Thursday, August 1, 2013

Broken News - NASCAR Leaves ESPN for NBC Sports

A lot of people love NASCAR.  A lot of people really don't understand the point of watching cars drive in circles.  No mater which end of the straightaway that you stand on, all you need to know is this: half of a NASCAR season is worth a 10-year $4.4 billion television contract.

Yes, that's right.  $440 million per year for the second half of the season's races.  That's what NBC is paying NASCAR.  The first half of the season isn't cheap either; Fox has those rights wrapped up for eight years and $2.4 billion.

However, the focus has been on the recent deal with NBC.  Amazingly, the focus isn't (or at least shouldn't) be on the incredible price tag.  Live sports rights have been ballooning for years.  We're used to that by now, I think.

The focus should be on with whom the deal was made.  Making a deal with NBC Sports Network, the same NBC Sports Network that has had well-documented issues growing since its inception, is a curious decision.  Even more curious is the fact that NASCAR is leaving ESPN to do so.

Sure, the deal allowed NASCAR to increase its media rights dollars by nearly 30-percent.  But what about the lost value in media attention.  ESPN is the chief provider of said media attention.  Why jeopardize that valuable media attention for the sake of a cash-grab?

According to Deadspin, NASCAR garnered 2.1-percent of Sportscenter's coverage last year. That places NASCAR ahead of soccer's 1.3-percent and behind the NHL's 2.7-percent.  We have watched the NHL's coverage on ESPN outlets diminish year by year since the league left ESPN for NBC.

Could NASCAR be headed down a similar path as the NHL?

Scary is that it very well could be, and it's already near the bottom.  With soccer growing, it is conceivable that NASCAR's coverage could fall and soccer's could rise.  Trending downwards coming off of record television deals is not a territory that any league wants to find themselves in.

There are still 14 Nationwide races and three Spring Cup races left in NASCAR's inventory arsenal.  Of course, third place is likely not where ESPN would like to find itself behind NBC and Fox, but a consolation prize could potentially become very important to the long-term health of NASCAR.  Keeping ESPN in the action, as little as it may be, would be the best way to begin to mitigate the potential media loss that NASCAR could face.

A saving grace for NASCAR on the media front could be the level of success that Fox Sports 1 attains.  If FS1 is able to put a chink in ESPN's overpowering armor, then the move may not end so poorly.  Also, this could be the deal that puts NBC Sports on the map, though I wouldn't hold my breath.

Simple fact is that ESPN does not need NASCAR, but NASCAR may very well need ESPN.  The calculated risk that NASCAR is taking to speed past ESPN to a new co-home at NBC Sports just does not seem to add up.  NASCAR still has a chance to keep ESPN in the picture, and they would be wise to do so in order to keep their name in the mouths of the most dominant media outlet.

The caution flag is out on NASCAR, and they would much rather see the green flag in the media than the red flag.

Follow Kevin Rossi on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

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