Analysis: Despite risks, NASCAR’s TV deal makes sense
NASCAR's new television deal announced Tuesday is multi-layered. Yet, the essence of the deal with NBC boils down to NASCAR's decision to be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in big pond.
It also doesn't hurt that NBC is paying upward of 50 percent more than what ESPN and TNT were paying for its combined portion of the Sprint Cup/Nationwide Series races, according to Sports Business Journal.
Although ESPN has served NASCAR well since resuming its NASCAR coverage in 2007, both in its commitment on the airwaves and the resources invested elsewhere, NASCAR more often than not took a backseat to more traditional programming highlighting stick-and-ball sports.
After all, the NFL is an entity that attracts more eyeballs than any other sport. Thus explaining ESPN's -- and other sports networks -- push over the last few years to become more NFL-centric.
And it wasn't just pro football NASCAR was fighting for attention with at ESPN. In addition, the "World Wide Sports Leader" has television deals with the NBA and MLB, along with a smorgasbord of college football and basketball games. Often this would cause NASCAR -- particularly Nationwide Series races -- to become lost in the shuffle. The May Nationwide race at Richmond was relegated to obscurity on ESPNews due to an NBA playoff game.
Having to play second fiddle to other properties was a fact NASCAR Chairman Brian France alluded to during a Tuesday teleconference to announce the new television contract.
"Because this is going to be such an important franchise sport for them, made it to be so compelling that it was just the right choice," he said.
Competing against an abundance of content for airtime is something NASCAR will not have to worry about at NBC. Its fledgling NBC Sports channel is still in need of programming to pair with the NHL, English Premier League and limited college football and basketball games. NBC also owns the rights to Formula One and select IndyCar races.
During the Tuesday teleconference, NBC Sports executives continually referred to NASCAR as a "tent-pole property." Furthermore being a lead-in for Sunday Night Football has to be an enticing proposition for NASCAR, which typically sees a fall swoon when the NFL kicks off.
However, NASCAR's decision to discard its association with ESPN does not come without risk. When the NHL left ESPN for the then-named Outdoor Life Network (now renamed NBC Sports) in 2005, hockey coverage became marginalized. Being ostracized is a very real possibility for NASCAR, which feasibly could see its presence on auxiliary shows like Pardon The Interruption greatly reduced.
If this occurs, memorable interviews like the one Brad Keselowski gave on SportsCenter immediately after winning the Sprint Cup championship will likely become a thing of the past. And with it, the opportunity to expose the sport to causal fans will diminish.
While a 10-year contract certainly provides stability, there is no guarantee NBC Sports will be a ratings success. This is especially true in a climate that will see the launch of Fox Sports 1 next month. How happy will NASCAR officials be if NBC Sports is a distant third in viewership behind ESPN and FS1?
In the immediate future, it's hard not to see this move as a positive for NASCAR. It will become a benchmark property for NBC and the influx of cash, reported by Sports Business Journal to be in the neighborhood of $4.4 billion, will help aid a sport still dealing with a dearth of new sponsorship dollars and continued attendance woes.
Whether NASCAR deems its partnership with NBC a success 10 years from now remains to be seen. But for now it appears to be a win for all involved.
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