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Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith would like to see NASCAR renegotiate the way it shares television money with racetracks, so that the allocation is no longer based on a formula designed more than a decade ago when the tracks sold their TV rights collectively for the first time.
When NASCAR tracks first joined together to sell their TV rights in 1999, they agreed that they would retain 65 percent of the total rights fee. The tracks were divided into three tiers based on the size of their market, the historic importance of their races, past ratings and other factors. Daytona International Speedway was put in the top tier, tracks like Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway were put in the second tier, and places like Martinsville, Va., and Rockingham, N.C., were put in the third tier.
But since then, several races have moved. In 2004, SMI moved its Rockingham race to Texas, which was made possible because the company owned both facilities. Similarly, International Speedway Corp. moved a race among two of its tracks, from Darlington, S.C., to Phoenix.
But Smith said last week that the tracks’ TV agreement with NASCAR, which hasn’t changed since 2001, means that Texas Motor Speedway, which is in the country’s fifth-largest market, receives a tier-two TV payment for one race and a tier-three TV payment for the other because that was Rockingham’s original designation.
“You know they wouldn’t do that if it was their track in Texas,” Smith said of NASCAR, which is owned by the France family, whose members are also the primary shareholders of ISC. “They need to come around and alter that and put it where it ought to be. We need a fair shake. Be fair. It’s all I’m asking.”
NASCAR believes that the way it shares TV money is fair, especially between the two primary track owners, SMI and ISC. It currently shares $364 million a year in rights fees with SMI’s eight tracks, ISC’s 12 tracks and the independently owned tracks in Indianapolis, Dover, Del., and Pocono, Pa. A breakdown for each track hasn’t been made public.
If NASCAR renegotiated its agreements, SMI-owned tracks such as Atlanta, which once held NASCAR’s season finale, likely would see a decrease in what they receive, and ISC-owned tracks like Phoenix, which took a tier-three race from Darlington along with its corresponding TV share, and Homestead-Miami, which now hosts the season finale, would see an increase.
But even in the wake of NASCAR’s new TV agreement with Fox that will pay the sport $2.4 billion from 2015 through 2022, NASCAR has no interest in renegotiating its decades-old track agreements, according to a NASCAR executive who declined to speak on the record.
Smith said that he’s appealed many times to NASCAR to change its agreements so that Texas gets paid fairly for both of its races, but he never gets an answer from the sanctioning body about when it will happen.
“Maybe one day they’ll just kind of wake up,” Smith said.
When NBC signed off from the Super Bowl last year, the broadcast network went right to an episode of “The Voice,” while its 24-hour sports TV channel, NBC Sports Network, showed a rugby match.
The year before, Fox wrapped up its Super Bowl telecast and moved into an episode of “Glee,” leaving ESPN and NFL Network to handle the postgame masses.
Rendering shows CBS’s Jackson Square set.
This year, those fans still will have to click away for postgame analysis, since CBS plans to run an episode from the drama series “Elementary” after the game.
But this year, CBS is hoping much of the audience that clicks away will stay in the family. It is producing its own postgame show through its cable channel, CBS Sports Network, which is in 48 million homes. CBS Sports Network’s postgame show will feature the broadcaster’s highest-profile talent, James Brown, Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason, and will be heavily promoted during the Super Bowl broadcast. It will start as soon as CBS’s Super Bowl coverage ends, and is slated to last one hour, though it could run longer, CBS executives said.
“This really is a new world for CBS Sports,” said David Berson, executive vice president of CBS Sports and president of the CBS Sports Network. “We now are able to showcase big events across many different platforms.”
In addition to the postgame show, CBS Sports Network is planning a week’s worth of shows from a set in Jackson Square. All told, it plans to produce more than 50 hours of programming from New Orleans. The cable channel’s anchor program this week will be “Super Bowl Live,” which Greg Gumbel will host Tuesday through Friday from 7-9 p.m. ET. It also is producing a two-hour afternoon show called “Inside the Super Bowl” that will run Monday to Friday from 4-6 p.m. ET.
The newly launched CBS Radio will have a big presence on Radio Row during the week. And CBSSports.com will have a set at Jackson Square for its coverage, which will include three daily shows: “Live at Jackson Square,” “Road to the Draft” and “Best of Radio Row.”
Importantly for CBS Sports brass, the network’s on-air talent will appear across all these platforms.
CBS joins an already crowded marketplace that will see NFL Network produce more than 140 hours of programming from 11 sets and ESPN produce more than 20 hours from up to five sets in New Orleans.
“Our motto has been that we have everything but the game,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer. “We’ve always attacked it as being the first to come and the last to leave. Now we have more competition around it.”
ESPN’s main set will be in the French Quarter area of New Orleans. Its TV reports will focus less on game strategy early in the week, Markman said. Instead, it will devote stories to the history of New Orleans since 2002, the last time the city hosted a Super Bowl. Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005.
“We don’t want to X-and-O people from the beginning. We want to set the scene from New Orleans,” Markman said.
Comcast SportsNet is viewing this year’s Super Bowl as a sort of coming-out party for its stable of regional sports networks.
Both the Ravens and the 49ers come from Comcast SportsNet markets, making this the first time since CSN launched its RSN division in 1997 that two teams from its markets have met in the Super Bowl.
This allows the channels to cover the game more thoroughly than they have before, according to executives from NBC Sports Regional Networks, which operates the 10 Comcast SportsNet-branded channels across the country.
Not only will CSN Mid-Atlantic and CSN Bay Area share content, but they also plan to produce content for other Comcast SportsNets around the country.
“The biggest thing for us is that this gives us a chance to spread our wings and show people what we do every day of the week,” said Tom Stathakes, senior vice president of production, programming and station operations for NBC Sports Regional Networks. “This is the first time we’ve been able to jointly do something like this.”
CSN will have more than 60 employees on the ground in New Orleans, producing more than 73 hours of programming during the week before the Super Bowl. During the week, they will operate from sets in the French Quarter section of the city. During the weekend, they will move close to the field.
CSN Bay Area and CSN Mid-Atlantic will focus on the teams in their markets, obviously, but they also plan to share talent. On Friday, the two RSNs are planning to produce a joint show that will be available to other CSN markets.
CSN is bringing Kelli Johnson from its Houston RSN to act as a national reporter, providing special reports for other Comcast SportsNet markets.
The producers, which included coordinating producers Ross Ketover and Pat Kelleher plus music composer David Robidoux, offered their opinions on the tracks that worked and the ones that didn’t for the annual series.
Only it wasn’t actually their opinions they were giving. Rather, it was the opinions they thought would have been voiced by Steve Sabol, NFL Films’ most famous employee, who died in September after an 18-month battle with brain cancer.
“We were all listening to it and thinking, ‘This piece is what Steve would use in the open that he would cut,’ or ‘This piece of music right here, he wouldn’t like that as much,’” Kelleher said. “Steve would cut the open to ‘Road to the Super Bowl’ every year. This year is the first year he’s not involved in that. Hopefully, it will live up to the standard that Steve has created for the last 43 years.”
This year’s “Road to the Super Bowl” production is the first since the death of longtime NFL Films leader Steve Sabol.
The driving force behind growing NFL Films, Sabol also was the driving force behind keeping it relevant, which hasn’t always been easy in recent years.
Ever since the league launched its own network nearly a decade ago, NFL Films has faced rumors that its days were numbered. Over the years, many stories appeared in the press that painted a picture of team owners who were more interested in supporting a profitable cable network than a production company.
It’s a legitimate question to ask: What will become of NFL Films now that Sabol, its guiding light, is no longer around.
Right now, it’s business as usual. Just a week away from the Super Bowl — the game where NFL Films made its reputation — the production house is producing more projects for more networks, from shows for NFL Network to a touch football game for Univision. For the 26th straight year, NFL Films will be shooting the Super Bowl MVP Walt Disney World/Disneyland commercial on the field immediately after the game.
All told, NFL Films produces shows for 11 networks, including all of the league’s network partners, plus channels like Showtime and Travel Channel.
Even though Sabol attended every Super Bowl up until last year, when his doctors said he shouldn’t, Ketover said NFL Films producers will not feel the void during the week or even during the game. He said that’s a testament to how Sabol ran the company.
“I went through enough of the Super Bowl breakfast meetings that Steve would have with all of the cameramen, where he would say, ‘You guys are the best in the business. You know what you’re doing,’” Ketover said. “Steve would entrust them to record the game, shoot the game on film, do the wires.”
Rather, Ketover expects to notice Sabol’s absence in the weeks after the game, when he doesn’t have Sabol’s trained eye to help edit the shows.
“The hardest part for us will be when we’re showing him our finished product and he’s not there to show it to,” he said.
As an example, Ketover mentioned a documentary on former coach Don Shula that will run on CBS the day before the game. When Ketover and Kelleher saw a rough cut of the film last week, it ran long.
The producers edited it down to the appropriate length, but wished Sabol were around to help.
“That’s what Steve was best at — coming in, watching a show that was long, knowing what was superfluous and what was part of really telling the story of the coach,” Ketover said. “It was hard trimming that show down. Steve would have been able to cut through that better than anybody.”
John Ourand can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.