Last week, NASCAR said goodbye to ESPN and entered into a new lucrative 10-year agreement with the up-and-coming NBC Sports Network. According to the Sports Business Daily, the “landmark” deal, which gives NBC the exclusive broadcasting rights to 20 Sprint Cup Series races–ESPN’s entire portfolio plus three from Turner Sports, cost $4.4 billion.
While ESPN and Turner Sports had an “exclusive negotiating window” with NASCAR, it closed before the parties were able to “finalize extensions.” Sources told the Sports Business Daily that despite ESPN and Turner having expressed an interest in retaining NASCAR, both were “unwilling to match” NBC’s offer.ESPN and Turner Sports have one year remaining on their current contracts, and therefore NBC’s NASCAR programming will not begin until the 2015 season. ESPN and Turner reportedly felt $4 billion was too high a price to pay for NASCAR’s rights.
As a result of this new deal, after 2014 NASCAR fans will be dividing their viewership exclusively between two networks, NBC and FOX. Both networks plan to harness NASCAR’s popularity to promote their emerging sports channels.
NASCAR is optimistic.
“Our new partnership with NBC and the recent extension by FOX validate the strength of our fan base and the many bold steps we have taken the last several years to provide fans with better, more accessible racing,” said NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brian France.
For its part, ESPN seems to handling the loss in stride.
“ESPN has enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with NASCAR,” said former Rolling Stone executive and current ESPN President, John Skipper. “We have tremendous respect for the France family, the drivers and all in the sport and wish them well,” added Skipper and “We will continue to serve NASCAR fans through SportsCenter and our other news platforms as we continue to enhance our industry-leading collection of quality assets.”
One would think that ESPN, as a means to offset declining ratings–Q2 viewership compared to last year was down 32%–and to blunt emerging competitors–like FOX Sports 1 and NBC Sports–would have tried harder to retain the rights to the #1 spectator sport in the country, NASCAR, but apparently it remains confident as it moves forward with a new focus and direction.
Recently, ESPN has made headlines with the announcement of two much hyped “high profile” additions. It re-hired former MSNBC commentator and liberal instrument Keith Olbermann. It also poached stat-wizard Nate Silver along with his FiveThirtyEight franchise from The New York Times.
While ESPN’s modern day Lewis and Gilbert may appear to bring some much needed sizzle to the Bristol, CT studios, with these hirings and with the loss of NASCAR, the “Mothership” has opened itself up to further criticism that it is concerned more with promoting personalities and less about airing live sports.