Television Triple Play?

NASCAR's solid television ratings have put the sanctioning body in an enviable position. With a new network package set to begin in 2007, the recent string of record television audience numbers will most likely mean a hefty increase is rights fees.

The sanctioning body recently declined its option with FOX to pick-up rights for 2007 and 2008. But don't read too much into that move.

While NBC's portion of the latest deal expires after the 2006 season, FOX and NASCAR had an agreement that an option could have been excercised for an additional two years.

"All it means is we've synced up the agreements with our broadcast partners," Dick Glover, NASCAR's vice president of broadcasting and new media told The Tennessean. "We've said all along we'd like to renew with all of them. That hasn't changed."

But while both FOX and NBC have indicated they'd like to continue relationships with NASCAR, ABC/ESPN has also expressed serious interest in coming back as a television partner as well. Despite being shut out when the current deal was negotiated, ending a long relationship the networks had with NASCAR, ABC/ESPN wants back in, due in no small part to the stellar ratings generated the last five years.

However, the landscape has changed some in the last several months with both ESPN and NBC making huge investments in the NFL. NBC will begin televising Sunday night NFL games in 2006, a move that brings the Peacock Network back to professional football after several years away.

ESPN, which had the Sunday night NFL package, will take over "Monday Night Football" telecasts next year as ABC ends its 35-year run of televising prime-time football.

Both moves will play a factor in the next NASCAR contract.

There are indications NASCAR would like to somehow involve all three interested networks in the next contract, emulating the NFL's model of deals with CBS, NBC, ESPN and FOX. Obviously the more networks involved, the more revenues are possible in broadcast rights.

With the introduction of the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" format last year, NASCAR has given itself a playoff season to go along with the regular year of races. There is indication the final ten races of the year that make up the "Chase" could be broken off into a separate package for an interested network.

That would leave 28 events to be divided up between two other networks, 26 point races leading up to the "Chase" plus the exhibition "Budweiser Shootout" and "NEXTEL All-Star Challenge" events, which although aren't point races, still generate good television numbers.

Using the Daytona 500 to sweeten the pot, NASCAR could choose to offer a February-May spring package to one network, a June-September summer pack to another and the "Chase for the Championship" playoffs to a third.

FOX, which has commitments to Major League Baseball in the summer months and the NFL in the Fall, seems like the logical choice for the early portion of the schedule. NBC, which has a lot of open sports programming time in the summer, fits into the June-September slot, a scenario that also allows the network to then segue from NASCAR to its new NFL Sunday evening offering in the fall.

Which leaves ABC/ESPN, each without any weekend NFL programming commitments beginning in 2006, to become the home for the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup."

It's certainly something to watch and a scenario that could bring NASCAR's television exposure to an even higher level.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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