Will NASCAR's Move To NBC Sports Group Mean Less Coverage Of Sport On ESPN?
After NASCAR announced it will leave ESPN for a new 10-year deal with NBC Sports Group, USA TODAY's Nate Ryan writes under the header, "Bolting ESPN Risky Business," and wonders if coverage of the sport will "vanish from the 24-hour sports network." Ryan: "That's what happened the last time ESPN was excluded from a Sprint Cup broadcast contract," as NASCAR "endured a mostly contentious relationship with ESPN" from '01-06. However, NASCAR officials insist the move to NBC "won't mean a resumption of a frosty relationship." NASCAR Chair Brian France said, "They have different thinking about how they want to cover sports." Ryan writes NASCAR "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." It still is "tempting to view the NBC marriage as a short-term cash grab to deliver a much-needed jolt to teams and tracks still scrambling for money amid lagging sponsorship and attendance" (USA TODAY, 7/24). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes France is "not worried that ESPN would significantly reduce coverage" of the series. France: "The reality is that they have to cover the big events that people watch every weekend." Meanwhile, NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said the deal is "a bet on growth." Lazarus: "This is a bet that there is more audience out there." Sandomir cites a source as saying that NBC "is paying" $420-450M a year during the 10-year deal (N.Y. TIMES, 7/24).
NEED FOR SPEED: The AP's Jenna Fryer noted the deal makes NBC Sports Group the "premier motorsports network with NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar among its properties" (AP, 7/23). In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote, "Everything old is new again when it comes to NASCAR's national TV deal." When the '15 season begins, NASCAR's national TV deal will "look much like its first in 2001 with Fox and NBC splitting the season" (THATSRACIN.com, 7/23). In Jacksonville, Don Coble noted NBC "apparently accelerated its intention to move into NASCAR a year ago when it lured Dan Steir away from ESPN." Steir was "in charge of ESPN’s college broadcasting" and is now Senior VP/Production and Senior Coordinating Producer for NBC Sports and NBCSN (JACKSONVILLE.com, 7/23).
WHAT'S NEXT TO SELL? There are still three Sprint Cup races to be sold and NASCAR VP/Broadcasting & Production Steve Herbst believes those "will move quickly." Lazarus said that NBC purchased "everything made available to the network, which means the three events not currently held by Fox were not offered." The AP's Fryer noted the rights to the first half of the Nationwide Series schedule "have not been publicly announced," but France "let slip in a Tuesday conference call with reporters that there will be Nationwide races on Fox Sports 1." He said, ''We will have both Cup and Nationwide on FOX Sports 1 at some level" (AP, 7/23).
FROM THE TRACK PERSPECTIVE: ISC Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy said she was "very happy with the outcome" of the TV deal. She added, "We are turning focus right back to what we need to do with the race tracks, further investing in our sport and facilities. To me, it gives us more confidence with us moving forward with some of the plans we have to increase our guest amenities and other aspects for our fans" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/24).
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin wrote IndyCar would "be wise to let this television shakeup play out." One of "two things will happen: IndyCar will either get shuffled out of the NBC Sports Network’s NASCAR-heavy rotation or its ratings will get a boost because of the network’s strengthened brand identity." The latter "seems more likely." IndyCar might "feel the urge to get out of NASCAR’s way and move back to ESPN, but it should proceed cautiously with that line of thinking." NASCAR might have "just handed IndyCar a television game-changer" (INDYSTAR.com, 7/23). Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said of the new deal's effect on IndyCar, "There’s movement, there’s demand, and we need to let it sift out. But it’s likely, in one form or another, to be an opportunity for us. We’ll just have to see what form that takes." Miles: "This is all positive stuff. It’s more interest in motor sports” (INDYSTAR.com, 7/24).