Tuesday, January 6, 2009

MLB Network Leaves NASCAR Another Step Behind


It is already on-the-air in preview mode, but it will be January 1, 2009 when the Major League Baseball TV Network officially debuts in homes across America.

The MLB Network took over the old MSNBC studios located at 40 Hartz Way in Secaucus, NJ. One look at Google Maps tells the tale of just how close to New York City that location really is. Eventually, the network will move into NYC proper.

Everything on the MLB Network is going to be in true High Definition. The league is doing things in a first class manner, following in the footsteps of the NFL Network in terms of on-air technology.

The executives are experienced, the on-air announcers are familiar to baseball fans and the programming line-up is diverse. The content pieces of this TV puzzle are in place.

Rolling this project out in an orderly manner with cooperation from the major cable TV companies has enabled the MLB Network to sign-on with the largest first day viewership in cable TV history.

While the official number has not yet been announced, it is expected that this brand-new network will be available in over 50 million homes from day one.

Like many pro sports, MLB has quietly been extending the length of the overall season. Spring training games start the last week of February and many are now televised. The regular season begins the first week of April and in 2009 for the first time the World Series will end in November.

NASCAR is racing in February and continues to do so until the third week of November. With the post-season reviews and the three banquets, the season spills-over into December. Even with official testing eliminated for 2009, January is a frenzy at the race shops as teams prepare for the season.

Where NASCAR is concerned, the entire year is packed full of some kind of activity either on the track or behind the scenes.

As the MLB Network takes to the air, eyes turn to NASCAR with the same question TDP has been asking for the past two years.

Where is the NASCAR TV Network?

The original NASCAR deal with the Fox Cable Networks group was for Speedvision to become a full-time NASCAR channel. Fox and NASCAR partnered-up to buy a TV production company they called NASCAR Images to produce programs for the new network.

Fox then moved the entire Speedvision network from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC and changed the name to SPEED. Everything was in place. Needless to say, things did not go according to plan.

Now, several years later, the story is radically different. SPEED continues to be the TV network for NASCAR's on-location weekend "support" programming and the Camping World Truck Series. The last remaining snippet of regular weekday programming is This Week In NASCAR on Monday nights.

Fox agreed to surrender the company's interest in NASCAR Images and was bought-out by NASCAR. The new company is now called The NASCAR Media Group. SPEED then changed leadership and moved in an entirely different direction where weekday programming was concerned.

Pinks, Unique Whips, Living the Low Life, Wrecked and many other "lifestyle reality" series sprang to life under the leadership of SPEED's VP of Programming Bob Ecker.

SPEED was interested in creating and then owning original TV shows. That was not possible where NASCAR was concerned. Like most pro sports, NASCAR retains the rights to the actual event footage. So, SPEED morphed into the current two-headed monster viewers see today.

During the NASCAR season on Friday, Saturday and Sunday SPEED is all about racing. On Monday through Thursday with one small exception, SPEED's primetime line-up is battling it out with A&E, truTV and Discovery for reality programming success.

Once united by shared ownership and strategic TV goals, SPEED and the NASCAR Media Group are now just two rival fraternities sharing NASCAR content in an uneasy truce.

SPEED is busy allocating significant financial resources to original lifestyle programming to build the network's library of content for a wide variety of purposes. SPEED wants "their" programs to be available on your cell phone, PDA and laptop.

Meanwhile, The NASCAR Media Group has no direct on-air capability to expand the NASCAR presence on TV. Think of this TV production company as a fantastic stereo system loaded with great tunes but without any speakers. You can turn it on and crank it up but there is no way to hear the music.

The solution to this problem might have been to simply put The NASCAR Media Group's vast collection of programs on an Internet site and then build-up an iTV network like Hulu. Bypass cable TV entirely and go right to the Internet with the video.

Unfortunately, NASCAR gave the online rights to all NASCAR content to the Turner Interactive Group in Atlanta, GA. That company pays NASCAR a hefty sum to run the NASCAR.com website as a "third party."

The Turner Interactive Group alone controls the sport's online image, official information and even fan interaction. NASCAR itself does not even have a public email address. In January of 2008, NASCAR executives extended the Turner deal through the year 2014.

In reality, there is truly only one solution to solving many of the current problems plaguing the sport. That is the creation of a cable television network to grow the NASCAR brand and present the sport as much more than a weekend pastime.

Having this media platform would open the door to an endless diversity of programming from original series to daily news. Groups like the Nationwide and Camping World Truck teams would finally get some TV exposure other than actual racing.

A NASCAR TV network would also allow the regional racing series a home where fans could begin to understand the different levels of NASCAR racing nationwide and interact with local and regional drivers and teams. Imagine that, finding out that NASCAR races in your area on a regular basis.

Both ISC and SMI tracks would be big beneficiaries of a full-time TV network. Just like the regional sports TV networks feature local college and pro teams, TV programs featuring the ISC and SMI tracks would offer a tremendous variety of regional subject matter.

These facilities host all kinds of racing series. Events like car shows and many other unique activities could also be exposed to motorsports fans through a NASCAR TV network. Needless to say, ticket sales for the NASCAR events could also be directly influenced.

Once again in 2009, NASCAR is poised to be represented on TV by third parties. ESPN, SPEED, TNT and Fox all have their own slant on presenting NASCAR news and approach the sport in general from completely different angles.

The NASCAR "financial pie" has been sliced-and-diced into profitable pieces with the single-minded goal of deriving the most potential revenue for the sport.

Left behind in the "money frenzy" has been the strategic partnership between NASCAR and its fans.

With Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association now having full-time dedicated TV networks there is little doubt that NASCAR must make such an investment for the good of the sport.

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35 comments:

SallyB said...

Nascar is very content to allow a third party to pony up the money to present their sport to the public. They don't have their own internet site. They have no real outlet for any racing related shows they produce. It seems fairly clear that Nascar expects someone else to put up the bucks and/or infrastructure,
then pay Nascar for the priviledge of putting it in front of the public. Brian france seems most comfortable maintaining a polite distance from anything to do with Nascar that would make Nascar take money out of their own pocket to promote racing. It's hard to imagine Bill Sr. or Jr. being content to leave it up to another entity to promote racing. But, it does turn the mundane, everyday task of running the business to someone else. Seems that Brian France is happy with that.

Anonymous said...

The France family also knows, full well, that patriarch Bill France tried a NASCAR TV play in the 1970s that was a financial disaster. Bill jr vowed not to repeat his Daddy's mistakes -thus the reliance on a strong television component to bring value to the sports sponsors.
Thinks about the economics.
NASCAR cashes a big rights check and another for facilities and production facilities that the networks are obligated to pay on top of rights.
If NASCAR created their own channel, MAYBE ( a big maaybe) they clear 25 cents per month in carriage fees? If the get to MLB's 50 million homes, that grosses NASCAR at 150 million a year. ad sales might add 50 million.
Then they have to pay to produce the races-or let FOX/ABC do it but for a reduced license fee.
They probably net out about where they are now, financially, but would have alot more risk starting a network. Why do it yourself when dummies like David Hill will pay thru the nose to do it for you ( all the while tarting it up with gophers and patronizing flag waving?)
Hate to say it, but in this case, NASCAR is doing it right.
I mean, think about it, who the hell is going to watch the MLB network instead of watching an actual game on local tv or TNT, ESPN??

Happy Chritmas

Bray Kroter

AFMSgt said...

Bray, considering the up-front financial numbers, you may be correct.

However, look at the overall media market right now - there is NOTHING out there for NASCAR programming outside of a couple of race reruns (literally two) on E$PN Classic. How is NASCAR expanding its presence when there is NOTHING on the airwaves to remind people of the sport?

There may be a bottom-line financial reason that NASCAR is doing things this way, but it is a short-sighted approach. In the long run, the investment of a NASCAR network would bring a larger amount of fans into the fold and enable a location for other regional series to have a broadcasting home.

If NASCAR can see that herd of cows down the hill and consider WALKING down instead of running, it may be able to emerge with a larger fan base than before. If it continues to run, then it will be just another bull that never meets its full potential...

Anonymous said...

A NASCAR TV Network is a great idea. The NHL has their own network too. It gives fans a place to always go for their sport when a main attraction is not on. This TDP post was helpful to understand the SPEED mess. I think their reality programming is sub par and doesn't have legs to last - outside of PINKS. I'd rather watch a rerun of a race or a race that normally would not be on TV than any of their reality series. IMO, SPEED is on the road to nowhere.

Dot said...

What would an all NASCAR channel really cost? All they have to do is run old races, maybe a couple of driver 360 types of shows and news on the 8s ala The Weather Channel.

@ Bray, 1970s TV was way different than TV now. The Bill's are dead. The Emperor needs to join the 21st century and give the fans what they want. I believe he doesn't want to because he is not thinking that far into the future. He has already said that he isn't going to be CEO for 30 yrs. (Thank God). The sooner he is gone, the better for us.

Baseball has been around for 100+ years. If they're willing to have a TV channel, NASCAR needs to also. If cost is an issue, put the channel on an upper tier. Most of us already pay for those channels anyway.

Richard in N.C. said...

Not being a TV pro, it seems to me that the logical route for NASCAR to go would be to either (1) buy a big enough piece of SPEED to control how much NASCAR and Grand AM programming is on or (2) do a joint venture with Turner to create a NASCAR channel.

HarpAmy/Amy in FL said...

I think that a Nascar tv channel would be great but I think that they need to make sure that it is available to DirectTV, Dish, and Cable customers. I don't get the NFL network because I believe that it is only available on DirectTV. The channels would work just make sure that everyone can get access to them somehow.

Just my 2 cents worth.

Vicky D said...

I know it sounds so simple and I'm wondering how hard could it be to have a Nascar channel. Speed could have a joint venture with Nascar to create a terrific channel for us Nascar fans. Today's Grand-Am preview show was a delight. Let's hope the Nascar big-wigs don't ruin that series like they've done with the Nationwide series. We especially enjoyed the segment on Tracy Krohn.

Kenn Fong said...

J.D.,

I wonder how much 24/7 NASCAR TV network would be worth to cable and satellite providers when considering the country as a whole?

I think if the cable systems were owned locally, as they were here in Alameda, California (near San Francisco), how likely the operators outside the Southeast and Southwest would be willing to pony up for the channel bandwidth? (They didn't have Speed, but were polite but uninterested when I spoke to programmers.)

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California

Anonymous said...

If NASCAR had the guts to do it (they're too cheap) they would buy the SPEED channel outright. That way they could possibly still keep the channel right where it is on most cable systems and just change the name and the programming.

That happened last year on our digital cable tier. A cable channel called the Black Family Channel was purchased by a business group who changed it to a Christian music video/concert channel called the Gospel Music Channel. On our cable system, the stations just switched over one day, just like that. And the newly-programmed channel is apparently growing and has apparently added a number of cable systems which carry it. So why doesn't NASCAR take what's already built and tailor it to their needs?

I agree with SallyB that NASCAR is content to let others do the hard work for them. Brian France recently said that he wanted the driver to create and stimulate their own fan bases to keep sponsors. Isn't the NASCAR marketing arm (part of which is TV) supposed to help them do that? Apparently NASCAR marketing is all about marketing NASCAR and not its drivers.

Gymmie said...

I agree with Dot, the 70s are way different from today. We have the microwave mentality these days. We don't want to "wait" we want everything now. I know with the various boards/Yahoo groups I've been on the last several years people have been wishing for a NA$CAR Network. One that we could go to and watch *everything* on. No flipping through 50 million ESPN channels because a game ran long.

There were some concerns over cost for those who don't have cable or can't afford the upgrade to get the package this would be under.

But I would love to see it!

alex said...

Nascar needs a tv network soon. Just as the NFL uses its network as support programming (almost all games are on FOX,CBS,NBC,ESPN), Nascar could use a Nascar Network to show everything but the races, and even incorporate that into the next tv contract.

I'm a huge baseball fan and will watch a lot of MLB Network, assuming i'm one of the 50 million people included.

A perfect world would be watching the NFL, MLB, and Nascar networks, and paying the cable company a la carte for the 10 or so channels that I actually watch. Fat chance of that happening.

Ken said...

I think West Coast Kenny is right that many providers would not pay for the network and/or provide the bandwidth for NA$CAR. With Dish, I already have NFL, NBA, Soccer, Golf and Tennis. The fan base for these sports is more evenly distributed throughout the world and the viewers are more "upscale" (in advertisers eyes) than the typical NA$CAR fan.

With the push for High Definition, I think the bandwidth will be used for HD rather than dedicated to a more regional US sport. Satellite providers transmit to a worldwide audience and NA$CAR is small potatoes from a worldwide perspective.

majorshouse said...

I just went to Speed's site and it is a joke in the way of programming. The last thing I want to watch all day long is Pinks and Pinks All Out. I see no reason why NASCAR could not help Speed develop this channel into a NASCAR channel. I think that the powers that be are living in the past and want all of the money for themselves instead of putting the money into something that the fans like other sports including the NFL and MLB could be proud of.

Bill H said...

I get the feeling Nascar has the business sense of: "A dollar now, or ten dollars next week, hmm I'll take the dollar".

Bill H

Tracy said...

I just don't think a Nascar channel will ever happen. By selling its website rights, etc., the company has shown it doesn't want to be involved in anything that requires in-house work/expertise. Heaven knows, a website is basic enough in this day and age, and they can't handle that.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope Brian France got a GPS for Christmas, because NASCAR has lost its direction.

RapidRoy

Anonymous said...

Bray, very good post.

I'm not sure NASCAR can attract that many new comers. Let's face it, if you compare it to the NFL, who has 1600 players, MLB who has 1200, NASCAR has barely maybe 100. Then you have 256 NFL games. That generates lots of excitement and stories. Then look at the star power. Both MLB and NFL have about 40-50 major stars. NASCAR, maybe 4.

For many years the NFL network was managed by CBS SportsLine and then ESPN.com. NFL only took over a couple of years ago. That's smart.

JD said...

I'm a bit ambivalent on the whole 'SPORT TV' issue.

I love NASCAR and care little for stick and ball sports. Having said that, I do watch sports reports/shows from time to time. Many of the reports have a zero substance level and most of the time I find myself moving on to another channel. They are akin to watching commercials during NASCAR races, why do it???

If NASCAR had a network of their own, it too would be 95% drivel. Why do it? Makes no sense to me. If it weren't for bountiful bucks driving sports TV, no one would go to the trouble to report any of it. Why would you? No substance, no worth! Don't get me wrong here, TV news reporting in general is a waste.

I don't watch SPEED if there's no NASCAR programming on it. I don't watch any ESPN channel if there's no NASCAR programming on it. I don't watch 'reality shows' on any channel no matter the genre.

Obviously, I am not part of a meaningful demographic that is used to plan/produce TV programming, so my opinion matters little.

I would like to take a few words to thank JD for 'The Daly Planet'. It's a favorite site for me for reporting NASCAR race coverage issues.

Thanks again,
Another JD

GinaV24 said...

NASCAR as step behind? Surely you jest! Brian France doesn't have a clue about the sport and Speed has shot itself in the foot IMO with the type of programming they've gone to in the last couple of years. I used to watch Speed ALL the time, now, well I flip by because there's nothing that interests me on the channel. Both NASCAR and Speed have lost their way as far as I'm concerned. NASCAR needs to improve the racing, too, along with their programming to the fans.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR doesnt need its own network. SPEED Channel is pretty much that. You always say dont compare NASCAR to stick and ball sports but thats whats happening. Stick and Ball sports have their own networks for a reason, NASCAR is a totally different animal. NASCAR TV Network would equal a bias network and make for poor TV.

David said...

If NASCAR needs proof it needs a network. I have the Tennis Network on my lineup.. Tennis folks. They Family France is content to just take the money and run. I can't wait till the next TV deal and they don't go bigger. They should be investing that money for the future of the sport in a TV network but they will never do that.. They are to old and slow..

Kenn Fong said...

Ken,

I think the opposite is true. A larger provider such as Dish, DirecTV, or Comcast, would be more likely to add a NASCAR TV channel because it has more bandwidth and the economies of scale work in its favor. A smaller independent cable operator in the San Francisco Bay Area (such as Alameda Cable, which I referenced in my earlier comment) would not see the merit in carrying NASCAR-TV. (A completely reasonable position for them, I would say. But I'm not a guy who thinks the Sun rises in Daytona and sets in Homestead.)

But the economies of scale would work in favor of a larger national carrier, which could drive a hard bargain for the contract and then use its sales force to sell the clearances (commercials) which are given to each carrier during programming.

West Coast Kenny
Alameda, California

Anonymous said...

Unless DISH & SPEED come up with Hi-Def programming, I won't ever watch it again, unless I'm out in the garage piddlin around when NASCAR coverage is on.

Anonymous said...

SPEED could easily negate the entire reason for having a "NASCAR channel" just by adding more race-related programming to its own lineup.

Or, in other words, by living up to its name, which it currently doesn't do.

Delenn said...

I sense some short memories going on here.

How many weeks ago was it "the pre-race shows are too long / full of talking heads". "Raceday is too long - make it an hour". "I never watch pre-race anyway".

Taking comments from this place, a 24 hour Nascar TV channel is not required, even by you lot.

It seems an extreme thing to do to sort out ESPNs scheduling difficulties.

Richard in N.C. said...

My impression has always been that for many, many years NASCAR left the marketing of the sport up to the sports marketing people from Reynolds - in particular during Bill, Jr.'s heyday. NASCAR was on a roll at the time Reynolds/Winston bowed out. Thus, I believe it could be that actually marketing the sport is not something Brian and the current NASCAR administration have ever had to do or felt the need to do.

It does seem to me that the one thing you want to avoid is entrusting outsiders with shaping and promoting the sports' image - especially the swell folk at EESPN, the bipolar SPEED network, and the people who bring you Time Warner cable.

I need to go check again, but since I am down here in a noted hockey hotbed ( NC?) I believe I have the NHL channel on my digital tier.

If weather, hockey, and tennis can justify separate channels, surely NASCAR needs its own channel.

Anonymous said...

Delenn has a good point. There was quite a bit of whining about too much coverage not that long ago...and on this very site! Now that's kind of ironic, isn't it? I'm just teasing!

That being said, I think NASCAR is still very much a niche sport that many sports fans still "don't get." Being one of those types for many years before I "got it" I can see why there's not more NASCAR coverage. It's not the type of sport that courts the "casual" fan, IMO.

As for SPEED's programming, I can do w/o all those Unique Whips/Wrecked programs. They're all the same...loud guys yelling at each other...just different venues. LOL

Anonymous said...

West Coast Diane said:

I agree with Anon 5:27. I don't need an entire NASCAR channel. I just need the networks that cover it now to really cover it and give it the respect it's due. I don't get SPEED. What are their ratings for the "life style" shows? Can't we get a few shows about NASCAR, the people, the teams, the inner workings? We watched the Syberian Rally and the Baja 1000, the former on Speed and the latter on NBC. Each show was only an hour. Pathetic. The hour on each was fun, but left you wanting more. Bottom line no form of racing gets respect.

PS...what happened to TDP taking the week off...LOL. I check in thru Jayski and see several articles that I missed :-) Happy New Year! 3 weeks until we leave for Daytona!!!

Daly Planet Editor said...

Diane,

The theory was good. The reality...not so much.

The things that are going on behind the scenes in the sport right now are crazy.

The fact most of the NASCAR Media is not talking about it...even crazier.

JD

Anonymous said...

They need to do something with Tv so they can give us all the nonsense available so when it is race time they show us the race and talk about the race that is going on not all the stupid stuff that they do now. That is why ESPN is the 80's was good they showed us the current race that was going on and no garbage. I'm not interested in the drivers wives, kids, dog, personal lives the cut- away car, or Boogity Boogity Boogity. Just show the race during the race.

Rockin Rich said...

Re — DPE, (Daily Planet Editor), 12/29 @7:54PM:

JD, what's with the tease?

What "crazy things" are going on behind the scenes that the NASCAR media isn't talking about? How crazy is it? Inquiring, (nosy?), minds want to know!

I, also, was wondering what happened to your holiday hiatus. I have been checking the site every day, and hadn't noticed much of a let up. I hope you have been able to find some relaxation and enjoyment this holiday.

I hope 2009 is a great year for you! And, for this site if you choose to continue it. Hopefully the troll kiddie(s) will go annoy someone else next year, (good luck with that!).

SallyB said...

JD, I also noticed that the 'vacation' doesn't seem to have happened. While I'm not sure it's giving you the most restful holiday season, I am extremely glad that you are still around during this time. With what's going on with the economy, sponsors, and teams folding or retracting, there seems to be lots of Nascar news. It's nice to have a place I can come to and discuss it. Or even hear about it in the first place!

Anonymous said...

NASCAR doesn't even have their own commercials on non-racing channels to promote the sport!

You can't grow a business without advertising it!

Anonymous said...

big difference with nfl,nba,nhl,mlb!! NASCAR and ISC is still controlled by ONE family with billions of $$$!!! with growth over decades! bruton smith WAS only "real" threat they've ever had!! (note = was?)hendrick/roush/childress/gibbs/etc. don't vote on any issues!! input maybe.NO VOTE!! NO FRANCHISES! they will continue to do what makes sense for FRANCE family,til grandstands/viewers/sponsors/etc. start leaving in massive droves!! then you'll see brian&crew get off their rear ends!! of course,he may be consumed with his NFL franchise by then!