Much was made of the news that NBC had won back the rights to the last half of the NASCAR season from Turner Sports and ESPN. Here was valuable live sports inventory for NBC and NBCSN and a guarantee of increased ratings over what they currently have scheduled for the fall. Sure NBC had to cough over a huge amount of cash for the deal, but by all accounts it was one the peacock more or less needed to strike with few properties up for bidding in the near future.
Lost in the news of NBC's victory came reports of their astounding lack of competition from those incumbents, though. ESPN and Turner didn't even bother bidding to keep hold of their NASCAR rights. Now comes a report from SBJ that those companies are looking to get out of the sport entirely next year instead of broadcasting a lame duck season before Fox and NBC take over in 2015:
"ESPN and Turner Sports are talking with NASCAR about getting out of their broadcast rights agreement a year early, a move that could allow Fox Sports and NBC Sports Group to become the sport’s broadcasters next year.
It’s unlikely that the four TV companies will be able to reach a deal, sources say. But the fact that these types of talks are occurring is precedent-setting in an industry where live sports rights are held sacred. For at least the past decade, no rights holder has exited a major media agreement with a property early."
Why would ESPN and Turner want out of their contract a year early? NASCAR's ratings have been trending downward, but the sport still brings really good television numbers compared to everyone but the NFL on a weekly basis. Remember those ESPN layoffs from a few months back? In what may be the most interesting news to come out of this surprising turn of events, ESPN reportedly wants out of the sport early in a cost-cutting measure:
"ESPN has had financial pressures in some areas over the last year, causing it to lay off staff and look for ways to reduce expenses. By unloading NASCAR rights in 2014, ESPN would be able to eliminate production costs and shed its roughly $270 million annual rights fee.
NASCAR-related production costs are a concern for ESPN executives, particularly during the first half of the season when ESPN has rights only to the Nationwide Series.
Between February and July, ESPN spends a lot of money to bring production equipment and crews to 14 tracks for the Nationwide Series. From late July to November, it has the rights to broadcast Sprint Cup races, which typically take place the same weekend and at the same venue as Nationwide races. In the latter half of the year, ESPN can spread its production expenses across two races. For the first half, it spends the same amount on a single Nationwide race, and has had trouble balancing its books off that.
ESPN also has experienced a difficult ad sales environment around NASCAR, according to sources at the company. Next year promises to be especially tough for a lame-duck rights holder incapable of offering multiyear advertising deals around the sport."
This is such a unique story with implications aplenty. The core of the new NASCAR deals with Fox and NBC are the majority of races on their young cable networks - Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN. Both would love to get their hands on that valuable NASCAR inventory and audience numbers beginning next year. Even Nationwide races draw ratings that either network would crawl through a field of barbed wire for - the debut race at Mid-Ohio last week drew a 0.9 rating and 1.3 million viewers. FS1 will air a combined 21 Cup and Nationwide races. NBCSN will air 28.
But at the same time... one wonders whether or not NBC and Fox will want to sit back and watch Turner and especially ESPN squirm. If ESPN is looking to cut costs and get out from underneath the weight of their NASCAR deal, why give your direct competition a lifeline? The inherent risk there for Fox and NBC is Turner and ESPN giving a substandard effort to promoting NASCAR and thus leaving the sport on weaker footing heading into its new TV contracts.
And speaking of that, is ESPN wanting to get out of the sport a sign of the commitment to come when they do stop televising races? Will NASCAR be relegated to NHL terriotry on ESPN? Is ESPN actively running away from any coverage of the sport? For that matter, does this signal real financial constraints at ESPN that may restrict them from gathering as many live sports rights as they have in the past?
With all these questions and potential ramifications, the fate of NASCAR's 2014 media rights are certainly worth following.
@AndrewBucholtz It does cost a lot to cover races, especially during a lame duck year. And ESPN'S coverage never been that good IMO.
@robertcarnell: Sure. But still amazing to see them wanting out of live events that draw decently.
Losing ESPN is a godsend - their NASCAR coverage is horrible. compared to TNT (which is great) and FOX (which is good) ESPN is totaly lackluster, uniformed and just plain moronic
This is just ESPN and Turner posturing for a new deal with the NBA. They need to save money to make a serious offer to the NBA this year. Right now it looks like Fox sports really wants NBA programming. For ESPN and Turner it is useless to keep a product that they will not carry past 2014. They want out because they want to use that money for the NBA. If they can't get out of this deal it will make Fox a serious competitor for NBA programming in 2016.
@jonbarker143 I agree, word is that Fox is a contender, ESPN (and Turner especially) needs to save money as much as they can.
@awfulannouncing Would have to think NBC would love to get the content early.
First of all, NASCAR is not a sport, no matter how many times a driver will qualify it as such in an interview.
Secondly, "has experienced a difficult ad sales environment around NASCAR," What??? Have you seen the cars?
@sir boxington Nothing punctuates an article about NASCAR like the typical, unoriginal, broken record, and useless comment about it not being a sport. If we are lucky, anyone who watches it presently will come to the realization, "you know what? This comment guy is right. I must not watch anymore!! Onto tennis and soccer!!"
Wow! I don't know what the story is here. Is it that ESPN is hurting much worse than we realize? Has Disney set profit targets that are forcing the WWL to become a mere shadow of its former self? Given ESPN's recent double-downs on the NFL & college football, and the coming upheaval in the cable industry, will ESPN look like CNN in ten years, a former giant, now weakling?
Or is it that NASCAR is declining faster than the simple ratings numbers suggest? Are there data to which we don't have access, such as the prohibitive costs of covering the sport, making it non-profitable, or that the sport's viewership isn't as lucrative as suggested in the story?
Either way, I'll be watching to see who blinks first.
@NascarNewdaily fox is better anyway no one can compete with boogity boogity boogity boys lol