New Television Partners?

The news that NBC will take on the NFL's Sunday Night Football package beginning in 2006 could spell the end of the network's involvement with NASCAR racing and open the door for a new television partner.

The pro sports television landscape was shaken up in a big way on Monday with the announcement that after 35 years, ABC would drop "Monday Night Football" following the 2005 season. Those games will move to ESPN, which currently has a Sunday night NFL package, while Sundays will now find NBC televising games in prime time.

The Sunday night package, which according to reports will include a one hour pre-game show at 7 p.m. eastern time and an 8:15 p.m. kick-off, will comprise the network's entire prime-time line-up.

"A great deal with the NFL is the best deal you can get in television," said NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol.

The NFL generates sports television's highest ratings while NASCAR has recently become the second-highest rated sport according to Nielsen ratings.

The news launched speculation NBC will not be part of the next round of NASCAR television negotiations, which will begin shortly. The current contract calls for NBC to televise races in the second half of the season through 2006.

FOX, which covers the season's first half, has a contract through 2009. The second half package is up for grabs beginning with the 2007 season.

With NBC paying a reported $600 million a year for the NFL package, the network may not have the dollars, or air time, to continue its role with NASCAR. The network had requested later starting times for many races in the second half of the season, including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will install lights for the prime time broadcast.

But with an NFL commitment at 7 p.m., NBC will have no need for prime time NASCAR on Sundays. And with a $600 million investment in football, network executives may have a hard time coming up with the necessary dollars needed to secure NASCAR racing in the next round of negotiations, which the sanctioning body anticipates being higher than the current contract.

That scenario would seem to point in the direction of ABC/ESPN as a suitor for the second half races, bringing the two networks back to NASCAR after getting shut out of the current alignment. But with $1.1 billion committed to the eight year "Monday Night Football" package, available money may also be an issue.

The possibility of FOX taking over the entire NASCAR package is remote since the network has Major League Baseball and the NFL on its plate. That leaves CBS, a former NASCAR television partner that broke new ground in 1979 with the first live flag-to-flag telecast of the Daytona 500, as a possibility. However CBS also has an NFL commitment for the fall with the AFC package.

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