Sly As A FOX?

Tucked away in NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's "State of the League" address at the Super Bowl last week was an interesting nugget.

When asked about the league's upcoming television negotiations for its cable deal, Tagliabue said talks were continuing with current partner ESPN, which holds the "Sunday Night Football" package rights.

But the NFL is thinking about adding another cable component and a package of Thursday-Saturday night games in the near future.

"We are seriously considering becoming involved with a new sports cable network," Tagliabue told the media gathering.

He is referring to the planned entity on the drawing board from Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate who, among other holdings, created FOX-TV. Murdoch is working on a competitive network to take on ESPN as an alternative 24-hour sports outlet, which could be launched in 2007.

Just as he did with FOX Sports, Murdoch could give his new baby instant credibility by partnering with the NFL.

And since he's already doing busines with the folks in Daytona Beach, why wouldn't the new network want to bring on NASCAR programming?

The same strategy has been used to build audiences, and cable households, by both current NASCAR television partners - FOX and NBC. FOX built FX into a major cable player by moving a handful of NEXTEL Cup races as well as numerous Busch events to the network. NBC employed the same idea to grow TNT.

Although ABC/ESPN has been chomping at the bit to get back into the NASCAR game when the current TV deal expires, don't under estimate the new Murdoch entity. His well known deep pockets can be emptied if the deal makes sense in the long run and with NASCAR now television's second hottest sports property, behind the NFL, bringing the sport to the fledgling network seems to be sound business.

But one card Murdoch doesn't hold that ESPN does are the rights to more than ten years of archived races. The network maintained those rights even after being squeezed out of the picture when the FOX and NBC deals were signed. NASCAR would love to be able to have access to those races, so ABC/ESPN may have the upper hand when the time comes to renogotiate.

At the very least, having Murdoch in the picture gives NASCAR even more leverage with negotiations. Which may be the exact thing Tagliabue and the NFL is doing.

At any rate, don't touch that dial. The NASCAR we see on television in the next few years may look much different than what we've grown accustomed to since 2001.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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