NBC Back With NASCAR Beginning In '15, While Six-Race Turner Package Still Open
ESPN and Turner Sports will be out of the NASCAR business after next season, ending associations with the sport that go back three decades. NASCAR plans to announce this afternoon a new rights deal with NBC for the second half of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series seasons -- a package that previously had been held by ESPN. Beginning in '15, NBC will share NASCAR coverage with Fox, which signed an extension with NASCAR last year. Financial terms of NBC's deal were not available, but sources familiar with it said it was as much as a 50% increase from what ESPN paid for the Sprint Cup series and half of the Nationwide Series. Turner's package of six Sprint Cup races, as well as the first half of the Nationwide Series, remain available, according to sources. Fox is considered a likely bidder for both those packages. Turner and ESPN, which are in the seventh year of eight-year agreements valued at $2.74B overall, had an exclusive negotiating window with NASCAR that ended July 14. When they did not finalize extensions, NASCAR turned to NBC.
INTERNAL DEBATE ABOUT LEAVING ESPN: Sources familiar with the organization said there was a debate about leaving ESPN. There was concern the move would hurt the sport's exposure to casual sports fans who watch "SportsCenter," "PTI" and other ESPN programs. But sources said NASCAR execs made the choice to go with NBC for several reasons beyond its willingness to outspend its competitors. NBC's broadcast plans are not known, but the network had been pitching NASCAR on returning the Sprint Cup series to broadcast TV and could air races on Sunday afternoons on NBC prior to its "Sunday Night Football" broadcast. It also offered a chance to cross-promote NASCAR with the Olympics. Lastly, the sport's leaders have a level of comfort with NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus, who previously worked with NASCAR when he was president at Turner Sports. Lazarus consulted NASCAR on its upcoming TV negotiations when he was at Atlanta-based CSE before he joined NBC. NBC was disappointed when it lost NASCAR to ESPN in '06.
NOT WILLING TO MEET NBC'S OFFER: ESPN and Turner both were interested in keeping the rights, but were not willing to pay as much as NBC was offering, sources said. Turner only had six races, which did not help increase cable license fees for TNT. ESPN has focused on more populist sports, like college football and basketball. Both networks suffered through ratings declines recently -- this year was Turner's lowest rated. They also complained that NASCAR, more than other sports, was hurt by the economy, making ad sales more of a challenge. Turner Broadcasting President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said, "Turner Sports is proud of the partnership we've built with NASCAR over the past 31 years and the role our company has played in helping to grow the sport. We think NASCAR is an attractive property, but we are disciplined in our approach to negotiating sports rights and could not come up with a business model that was financially prudent for our company."