Racing on TV in the United States

by Gordon Kirby on 18th October 2012

Some changes are coming to racing on TV in the United States.

Most significantly, NASCAR has completed the first step in re-negotiating its multi-billion dollar, eight-year TV contracts with Fox, ESPN/ABC and Turner or TNT. Also, Formula 1 will move next year from Speed, which has televised F1 in America for the past seventeen years, to NBC and NBC Sports.

NASCAR’s 36 Sprint Cup races have been shared since 2007 by Fox, ESPN/ABC and TNT with Fox televising the first third of the season, TNT covering half a dozen mid-season races and ESPN/ABC taking over for the year’s final seventeen races. The 2007 package ran for eight years through 2014 and is worth $4.3 billion to NASCAR. This week NASCAR announced it had completed a new agreement with Fox for its portion of the calendar. Negotiations with ESPN/ABC and TNT will take place next summer.

Fox has agreed to pay NASCAR $2.4 billion for its new contract which runs from 2015-2022. This represents an increase of $75 million per year and includes the rights to each year’s first thirteen Sprint Cup races and the entire Camping World Truck series as well as live streaming or ‘TV everywhere’ rights. Fox owns SpeedTV and the network will be rebranded later this year as Fox Sports so the massive, wall-to-wall news and opinion coverage of NASCAR will continue on the former Speed channel under its new Fox branding.

NASCAR’s existing eight-year contract with Fox, ESPN/ABC and TNT brought in a collective rights fee of $4.3 billion. By increasing the income for the Fox portion of its broadcast schedule NASCAR has gained the necessary leverage to raise the ante in next summer’s negotiations with ESPN/ABC so that it could bring in as much as $5 billion in TV rights fees for 2015-’22.

Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone has turned his back on Fox and Speed in favour of moving F1 in America to NBC and NBC Sports. Starting next year NBC will televise the Canadian GP plus the year’s final three F1 races with the rest of the Grands Prix on NBC Sports. The latter is available only by subscription and currently televises most IndyCar races. It’s said IndyCar will be twinned with many of next year’s F1 races with most IndyCar races serving as a lead-in to most F1 races. The hope is that this will prove to be a boost to both series’ tiny US markets.

The rights fees for Ecclestone’s new deal with NBC have not been revealed but the figure is sure to be a small fraction of NASCAR’s large bag of gold. Nor will F1 or IndyCar enjoy much more than basic coverage of qualifying and the races while NASCAR will continue to benefit from massive, daily coverage on the rebranded Fox Sports network as well as on ESPN.

Non-NASCAR fans complain bitterly about NASCAR’s endless coverage on Speed but they will have to accept that this state of affairs is not going to change on Fox Sports. They will also have to accept that F1, IndyCar and sports car racing will continue with not much more than token TV coverage and a minimal presence in America’s overall sports culture.

For those of us who are fans of open-wheel and sports car racing it’s a sad situation but IndyCar and American sports car racing have crippled themselves over the past decade and a half with internecine strife and amateur management, laying themselves wide open to NASCAR’s organised push for domination of the US scene. But Ecclestone too has been blown away in America by NASCAR’s steady expansion of its TV footprint and rights fees. It’s one area where Bernie could learn a thing or two from NASCAR.

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