fans?
It's what happened the last time ESPN was excluded from a Sprint Cup broadcast contract.
After signing the first multibillion-dollar network TV deal in its history with Fox and NBC, NASCAR endured a mostly contentious relationship with ESPN from 2001-06. The network's reporters weren't credentialed for races, leaving them to interview drivers off track property at helipads, and NASCAR executives grumbled privately about being ignored by SportsCenter, Pardon The Interruption and other ESPN conventions that are considered important tastemakers in the U.S. sporting consciousness.
A new 10-year deal announced Tuesday with NBC supplanting ESPN and Turner Sports essentially will reset the broadcast landscape to where it was a decade ago, but NASCAR insists it won't mean a resumption of a frosty relationship with the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports."
"The reason is it's a different time now," NASCAR chairman Brian France said. "They have different thinking about how they want to cover sports."
France said any NASCAR concerns were assuaged by conversations with ESPN president John Skipper, who said in a statement that the network "will continue to serve NASCAR fans through SportsCenter and our other news platforms."
There is empirical evidence, though, that ESPN's discussion of a sport on its myriad channels decreases when its formal relationships end as a rights holder. The NHL's presence on ESPN diminished significantly after moving to Versus (which later became NBC Sports Network), and NASCAR faces a risk during a lull in which it's fighting to regain once-soaring popularity amid stagnant ratings.
"For the die-hard sports fan, ESPN is the first place we turn," said Virginia Commonwealth University professor Jon Ackley, who has researched and taught classes on NASCAR's business model for several years. "If ESPN marginalizes NASCAR as they did in the early to mid-2000s, the sport won't be in the forefront, and that has to be detrimental."
NASCAR, though, effectively is betting ESPN's clout will wane as NBC's grows through an aggressive strategy of acquiring sports properties to fill content on its fledgling sports network that was relaunched last year. More at USA Today
Here is NASCAR's official announcement:
"NASCAR and NBC Sports Group announced today they have reached a comprehensive agreement that grants NBCUniversal exclusive rights to the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, final 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series events, select NASCAR Regional & Touring Series events and other live content beginning in 2015. Financial terms of the agreement, which runs through the 2024 season, were not disclosed.
"With this partnership, NBC’s 20 Sprint Cup race schedule includes becoming the exclusive home to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s final 10 races of the season, including its season-ending championship event which will return to network television in 2015 for the first time since 2009. Of NBC Sports Group’s 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, seven will be carried on NBC annually, with 13 airing on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). Four of NBC Sports Group’s 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series races will air on NBC, with 15 airing on NBCSN.
"NBC is known for being an exceptional partner and delivering outstanding production quality and presentation of live sports, as well as its broad portfolio of broadcast and digital properties so we are thrilled with the commitment they have made to NASCAR and its future,' said NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Brian France. "We know this partnership will yield great value to our entire industry, provide a premium experience to our most important stakeholders, the fans, and help us achieve a number of strategic growth objectives. Our new partnership with NBC and the recent extension by FOX validate the strength of our fan base and the many bold steps we have taken the last several years to provide fans with better, more accessible racing.'
"In addition to rights to NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races, NBC has also obtained exclusive rights to practice and qualifying sessions for NBC’s national series events during their portion of the season, as well as rights to broadcast the NASCAR K&N Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Toyota (Mexico) Series, the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony and NASCAR’s season-ending banquets. Further, NBC has been granted Spanish-language rights, certain video-on-demand rights and exclusive TV Everywhere rights for its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events.
"Acquiring the rights and bringing NASCAR back to NBC comes at an important point in time for NBC Sports Network, NBC, and all of our distributors and affiliates,' said NBC Sports Group Chairman, Mark Lazarus. 'We look forward to working with Brian and his management team, who have brought a renewed focus to NASCAR's intersection of sports and technology.'
"We are excited about the cross-promotional opportunities NBC provides, especially in the timeframes right before NBC's NASCAR schedule and during the Chase,' said NASCAR VP of Broadcasting and Productions, Steve Herbst. 'We're confident NBC will utilize its powerful Championship Season lineup, including the NHL Playoffs, Premier League, the French Open, the Kentucky Derby and other events, to build interest and excitement for NASCAR. Those opportunities, combined with the opportunity to lead into the number one show on television – NBC's Sunday Night Football – for select Chase races, were both very attractive prospects when considering this partnership."