Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NASCAR About To Lose The ESPN "Overflow" Channel

Once and a while The Sports Business Journal turns an eye to TV and this week it reported on some news from ESPN. It may well impact NASCAR in a couple of months.

Here are some excerpts from a story by SBJ's John Ourand:

Executives in Bristol, CT are set to allow cable and satellite distributors to swap the ESPN Classic sports channel for its college network, ESPNU, which they hope presents a newer, hipper alternative to Classic’s staid and often dated programming

ESPN Classic is in more than 63 million homes, typically on analog and digital basic tiers. By contrast, ESPNU is in about 25 million homes, mainly on digital basic tiers

A deal clearly would mostly help ESPNU, which is battling another collegiate sports channel, CBS College Sports Network, for carriage deals on the nation’s cable and satellite systems. The channel, which launched in the spring of 2005, has been at the center of ESPN’s most recent media deals.

ESPNU will pick up a significant part of ESPN’s SEC schedule and is expected to run shoulder programming that supports ESPN’s BCS package.

Click here to read Ourand's full article.

In a nutshell, ESPN is looking to encourage cable operators to carry the ESPNU Network. For those cable systems who already have ESPN Classic, there is now an easy solution to this problem. Just replace Classic with the ESPNU college channel and call it a day. All of this can now be done with ESPN's official blessing.

This move is crucial to ESPN, a company who has been on a buying spree where college television rights are concerned. Billions of dollars have been spent and just like the NASCAR situation, there are simply not enough ESPN TV networks to carry the product.

Back in early 2007, we suggested that ESPN use the Classic Network to carry NASCAR when there was a live event conflict. We were laughed off the Internet. Click here for a review of that story.

Now, two years later, ESPN Classic has become a crucial link to NASCAR TV during the college football season. This is especially true for the Nationwide Series, the only NASCAR racing series that ESPN carries from start to finish.

In this newly proposed scenario, ESPN Classic could effectively be reduced in size from over 60 million to as few as 25 million homes nationwide. Adding "the U" and dumping Classic is a no brainer to the cable systems at this point in time. The college product is hot and ESPN Classic's main fare is dated program re-airs.

Here in March, this might be a topic easily forgotten. But come September when the Nationwide Series has been racing for seven months and suddenly a college football game blocks the action on ESPN2, there may be 40 million less NASCAR fans that have any kind of solution to that problem.

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Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


The Loose Wheel said...

Back to streaming through NASCAR.com perhaps?

Its unfortunate but from a business standpoint it makes a ton of sense for the cable providers and ESPN.

Going to be an interesting conflict come late in the season when the championship in Nationwide hangs in the balance. But maybe ESPN will schedule their pre-races and race air times a little better and sacrifice Sportscenter on the back end as USED to be done before...

SallyB said...

Since my cable provider now only offers ESPN Classic on a premium tier, I haven't had access to it for a couple years. I was SOL of the race got moved to Classic anyway. I wonder if it will really make that big a difference in the long run, since racing has been relegated to lowest on the sports totem my ESPN since they regained broadcast rights. Maybe it's their form of revenge for all those airport interviews Mike Massaro suffered through.

The Track Girl said...

"often dated"?? for "hip" Sigh. That never goes over well. Though I suppose all the people mad for college sports will be happy.

I really like it when they have SportsCentury featuring some of the old drivers. You can't even get the Tim Flock one that they showed.
(or you couldn't when I tried to find it)
Plus, they do show some older races too.

I don't get why ESPN hates NASCAR so much.

Trisha said...

How would this impact those of us who get both ESPN Classic and ESPNU on our basic digital tier? Would we lose the Classic?

Daly Planet Editor said...


This would not affect you. ESPN is targeting the cable systems (40 million plus) that only have ESPN Classic.

The deal is to simply swap Classic for ESPNU and get a new, fresh network specializing in college sports.

Good question!


Dot said...

@ Trish, I did some channel research before I posted. I get both also and was wondering the same thing.

It's time slot roulette for NN next week. I echo Track Girl, why does BSPN hate NASCAR?

Thanks JD, too lazy to erase and repost.

Sophia said...


I was going to ask the same thing.
We get both stations on digital.

Still it stinks for those who do not have Classic.

BSPN Roulette not good for tapers or DVR folks either.

Thanks for the info JD.

Dot said...

@ dear Sophia, the beauty of the DVR is that it finds the show. (HA HA BSPN) You set it to record that way.

It's just amazing what you can do with TV today, that we take for granted. TV for me goes back to B&W. And, about 5 channels.

Photojosh said...

Perhaps they won't stuff ESPN2 so full of college stuff if they have ESPNU in more homes? I guess we could hope anyway.

Glenn said...

Yep, DVR's are great, but they're only as good as the program guide.
I haven't figured how to make one record "NASCAR" when it's not listed in the title.
But then again I'm not paying any attention to the ESPN broadcasts.
I get ESPNC but I checked and ESPNU is an upgrade for my Dish Network. ESPN is already getting $3.62(?) (can't remember the exact amount)of my money without my say so, it'll be a cold day before I subscribe to any of their channels.

Anonymous said...

Echoing what Photojosh said, perhaps moving ESPNU to basic cable or basic digital would take the load off of ESPN and ESPN2, allowing those 2 networks to show some other programming, such as the Nationwide Series.

I thought for sure that ESPN Classic would finally be put to bed and renamed ESPN3, but I wouldn't mind having ESPNU in my house.

Anonymous said...

ESPN isn't making this move with NACSAR or NASCAR fan interest in mind.
This is about increasing their stick and ball holdings and fighting off CBS College sports channel, Versus, and regional sports nets
Classic becomes the Olympics channel

Speedcouch said...

This kind of thing is the reason I got DirecTV in 1995. Cable companies had such a limited selection of channels back then and obviously are continuing to do so 14 years later. We had to get satellite to get ESPN2 back then and I've never regretted the change. Now with all the HD channels, it's still better than cable.

drh277 said...


This is a little off subject and maybe you have adressed it already but are you or have you adressed the situation of the NFL adding 2 more regular season games yet? The reason I ask is because this would push the super bowl back a few weeks and it would seemingly push it square to the day of the DAYTONA 500! This would be a ratings and financial disaster for Nascar... your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The only thing that makes sense is to put the Nationwide series on Speed Channel.

Richmond, VA

Anonymous said...

I second Mary's thought! FOX and SPEED all the way!

Anonymous said...

SPEED has no room for the Nationwide series. They are too busy airing episodes of Pinks.

GinaV24 said...

Anon 9:48 -- too funny! Heck Speed doesn't even have room for highlights about the truck series and they broadcast that!

Daly Planet Editor said...


The NFL has done nothing other than mention that topic one time in a meeting. The media took it and ran.

I get all the NFL updates and will keep you posted.


glenc1 said...

I'm thinking it's ESPN 360 that's going to fill some of the gap. I just found out I actually do have access to it through Verizon. But it isn't an ideal solution unless they make it a 'free' channel on their website (I'm assuming it isn't, but I haven'tlooked at it yet). They can use ABC for Nationwide, but I doubt they would interrupt whatever they're showing (*more* college football, which starts early and runs late.)

For Cup it shouldn't be a problem for more than a few races. But you'd think for the amount of money they have to pay for it still, that they'd be promoting the heck out of racing--it's such a waste not to.

glenc1 said...

I just checked and ESPN *has* made 360 'open' for certain events. That would be fair, though not a perfect solution since not everyone has broadband...

Rockin Rich said...

Anon@11:44AM, on 4/1:

I would think that there would be more people with broadband access than there are that have access to BSPN Classic. I think that there are a lot of us that have opted to not pay ComCan't/Won't, (ComCrap is an even better name), and the other greedy grubbers the ransom they demand for digital access.

But, who knows? I may be waaaay off base, (not an unusual occurrence).

Food for thought?

My ISP does provide ESPN360. I just seldom remember to try to use it for racing stuff that gets "punted" by BSPN. Besides, I really don't like to watch TV on my computer.

glenc1 said...

it's pretty close. ESPNC is in 63 million homes, broadband in 68 million, according to what I could find (they were dated 2008 but I wouldn't have thought it would have changed much.) With the economy, though, I have to believe broadband is going to level off, if not decrease (that may be one bill people will just decide they can live without.) I have started to watch a lot of TV on the PC, but not sports--too hard to see.

My father's term of choice was 'Comcraps', till he switched to DISH, lol.

bryan said...

I understood that ESPN 360 was only available to people whose internet provider had signed an agreement with ESPN, and that many hadn't.

In any case, there ain't no way I'll be able to access it from my Canadian cable company. (But then again, Canadian access to NW series is iffy at best.)

Anonymous said...
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Newracefan said...

Finally got classic when I upgraded to HD DVR (am paying big time for it too), do not have BSPNU. I can't afford any more upgrades. Is the switch a choice? Maybe I can jsut hope they won't bother to switch it here and keep classic, I'm still waiting for Speed in HD.

Richard in N.C. said...

JD, For possibly the first time ever I can envision the economy having a big effect on the Evil Empire - large fixed (and maybe increasing) rights fees, but capped cable carry fees and capped or declining ad revenue. In today's economic environment, I cannot imagine Time Warner and Comcast accepting increased EESPN carry fees without a fight.

I get ESPN-NEWS, ESPN-C, and (I believe) ESPN-U on the digital (top) tier, but have to pay an extra $1.50 or so per month for the sports package which includes the 3 EESPN's, a soccer channel (barf), and the now (in my view) useless FOX regional sports channels.

glenc1 said...

this just came over the local news...now *this* could put a damper on broadband usage--T-W is going to start making people pay by usage, like some phone plans, if you go over, they charge more. That'll go over like a lead balloon. They're claiming it won't effect most people.

It's funny, Richard--my brother gets the sports package *just* so he can get the soccer channels, lol (he's a coach and fan.) Different strokes & all that. I don't think NASCAR would be enough to make me want to jump to the next level to get ESPN classic that I'm already getting, although I can see (honestly) more value in ESPNU.

Bryan, that's true in general but apparently at times it's available to everyone (probably in instances like we've described, where something runs over.)

Richard in N.C. said...

glen- I keep nodding off between goals, but I realize I'm in the minority worldwide.

A couple of years ago TW had all the EESPN channels neatly lined up together ( before ESPNU) and then moved ESPN-C & ESPN-News to the upper (digital) tier and I took sports pkg. to keep ESPN News. I signed up for digital tier as soon as available in order to get SPEED, which is still on upper tier.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic. I have all the ESPN channels and I hate that ESPN2 uses the scrawl at the bottom for the whole race. I also have the BIG10 network so I have only watched EPN360 one time. I NEVER watch ESPN Classic. SPEED HD would be perfect for NationWide series.