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Volume 21 No. 26
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NASCAR rides hot rights market to increase with Fox

Staff writers Tripp Mickle (left) and John Ourand talk about what the deal means for NASCAR and how it compares to rights fees generated by other sports.
Fox and NASCAR have finalized an eight-year extension of their TV rights agreement, ensuring that Fox will continue to air the Daytona 500 and first half of the NASCAR season through 2022.

Sources valued the deal at more than $2.4 billion over eight years, a sizable increase from Fox’s current eight-year, $1.76 billion agreement. The network’s new eight-year extension will see it retain the broadcast rights for 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and the entire Camping World Truck Series.

The deal also includes TV Everywhere rights, which will allow Fox to stream its races to a Fox Sports-affiliated website. These streaming rights have become a standard part of media deals.

A formal announcement could come as soon as today.

This marks the first increase Fox has paid in more than a decade for NASCAR rights. Beginning in 2015, its average rights fee to NASCAR will jump from the $220 million it has paid annually since 2001 to more than $300 million.

NASCAR has been consistent programming for Fox during the first half of the season, from February to early June. This will continue that schedule, while the deal also clears the way for Fox to move forward with its plans to convert its motorsports network Speed into an all-sports cable channel that will be called Fox Sports 1. No formal announcement is expected on the new channel, but Fox has trademarked the name Fox Sports 1 and cut agreements with Major League Baseball, NASCAR, UFC and college football that allow it to show live footage of those sports on a new all-sports, cable channel.

While not quite the level of increase seen by college conferences and MLB for their rights fees, the deal marks a healthy annual increase for NASCAR and continues to prove the value of live sports programming.

The amount of NASCAR’s increase was a major question mark across the industry two years ago when NASCAR ratings were in their fifth consecutive year of decreases. Fox agreed to pay more despite watching NASCAR deliver a 4.8 Nielsen rating and 7.9 million viewers, down 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from the 5.6 Nielsen rating and 9.3 million viewers the series delivered in 2007, the first year of the current broadcast agreement.

NASCAR won’t begin negotiations on rights for the second half of its season until next summer. Turner and ESPN, which hold those rights, opted to wait until then to begin exclusive negotiations with the sanctioning body.

ESPN and Turner Sports are in the sixth year of eight-year agreements valued at $2.74 billion overall. Their deals run through the 2014 season.

But NASCAR will now use its increase with Fox as a benchmark in its negotiations with ESPN and Turner, setting itself up for significant increases.

If those parties balk at the price, NASCAR will turn to the open market and look to bring in NBC, CBS or another network. Fox could even return to the table for those rights, especially if it has a new cable sports channel to program.

NASCAR hasn’t made a decision about whether it will sell its rights to one, two or three broadcast partners. It is keeping all of its options open.

Fox’s negotiations were led by co-presidents Randy Freer and Eric Shanks. NASCAR was led by Steve Herbst, vice president of broadcasting and production.

Sports Media Advisors, a media consultancy headed by former IMG and NHL executive Doug Perlman, and Proskauer assisted NASCAR on the deal.

SportsBusiness Daily/Journal staff writer Tripp Mickle talked with The Sporting News about the implications of the new TV deal.