SBD/June 18, 2012/Media

Fox, NASCAR In Early Negotiations To Extend TV Rights

Fox' current eight-year TV rights deal with NASCAR is worth $1.76B
Fox has "started serious negotiations with NASCAR about an early extension of its TV rights package, jump-starting a process that wasn't expected to begin until early next year," according to sources cited by Mickle & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that Fox "was offering enough of an increase to its current eight-year, $1.76 billion deal to make NASCAR executives consider negotiating an early deal rather than waiting a year and putting the rights on the open market." An early deal would be "a departure from the current trend of leagues and teams taking their rights to the open market in the hopes of establishing bidding wars." Sources said that "they were surprised at how quickly the talks seemed to progress and that the sides have explored several options." Much of the talks "have centered on Speed, the Fox-owned network that carries a lot of NASCAR-related programming." Sources said that Fox is "considering turning Speed into a multisport channel in the next two years and has been looking into other sports rights, like MLB, that it could place on such a channel." Speed has carried NASCAR programming such as practice and qualifying races, plus the Camping World Truck Series. NASCAR and Fox in the past have "discussed partnering on a motorsports channel," and that scenario is "another option that has been explored as the two sides negotiate" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/18 issue). FORBES' Kurt Badenhausen noted NASCAR is "prepared to renegotiate its TV rights pacts with Fox, ESPN and Turner this year." NASCAR was "expected to take a huge haircut" on its current eight-year, $4.5B agreement, but "insiders now think the sport can do better -- securing a deal that is flat or only slightly lower" (FORBES.com, 6/17).

WINNING EDGE: 
USA TODAY’S Nate Ryan writes Dale Earnhardt Jr. yesterday won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in more than four years, and his checkered flag at the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan Int'l Speedway "could be the harbinger of a wave of success for NASCAR's most popular driver." The performance snapped a 143-race winless streak and "signified Earnhardt's emergence as a prime threat for his first" Sprint Cup Series championship (USA TODAY, 6/18). NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Steve Phelps said Earnhardt's win shows "that he remains a premier athlete in our sport. It's great for Junior, his fans and NASCAR" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 6/17). SI.com's Bruce Martin, noting Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevy was sponsored by "The Dark Knight Rises" for this race, wrote the win "helps elevate NASCAR into the greater mainstream of sports. ... Imagine how big it would be if he won his first Cup title" (SI.com, 6/17). The ORLANDO SENTINEL's George Diaz wrote, "This is huge for NASCAR. It's hard to market the greatest name in the sport when the greatest name in the sport can't win races" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 6/17).

PICKING UP SPEED: Speed’s Dave Despain said, "There’s been a theory around for quite some time now that if there’s a slump in NASCAR interest, and we know there is … that that is directly related at some level to the fact that the most popular driver isn’t winning.” Speed’s Krista Voda said that Earnhardt’s victory will help ticket sales. She said of the upcoming Sprint Cup race in Kentucky, "You better believe the folks at Kentucky Speedway and all the racetracks on the circuit are going to publicizing and talking about” Earnhardt’s win (“Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain,” Speed, 6/17).

EARLY RETURNS: TNT pulled a 3.1 overnight rating for the Quicken Loans 400, marking a 15% jump from last year and TNT's second consecutive week of NASCAR Sprint Cup ratings growth.
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