On the eve of ESPN’s 18-race Nascar season, it appears that the network’s affiliation with auto racing is entering its final lap.
According to multiple sources, ESPN will not renew its rights deal with the stock car racing franchise, to which it is contracted through 2014. ESPN and sibling network ABC broadcast the final 17 races of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series, including the 10-race Chase (September-November).
ESPN’s eight-year Nascar pact is valued at $270 million per season, or $2.16 billion altogether.
Nascar chairman and CEO Brian France is expected to announce that it has signed a long-term deal with NBC Sports today at 3 p.m. EDT. NBC and the 24/7 NBC Sports Network will begin airing Nascar Sprint Cup races in July 2015.
UPDATE: NBC and Nascar confirmed the deal shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, saying they have reached a 10-year pact (2015-2024) that gives NBC the rights to the races currently covered by TNT and ESPN/ABC Sports. The majority (13) of NBC’s 20 Sprint Cup races will air on NBCSN, while the remainder will appear on the broadcast flagship.
NBC has also picked up the rights to the 19 Nascar Nationwide Series races.
“NBC is known for being an exceptional partner and delivering outstanding production quality and presentation of live sports…so we are thrilled with the commitment they have made to Nascar and its future,” France said. “We know this partnership will yield great value to our entire industry, provide a premium experience to our most important stakeholders, the fans, and help us achieve a number of strategic growth objectives.”
Terms of NBC’s Nascar pact were not disclosed, but sources with insight into the negotiations suggested that the Peacock will pay a 50 percent premium for its package, putting the annual fee at around $400 million per season.
While ESPN had actively pursued a deal with Nascar, the sport’s diminished ratings and the challenges of monetizing the ad inventory effectively made the economics of a renewal unfeasible.
“ESPN has enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Nascar,” said ESPN president John Skipper, by way of confirming the news. “We have tremendous respect for the France family, the drivers and all in the sport and wish them well. We will continue to serve Nascar fans through SportsCenter and our other news platforms as we continue to enhance our industry-leading collection of quality assets.”
TNT confirmed it was also closing out its association with Nascar. “Turner Sports is proud of the partnership we’ve built with Nascar over the past 31 years and the role our company has played in helping to grow the sport,” said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports, Turner Broadcasting. “We think Nascar is an attractive property, but we are disciplined in our approach to negotiating sports rights and could not come up with a business model that was financially prudent for our company.”
Turner’s eight-year, $668 million Nascar deal also expires at the end of the 2014 campaign. TNT airs six midseason races; per Nielsen, deliveries for this year’s slate dropped 8 percent versus 2012. TNT’s most-watched race, the July 7 Daytona Coke Zero 400, averaged 5.66 million total viewers.
Fox Sports, which owns the rights to the first 13 races of the season, including the Daytona 500, signed an eight-year extension with Nascar in October 2012. A Nascar partner since 2001, Fox will invest $2.5 billion in stock car racing, marking a 36 percent increase versus its current $1.76 billion deal.
News of Nascar’s contractual changes was first reported by SportsBusiness Daily’s Tripp Mickle and John Ourand.