Monday, April 25, 2011

NASCAR Online Showdown Looming

It's going to be Sunday, July 31 that marks a major milestone for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. That is the day ESPN will produce the Brickyard 400 for the fifth time from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While there may be some hot tempers on the track, the real action is going to be behind the scenes.

Just ten years ago, sanctioning bodies like NASCAR sold the different rights to events like a pie. The television, radio and Internet rights were the big pieces. TV was then divided into domestic and international slices. Radio was split into terrestrial and satellite. Internet rights were one big piece that combined both audio and video slices.

Needless to say, back in 2006 when the current NASCAR TV deal was done the sport was in high gear. ESPN, TNT and FOX lined-up to pay top dollar for Sprint Cup Series TV rights. Turner Sports, the company already operating the website, was awarded the Internet rights.

Since that time, the rapidly changing online technology that many of us use every day has left NASCAR in the dust. To protect the value of the Sprint Cup Series TV rights, the existing contract says Turner cannot stream races at unless the TV network producing the event does it first.

Years ago this seemed to be a simple concept. To watch the races, find a TV set. FOX and ESPN had no interest in putting any Sprint Cup Series races online. Well, that was then and this is now.

WatchESPN (click here to view website) is only one of the emerging technologies that the Disney-owned company has unveiled to push the legal envelope of rights agreements like the current NASCAR TV contract.

ESPN's new concept is that any person who pays a cable TV provider to watch ESPN should be able to do it on any device anytime. WatchESPN is an app that allows live viewing of the entire network on an iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone. As you might expect with ESPN, there is a much larger agenda at work here. (click here for website) is the big daddy. A simple authorization code from your Time Warner, Bright House or Verizon FiOS provider allows online viewing of ESPN on any type of computer. The theory is that you watch it at home, but the reality is that ESPN is simply trying to expand its brand.

Needless to say, Turner has been frustrated for years in terms of online NASCAR offerings. It used to be that the Internet was dark during ESPN's coverage of the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races of the season. Well, it's not dark anymore.

When the first moments of ESPN's Brickyard 400 coverage is streamed online by the various ESPN apps and websites, the red light at Turner's Atlanta headquarters that has been lit for five years will turn green. Once ESPN is online with Sprint Cup Series content, Turner's Internet rights activate and it's off to the races, literally.

As you might expect, the Turner folks are playing it low-key as July approaches. "We continue to talk to both NASCAR and ESPN about making more NASCAR content available to fans across all digital platforms," said Turner Sports spokesman Jeff Pomeroy. "Not only mobile, but broadband as well."

It's not all smiles in Atlanta, because to make the races available online Turner needs a little help. That help is access to the ESPN production of the event. It's ESPN paying the bills to produce the telecasts. Turner's level of access and integration is yet to be determined.

In theory, could produce a separate pre-race show, offer the races live and then host an exclusive post-race program. Using individual camera feeds could also provide continuous racing without pausing for TV commercials.

Since many fans chat online, adding a social media presence would bring the fans from Twitter and Facebook. It's easy to see that packaging a Sprint Cup Series race into a full online presentation could result in an attractive product.

Over the next three months, we will track the progress of Turner, ESPN and NASCAR as the Brickyard 400 approaches. It will be interesting to watch these three parties sort-out the particulars of this tangled web of technology and contracts. One thing is for sure, one way or another the Sprint Cup Series will soon be coming to an online device near you.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


Jonathan said...

Great news this should of been done a while ago though! Nascar needs to pick it up!!!! Not that I could care one bit w Hot Pass and the network coverage but the only way your going too have any chance to get the young viewers is through the streaming of races and such online on phones (no wait make that mini computers I have a true cell phone only makes calls and texts) anyway you get where im going with this

Anonymous said...

I have TWC for internet but don't have cable right now so can't get it but it's nice that it's available now. I know not too long ago it was only for Verizon folks.

But it'll be interesting to see how Turner is able to integrate all this for online access. I know a few others who also don't have cable but access through the Sprint apps on their phones so this might provide an option for them as well.

But the cable/no cable access aside, people travel & don't always have access to SPEED for example. Not sure how available the ESPN networks are in hotels. Some may be away on a business trip & want to watch the race while traveling. And even the media/TV folks often can't watch SPEED as they relax after a hard day.

I don't know what the "numbers" are as far as how many would access it but give it a chance & see.

Samantha Gee said...

I don't have directv any longer, so I look forward to being able to get the cable-only races online.

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
Interesting to remember that through the years NASCAR left race promotion to individual promoters ...with the push to a national sport identity, the promotion emphasis falls to NASCAR itself ...however, it is the broadcast partners, specifically FOX and ESPN, with contracts in hand that have dropped the ball ...good to see that locked doors are now to be opened ...Turner seems heads and shoulders above others when it comes to attracting fans' interest ...looking forward to the changes ahead

Sterling said...

Great post. I was wondering what the split was for TV, Radio & Online. I've been pretty frustrated with the lack of real-time offerings for races with, so this answers my questions. Thanks.

GinaV24 said...

I use verizon fios, but I don't have an iphone or ipad and don't plan to invest in one. I do have a laptop computer, so I really hope that I will be able to stream the race on my laptop. When I'm traveling or out somewhere that they don't watch racing, it would be a really nice option.

I hope they can get this all worked out. Quite honestly from July to October, the weather is way too nice to be inside on a sunday afternoon, especially considering the rather poor TV broadcasts that ESPN has offered to the fans in the past few years.

thanks for keeping us up to date on this, JD. Personally, if not for the hard work that you do to keep us up to date on things and the friends that I've made here on the Planet, I'd have given up on NASCAR on TV completely and just check the results after the race.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. This seems like a reversal of what you've been telling us for years - that Turner was the only party with the rights to stream races online, but refused to. Now you're saying that the broadcast partners could have streamed races all along? And now that they might start doing so, that allows Turner to ALSO stream the races?

Anonymous said...

I don't see why ESPN would want to allow NASCAR to stream the Brickyard 400. It's one of the biggest races of the year, and every person who watches on is a lost ratings point. Ratings are how they set ad rates, so why would ESPN want to bleed off viewers to those who would rather stream via

glenc1 said...

I am not able to stream much beyond low-end youtube videos, but this is clearly where the viewers (particularly the younger ones they covet) are headed and it needs to be done. Surely they can find a way to make it work out for everyone.

Anyone see the article about NASCAR sponsoring a contest for colleges in marketing? It's a great idea to tap some younger minds, but it struck me as funny that they have to go to non-professionals to figure out what to do....they couldn't do any worse than what they've had....part of it was to incorporate the ethanol move.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 12:03PM,

Turner owns the rights to all of NASCAR's online content. They could not stream races online unless the network producing the race offered it online as well.

Now, ESPN has decided to offer online viewing through and WatchESPN as I described in the article.

The broadcast partners had no interest in streaming any NASCAR content before the switch that I discussed in detail. Now, ESPN believes anyone who pays for ESPN should be able to access it online.

This move by ESPN will open the door for Turner in July as I described. This technology and the consumer demand for it is changing the live sports landscape rapidly.

Anon 12:29PM,

Originally, that was the thought. Now, ESPN and other cable TV content providers realize that if they do not open things up to online viewing they are going to wind-up on the short end of the stick.

In fact, there is no data to support any suggestion that coordinated and legal online streaming of a live sports event erodes TV ratings at all. In fact, it may provide a much more diverse fan base that can see the same event and consume the same commercial content.

This one is going to get interesting.


Daly Planet Editor said...


Come on man, get some technology on board, it opens so many doors it is well worth it.


glenc1 said...

you wanna pay my bills? Thanks, JD!!!

Actually it's more of being caught 'twixt & 'tween. I was holding out for FIOS but it's taking forever so I think I'm going to have to give up for now. I refuse to go with roadrunner so the next tier DSL should hopefully do the trick.

But I will not be upgrading to some smart phone with a $100 a month bill; that I can't afford, period. I like that ESPN ad (in your photo), though, where he whips out the Ipad from his back. That was pretty clever.

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering why the blame has been misplaced all this time. It was always said that the deal w/ Turner was the reason no races could be streamed, when all along we should have been blaming FOX and ESPN, apparently. - anon 12:03.

Daly Planet Editor said...

I understand, just not too sure there is any blame in the situation.

If online sports viewing had not become so popular, ESPN absolutely would not have opened the door to Turner by streaming the entire network online.

NASCAR is only a little blip on the ESPN radar, this switch affects a lot of rights for many different sports.

Anonymous said...

In fact, there is no data to support any suggestion that coordinated and legal online streaming of a live sports event erodes TV ratings at all.

Well, by that token, there is no data to support any suggestion that coordinated and legal online streaming of a live sports event brings in new fans.

I think a healthy local dirt track is more important to creating new fans than any streaming, Twitter, or website.

The problem is not access to the Cup race, or even format. It's the presentation. Frankly, if the live stream is going to be ESPN's presentation, I think there is more potential to turn off fans instead of gain new ones. Marty Smith is like Jerry Punch minus twenty pounds.

Anonymous said...

While you are talking about media battles - there is an 800 lb gorilla just outside the door.

What happens IF, as rumored, News Corp (think Fox, Wall Street Journal, and a few other things) buys F1?

And now they would have access to F1's 300+ million viewers. Food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I am curious. I have watchEspn app. I tried to watch Nationwide qualifying on Saturday and it was blocked on WatchESPN.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 10:48PM,

ESPN chose to block the Nationwide Series races on ESPN2.

If the company decides to block the final seventeen Sprint Cup Series races there will be a fan backlash that will be interesting to watch.

Anon 10:32PM,

Heard it was just a tire kick. Money is tight, war is active and gas prices are through the roof. Not too sure an international racing series is a good buy right now.


Delenn said...

Not too sure an international racing series is a good buy right now.
Then you don't really understand what F1 is. F1 is a license to print money. The issue for current owners CVC is that the printed money is being used to pay off the loans needed to by F1. That is not necessarily a problem News Corp would have.

For me, the only thing it might do for Nascar is it might mean Fox and Speed do not bid for rights when they next come up. Might be a good time for Nascar to court the Velocity Network.

As always JD, thanks for this place to air our voices.

GinaV24 said...

JD, so there is a possibility then that ESPN will decide NOT to stream the cup races?

As I said in my earlier post, based on the past performance of ESPN on their style of broadcasting, I won't sit inside on a nice Sunday afternoon to watch a race. I would, however, pay attention if I can see it online.