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Volume 25 No. 5
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Teammates At The Track: Fox' Shanks, NBC's Lazarus Talk About Sharing NASCAR Rights

Armed with what they view as a more sensible schedule plus momentum from last season, NBC Sports Chair Mark Lazarus and Fox Sports President & COO Eric Shanks are optimistic that their new, shared NASCAR media-rights deal will give the sport a chance to return to its glory days. Starting this season, Fox Sports will now solely air the first half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series campaigns while NBC Sports will air the latter half -- a structure that has led to a closer partnership between the two networks. Shanks yesterday at the '14 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum said, "The rights process wasn't necessarily collaborative. I think we kind of knew that we each wanted to be able to split the package in half and that the best thing for the sport was to probably have a more consistent destination. We had a need to acquire more volume with the launch of Fox Sports 1. We knew that we were able to do that by acquiring more of the season. Once NBC got the other half, we really looked at it as kind of going back in time to when we used to split the season 15 years ago, which was a time of great growth for the sport and our networks. We think we can get back to the growth because of the collaboration that we're going to have, both marketing and production wise." Lazarus said, "We're rooting for each other. It's unique in an industry where we mostly try to bash each other's brains out." He added, "The strongest time in recent history for NASCAR ratings and popularity with casual fans was that 2001-06 (period). In fact, still to this day, the highest rated Daytona 500 was one that aired on NBC in that window. In a rare moment of being selfless, we really want these guys to break that record. We really want that record to be broken so we can bring more people into the sport and they can market through the first half of the year and we’ll pick it up in the second."

WORKING TOWARD THE SAME GOAL: That collaboration was underscored yesterday when the two nets released a new, joint 30-second spot touting the NASCAR season and the role of both networks. Lazarus said the idea for the creative "started in a discussion between our two marketing teams." Lazarus: "John Miller and Bill Bergofin on our side and Robert Gottlieb on Eric's side got together and started talking about it and it turned into something we're all pretty proud of." Shanks added, "The sharing of production resources -- scheduling trucks, doing a singular truck deal, working on production resources across the board -- started really from Day 1, and this was a follow-up to the idea of making sure we're as efficient as possible." Lazarus admitted he was "disappointed" when he first heard that the new format for the Chase would be implemented a season before NBC took over the rights, but added, "In hindsight, I think they made exactly the right call." Shanks echoed that sentiment by sharing a thought that other execs at this week's conference brought up, as well. He said, "We think as the consistency of the Chase format sinks in, which it started to do at the back half of this season, the sense of urgency is going to be there because people now understand it."

QUICK HITS:

Lazarus said ESPN has been very classy
in its  departure from NASCAR
* Lazarus, on preparing to carry the sport again: "We can't wait to get started. We've been sitting around on the sidelines for a year and a half since we did this deal; we're like a puppy that can't wait to run out the door right now. We started ‘NASCAR America’ last year and we've been welcomed warmly by the entire industry, from the tracks to teams to drivers to our partners. ESPN was great to us along the way this year in making sure we had anything we needed from them. They were very classy in their departure. We've been welcomed with open arms and we've tried to reciprocate the same way by putting a lot of energy, thinking and man power against how are we going to take this sport that we've invested a lot of money in and grow it."

* Shanks, on cars becoming less cool to younger generations: "There's certain things you can do to be able to reach them and market to them. The New York Times wrote an interesting story three years ago about how Facebook and video chat has made the car itself less important in the lives of Millennials because they don't have to drive to go to their friends' house -- they just chat and Facebook. So the importance in general of automobiles has lessened in the eyes of the viewers. So what can we do to … bring other aspects that are appealing to them if the car in and of itself is now kind of disposable?"