SBJ/October 24 - 30, 2005/Media

Fox keeps competition waiting in NASCAR talks

The next move by the Fox Broadcasting Co. will probably determine the fate of the entire NASCAR television package, particularly whether ESPN2 gets all of the Busch Series races and whether TNT keeps six Nextel Cup races.

Fox has an exclusive negotiating window, and sources say NASCAR has told the other networks that it must have further discussions with Fox before making any final decisions.

ESPN bid $270 million on a 17-race, second-half NASCAR package just days after NBC and TNT waived their rights to an exclusive negotiating period, network sources said.

Fox is expected to renew its first-half
package and get rights to the Daytona 500.

Its package would be slightly scaled back compared with the current one, in which NBC and TNT pay $200 million a year for a schedule that includes 19 Nextel Cup races a year, one all-star race each year and the Daytona 500 in alternating years.

Fox is likely to renew its first-half package and get rights to the Daytona 500 every year.

But NASCAR is trying to squeeze in a six-race package for TNT, taking three out of both Fox and ABC/ESPN’s schedule, sources said. It is unclear when those races would be.

The other unresolved piece is the Busch Series. ESPN would like to put every race from the Busch Series on ESPN2. Busch ranked as one of the top sports properties on cable television this year with a 1.8 average cable rating, up 29 percent, and held its own on broadcast TV, averaging a 2.5 household rating for eight races.

Currently, Fox has rights to 16 Busch races, most of which were shown on F/X, and NASCAR won’t give ESPN the Busch rights until giving Fox a chance to bid.

The “exclusive negotiating windows” are nebulous at best. NASCAR and ABC/ESPN officials were talking for months before NBC and TNT waived their exclusivity, sources said. The talks were described as both “informal” and “substantive” by people involved.

One network source said the exclusive windows relate only to the exact deal each network has. So while NASCAR can’t offer Fox’s package to anyone else, it can create an entirely new package with different parameters, including races shown by Fox under the current deal, and offer it to any competitor.

Still, NASCAR plans to have exhaustive talks with Fox before finalizing anything for Busch or with TNT.

NASCAR hopes to announce all the television deals at once.

The networks all declined to comment.

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