24 July 2013

Breaking down NASCAR's new TV deal with NBC & Fox

As first reported by the great John Ourand and Tripp Mickle of Sports Business Daily, there is going to be a little bit of a sea change in the NASCAR on television sphere. Turner and ESPN are both out and will be replaced by NBC, who is jumping back into NASCAR after losing rights after the 2006 then-Nextel Cup season. NBC and NBC Sports Network will gain the rights to 20 Sprint Cup races and 19 Nationwide race, which factors in with Fox re-upping their 13 races. Fox owns the rights to the remaining Cup and Nationwide races, with seven Cup races and all Nationwide races on Fox Sports 1. Fox and NBC shared television rights in the last deal from 2001-2006, which was NASCAR's first ever centralized TV contract.

All in all, I love this deal for the sport and for the fans and here is why.

First off, let's discuss the partners that are out in the new TV contract. Nobody that follows NASCAR, or at least the television aspect of it, is or should be surprised that TNT is out. It is not because their coverage was a mess, it certainly was not great but there were some bright spots, namely the great Kyle Petty, Larry McReynolds and some solid reporters down in the pits. Ultimately, it was due to the fact that their schedule was just so short, only six races which always would go by as soon as it came in. There were plenty of doubt of whether Turner wanted to expand their coverage in the new deal so they were thought to be all but gone.

As for ESPN, I was pretty surprised that the "Worldwide Leader" was out altogether, I thought that the new contract would feature either just Fox and ESPN or a threeway with Fox, NBC and ESPN. That is not to say that ESPN's coverage will be missed, as even though they did get their act together over the past few years, their coverage was a big disappointment. There were very high hopes considering ESPN's prior history with the sport, but it was a disaster from the beginning. From Doc Punch being out of place in the booth, from Brad Daugherty in the studio where he still is somehow, from Brent Musburger's infield podium, from Suzy Kolber as a studio host, their first year was a train wreck and while they were to get their act together somewhat with finding a good booth trio in Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree for starters, it was still a disappointing outing for ESPN.

And so now, we have NBC's return to the sport. Let's be clear, though, it is not like their coverage was perfect back in the day. There was a reason why they were derided as "Nothing But Commercials." Not to mention their lame demotion of Bestwick for Bill Weber when the former broke his leg.

Yet, we should be happy that NBC is coming back. Unlike ESPN, NBC will be a strong promoter of its NASCAR coverage, as quite frankly this is one of the few marquee properties that they have. They will pair it several times with Football Night in America on Sunday afternoons in the fall during the Chase and given how strong their coverage is for Formula One and IndyCar, we should expect that to continute. Unless of course they bring back Weber.

And this is a big win for NBC and the NBC Sports Network in particular, who will carry the bulk of the coverage (13 of the 20 Cup races, 15 of the 19 Nationwide races) as they have lacked another top-tier piece for their portfolio and this should be a boon for the cable network, which to some is still a mystery.

Of course, some will worry that dumping ESPN will be a bad decision as ESPN will likely cut back significantly on its coverage, the NHL has learned that you don't have to be ESPN's bitch and take their second-hand coverage to be successful ratings-wise. NBC and its sister network will provide plenty of coverage that ESPN never did.

Expanding Fox's coverage is also far from a bad thing. I know that their coverage has its faults but all in all, you cannot deny that Fox has not been a strong partner for NASCAR. And just like it will benefit NBCSN, Fox's new cable network Fox Sports 1 will benefit greatly from a solid piece of the NASCAR pie.

It will be interesting to see this new contract take hold come 2015, and you can expect that I'll be excited after all I have just written.

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