Opinion: Adding NBC a Winning Move

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Pete Pistone praises NASCAR moving Sprint Cup and Nationwide races to NBC and NBC Sports Network beginning in 2015, calling it a winning move. (Photo Getty Images)

For the third time since 2000, the NASCAR TV landscape is set to change.

The question is will it be for the better?

When the dust finally settles beginning in 2015, FOX and NBC will essentially be splitting the television coverage for NASCAR’s top divisions. Fox and its new Fox Sports 1 cable network are set to carry Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series races from the season openers in Daytona through roughly the middle portion of the year. Fox Sports 1 will also be the exclusive home to the Camping World Truck Series through 2022.

Then NBC and its fledgling NBC Sports Network cable arm run through the balance of the season.

The new alignment means ABC/ESPN and TNT will both disappear from the NASCAR world.

Essentially the maneuvers return NASCAR to the landmark 2001 television deal when FOX and NBC brought the sport to a unified network alignment and helped propel the sport into the mainstream. Record ratings and huge audience numbers were immediately recorded in subsequent years.

ABC/ESPN replaced NBC in 2007 and although NASCAR was able to extract higher rights fees, ratings have been on a slide ever since.

However with an average of more than five million viewers per Sprint Cup Series race, NASCAR is still a very viable television property and the newest deal will be as much as a 50 percent rights fee increase from NBC over the previous package.

The Peacock Network has been aggressive in acquiring motorsports programming in the last year and a half as its tries to build its NBC Sports Network lineup. It wrestled Formula One events from SPEED this year and has an extensive package of IZOD IndyCar Series races as well. The addition of Nationwide and Sprint Cup races will no doubt help NBCSN develop an audience. With the demise of SPEED next month, NBCSN has an opportunity to be the destination for motorsports fans.

But early on in this 10-year agreement NASCAR will undoubtedly take a significant ratings hit. ESPN and ESPN2 are currently in approximately 98 million homes while TNT reports 99 million. NBC Sports Network is currently in 80 million so it doesn’t take a math major to figure out there will be a decline.

Network executives at both NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1 are hoping the addition of NASCAR will help grow their outlets. It’s been done before with the likes of F/X, ESPN2 and SPEED successful examples.

There’s also a possibility NASCAR loses exposure and credibility with the casual sports fan by eliminating its partnership with ESPN, the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader of Sports.” Occasional coverage on shows like “SportsCenter,” “Pardon the Interruption” and “First Take” put the sport in front of thousands of casual fans, something that threatens to be lost come 2015. ESPN has a reputation of promoting its own properties while at times limiting and even ignoring coverage of other sports outside its realm. Ask an NHL fan about how their favorite sport is handled by ESPN.

Long-time NASCAR fans will remember the days when ESPN wasn’t even allowed into tracks after FOX and NBC first came on board in 2001. Who can forget the courageous helipad interviews conducted by Mike Massaro as drivers tried to hurry home? Although NASCAR will cash a big check and get a new partner vowing to put more emphasis on coverage, the possibility of losing awareness and publicity through the ESPN platforms is very real.

For now NASCAR isn’t worried about any ESPN backlash and the network issued a statement on Wednesday declaring its intention to continue coverage of the sport.

It will be interesting to see how NBC uses NASCAR to touch casual fans of its own as well as servicing core race fans. With Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR races in addition to ancillary programming such as practice, qualifying and lower tier K&N Pro Series and modified tour events in its portfolio, a weekly or even daily motorsports-related show is probable.

The network’s “Sunday Night Football” game of the week was the number one prime time show in the country last year. With seven Cup races slated for NBC broadcast network airing as part of the new deal, even if half the Chase schedule wound up as a lead in to the huge NFL audience of “Sunday Night Football,’’ NASCAR would enjoy a ratings bonanza.

The addition of streaming rights for both FOX and NBC is also a huge step forward for NASCAR, which had fallen behind all other major sports in the digital arena. The ability for fans to watch live races and programming on their mobile devices will go a long way in capturing the elusive younger demographic NASCAR continues to chase as its core audience grows older.

The new deal is definitely a win for NASCAR, which increases its rights fees coffers while at the same time now solidifying its television presence for more than a decade. In the end fans will also benefit from increased exposure, added coverage and a wider range of content even if there are some growing pains early on in

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NASCAR Sprint Cup

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