NASCAR’s Changing Media World
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on December 20, 2012 | 10:09 A.M. EST
Sprint Cup Series champ Brad Keselowski’s nearly insatiable appetite for tweeting (Photo: Getty Images)
Social media, online streaming and television will all have a major impact on NASCAR coverage in the coming years.
As the sanctioning body gets ready to usher in a new era next season with a revamped Sprint Cup Series car, the addition of the Camaro to the Nationwide Series and a first-ever dirt track event for the Camping World Truck Series there’s also a variety of media-related issues set to shape the sport.
The advent of social media has changed the way fans interact with NASCAR as Twitter and other initiatives providing instant access and reaction become more popular. No longer content to simply watch or listen to a race, tech savvy fans have embraced Twitter as a means of diving deeper into the world of NASCAR.
Twitter has opened up a new level of NASCAR and connected fans with each other, drivers (led by Sprint Cup Series champ Brad Keselowski’s nearly insatiable appetite for tweeting), teams, track management and media members.
Last year’s partnership between NASCAR and Twitter resulted in the sport rising to number two on the 2012 list of trending topics, trailing only the NFL.
The phenomenon has grown so quickly that ratings company Nielsen announced a program to begin tracking audience numbers of Twitter users during television broadcasts. A new measurement, called the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating,” will be available in the second half of 2013.
“If a show had a big audience and, on top of that, a lot of people were tweeting about it, it shows that the audience was not only watching, but they were engaging and paying attention,” Todd Juenger an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. told Bloomberg News. “That is a piece of evidence the networks would like to have to show advertisers.”
The shift to a less passive audience that would rather interrelate with a race telecast than just watch comes as NASCAR negotiates its next television contract. The current deal expires after the 2014 season and by the time ’15 rolls around the TV landscape could look very different.
FOX has already renewed its agreement through 2022 to the tune of $300 million per year, or $2.4 billion over the eight years. That's a significant bump up from the $220 million Fox is currently paying for a package of races that includes the Daytona 500.
Despite a drop in ratings, an increase is also expected from other television entities for the remaining components of the contract, which include 23 other Sprint Cup races, ten inside the Chase, and the entire Nationwide Series schedule.
Incumbents TNT and ABC/ESPN are expected to again jump back into negotiations but a wild card has come to the table in the form of NBC. Desperate for quality and popular live sports programming for its NBC Sports Channel, the Peacock Network is expected to make a substantial play for a big piece of the NASCAR pie.
But while the dollars may turn out to be greater in the NBC proposal, at this point the network could not match the exposure and publicity NASCAR receives from the “World Wide Leader” in sports.
As part of the mighty ESPN machine, NASCAR enjoys a hefty amount of promotion on not just auto racing-related programming but a wide range of content across a variety of television, radio and online platforms.
Should the partnership end, it’s a good bet most of that exposure will as well. ESPN has shown with other sports entities not in the property portfolio that priority of coverage drops in favor of those in the fold.
NASCAR’s decision may well come down to whether a bigger rights fee check from NBC is worth a decrease in exposure the sport currently enjoys with ESPN.
As fans wait to see how the negotiations shake up they’ll have to deal with a different kind of television change next year when SPEED morphs into what will be known as Fox Sports 1. Parent company FOX, in an effort to battle competitors like ESPN, NBC Sports Channel and CBS Sports Network, will launch an all-sports cable channel of its own. Rather than create one from scratch, FOX plans to flip SPEED (which is currently seen in close to 90 million households) to FOX Sports 1.
The plan is to seed the network with Major League Baseball, college football, soccer and NASCAR programming as FOX tries to build a larger audience. So for now it appears SPEED’s NASCAR-related content like practices, qualifying sessions and studio shows like “Race Hub” and “Speed Center” will be in the mix.
Gone will be the reality programming and automotive enthusiast shows that have aired during the week on SPEED, which won’t make too many NASCAR fans unhappy. But the question remains where other ancillary programming will land. There is speculation FOX may migrate some such content to the FUEL network or perhaps beef up its online initiatives.
Speed2.com has already been announced as an online destination for motorsports programming. As more televisions become equipped with built in Wi-Fi and are capable of directly streaming from the internet, the opportunity for fans to get their racing fix from the World Wide Web will grow.
Streaming has already made its way to radio broadcasts. In addition to listening to MRN race coverage over the air on their local affiliates, fans can also hear a live stream on those station's websites as well as at MotorRacingNetwork.com.
How fans consume NASCAR content has changed tremendously in recent years and there’s much more to come on the horizon.