Thursday, May 5, 2011

ESPN Confirms NASCAR Internet Blackout

Since 2007, the Sprint Cup Series has split the TV package of points races between three partners. FOX starts the year, TNT steps-in for the summer and ESPN brings the season to a close.

The ESPN portion begins in Indianapolis with the Brickyard 400 in July and continues through late November. It features the final seventeen races of the season, including the Chase for the Championship.

Originally featuring ABC as the primary outlet, the package has switched to ESPN. The cable network now offers over 100 million homes, added flexibility and the reality of not dealing with local ABC TV stations spread across four time zones.

On April 25 we published a column titled "NASCAR Online Showdown Looming." We already know that TNT will offer RaceBuddy once again this summer and "wide open" coverage of the Daytona race in July. Every TNT race will have a live online presence available to NASCAR fans via the Internet at no additional charge.

The Internet showdown was supposed to begin this season at the Brickyard 400. ESPN now has the website and the WatchESPN app up and running. The idea is to supply cable TV viewers who pay for ESPN with access to that network via the Internet.

The theory is that subscribers have already paid for ESPN. Why shouldn't that product be available when the subscriber is away from the TV set? As you can see from the picture above of the homepage, the companies currently involved in this project are Time Warner, Bright House and Verizon FiOS.

This approach may work well for most sports, but not for NASCAR. The online rights to all NASCAR footage, including live races, are the property of Turner Sports. That deal was done separately from the TV rights negotiations that resulted in ESPN getting the seventeen races. The problem is obvious.

Turner is not allowed to stream live races because it would infringe on the exclusivity of the TV partners who paid a hefty price. The theory is that it would pull people away from viewing on TV. Meanwhile, ESPN is not allowed to stream NASCAR product because Internet rights to those very same races belong completely to Turner.

The very moment that ESPN streams the Brickyard 400 to its own cable subscribers, Turner's online rights kick-in and it can offer an online feed of the same race. It really is a technology-driven NASCAR stand-off.

Rather than draw out the issue, ESPN responded through a spokesman in very clear language. The bottom line is that ESPN will blackout all Sprint Cup Series races on this season. Since the WatchESPN app is an extension of that website, there will be no NASCAR on iPads and portable devices as well.

That makes the Internet dark for the final seventeen races this year. No online streaming of the races from Turner through and no free streaming for ESPN subscribers through the company's various outlets. Needless to say, that also seems to close the door on any hope of Turner partnering with ESPN and at least offering RaceBuddy.

Understandably, there are two very different views on this topic. Turner paid for and owns online rights that it feels it cannot use. ESPN is frustrated by the fact that subscribers must use a TV set to view the races when online technology is readily available.

ESPN spokesman: "ESPN will continue to do so (blackout NASCAR online) unless we can reach an acceptable agreement with NASCAR that would allow us to keep our product exclusively on our platforms."

Turner spokesman: "We continue to talk to both NASCAR and ESPN about making more NASCAR content available to fans across all digital platforms…not only mobile, but broadband as well."

Although both sides stress they are still talking with NASCAR about these issues, there really does not seem to be a working solution heading to the surface of this dark and murky lake of online sports rights.

So, it looks like only six of thirty-six Sprint Cup Series points races will have any live Internet presence. Those are the six produced by the sister TV network (TNT) of the online rights holder.

It's hard to imagine how NASCAR fell this far behind the technology curve. The current TV and online contracts run until 2014. In TV time that is only a blip on the radar, but where Internet and mobile technology are concerned, that is several lifetimes.

It would be a very different sport if online video of live Sprint Cup Series races was available for smart phones, tablets and computers. Rather than dilute the television audience, the reality is that online viewers are in a situation where a device other than the TV is the only way to view the event. The theory that NASCAR fans will turn off the TV to view a race on an iPad, laptop or smart phone is ridiculous.

What's really holding up this simple next step in exposing the sport is money. NASCAR has already cashed the check from the current rights deal. Turner wants money back for any use of the online rights it purchased. Finally, ESPN is not going to open the wallet for product it already owns and feels it should be able to distribute online to paid subscribers.

In looking at other top-notch professional sports leagues in North America, NASCAR is the only one that does not make the playoff portion of the season available online. Make your plans now to get to a TV for the Chase for the Championship, you won't be able to see it any other way.

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.


Greta said...

I have recently had to turn off my satellite due to financial reasons, so I'm just SOL. It's really not the same when I can't watch practice and qualifying on Fridays, and I'll be completely out of the loop once ESPN takes over. Buh-bye.

Anonymous said...

This really sucks :( There is still a slim hope but I won't be holding my breath that they'll work things out.

It would be nice to give people options.

Mike in Pittsburgh said...

Did anyone really think that this was going to happen anytime before the next TV deal is done? I still can't get my Sirius NASCAR online, I have the ESPNs through Dish and Comcast so I wouldn't even get this even though I already pay for the channels twice anyway. I think 2014 is going to be ugly with the Sprint sponsorship and TV and internet rights all up I don't see everyone coming back unless its at a deep discount unless something big happens between now and then with the ratings

Vince said...

Seems to me that the guy or guys responsible for this mess in the first place, are the same guys that will be negotiating the new TV/Internet contract. A recipe for another disaster in the making.

That sound you hear is the sound of NASCAR fans leaving the room.

NASCAR/Turner/ESPN execs, as Bob Ucker used to say, "Swing and a miss...".

You all are a bunch of clueless SOB's.

RFMjr said...

...and the band played on.

earl06 said...

- No NASCAR app unless you have Sprint. Lame.

- No (legal) race coverage online/wireless

- No Sirius NASCAR radio online/wireless

By the time the new media package is put into place, all the other sports and racing series will be lightyears ahead of NASCAR. Getting this stuff to the fans in the ways they want to consume them should be priority one for this new marketing team Big Bri has put together. Four years from now will be too late to make a difference.

larry said...

I've already started to vote with my wallet. I avoid NASCAR "official" sponsors. Last week, I needed a new desktop computer and went to Office Depot...I saw the "official NASCAR" poster in the entranceway and I turned around...really.

When NASCAR starts respecting their fans as much as the almighty dollar, I MAY be back...probably never as fanatic as I was for more than 50 years.

Somehow, NASCAR "leadership" have decided they need sponsors more than fans. When the sponsors realize that fans are leaving in droves, they will find other entities to sponsor...probably in 2014 or so.

GinaV24 said...

well, at least now I know I won't be able to use any other option than my TV for the 17 ESPN races and since they occur during what is usually the best weather of the year on the east coast, I will probably plan to just catch up at the end of each race, rather than waste an entire Sunday afternoon. I'll be a peek a boo fan - just check in now and then.

Another reason for that plan is that since ESPN has not impressed me with its race broadcasts over the past few years, I'm not sure it will be a big hardship for me NOT to watch the races on TV. Most of the time, I haven't seen the actual race anyway; I see whatever story ESPN wants to show and that may be irrelevant to what is actually going on at the track.

I have trackpass, so I will continue to use that and the radio feed associated with it so that I can follow MY favorites AND get some actual PXP.

Anonymous said...

How did this happen? How did Nascar lose control over their product? Who is to blame for this unmitigated disaster? I believe the term FUBAR a good discription!

52 yr. fan said...

Just read that Speedway Motorsports took a large loss for
the first quarter. I wonder how
long Bruton will put up with Brian
France and his stale product and
TV rights fiasco. I think now is
the time to start his own circuit
using 21st century technology, a rule book, and no points-racing

The Mad Man said...

After seeing some of the figures for the NFL TV broadcast contracts, NASCAR had better get on the stick fast and get something done with internet rights and apps for all race fans. Otherwise, when the NASCAR contract comes up for renewal, there's going to be a mad scramble to make up for all the income they'll lose when the networks don't even offer 50% of what they did last time around.

I agree with Larry. I buy as few sponsor products as I can. I will not use Goodyear tires or Sunoco gasoline. I use local hardware stores rather than home improvement centers. I refuse to join AARP. I'll use a Sears battery before I'll use Interstate. I use a credit union rather than any bank connected to NASCAR or any team. I do my best not to support the sponsors. If fans got serious about it we could get both NASCAR and the sponsors' attention.

Ir42nate2bhere said...

John, once again I believe you oversimplify what is online in your last paragraph. Now I'm on Comcast, so I may not be 100% on these things, and have no problem being corrected. NHL playoffs online....maybe with subscription...NBA..the ESPN games on ESPN3, not TNT games or ABC games.. And the APP world, i think people should read the article in todays Time online,,8599,2069693,00.html if I may post that, to see all the hoops needed these days for viewing. So saying leagues have online playoff presence is true, but easy access is for a relatively small percentage of the online world.

Anonymous said...

The sad part here is that the guys who are in charge are still making the big bucks, even as the ship sinks.

The world is leaving them behind and at a rapid pace. Notice what the PAC 10 is getting from the networks? Anybody think that Nascar is going to get anything comparable when its contract comes up?

I spent a few hours recently with the CEO of the company that provides most of the bandwidth for the mobile phones, etc. The future is exciting - for those who havent painted them into a dark age corner.

Anonymous said...

Really thought something would change after the Chase ratings tanked. Instead, the same unappetizing entree will be served again.

GinaV24 said...

I just read an article in the wall street journal about watching TV via the internet. the writer also pointed out that it is a "mess" right now due to the various rights of ownership.

He also pointed out, that it is almost obviously the next step in the evolution of viewers - who don't want to be tied to their living rooms. A lot like VCR/DVR and Tivo freed the viewers from having to be "home" at a specific time to watch a program, portability, is the next demand our movable society wants. We have the technology and broadcast TV, just like the music industry is going to have to adapt.

Anonymous said...

yawn, who cares. i used to watch every race to the end. now i never watch. dvr it and zip through it in 5 min and watch the last 5 laps.

Anonymous said...

I know technology plays a humongous part in people's lives today, but there are a lot of us people out here who do not have to have the latest and most expensive technology gadgets or streaming internet. We can watch tv and get our "fix" and keep up with all of Nascar by just watching a few races or weekly shows. That does not mean we are not fans, it means we appreciate what we do have and can spend our time the way we wish and don't have to constantly be on a cell phone or internet.

Just thought I would give another point of view.

Thank you.

terri said...

All three of these entities have more money than they have sense.

And by 2014 they're going to want more of our $$$ to make up for all the years of being behind the 8-ball on this.

What a bunch of losers.

Oh, and I refuse to donate to the Nascar fund for the tornado victims. I won't give Nascar a penny more than I have to. The Red Cross will get my money.

Mike (Detroit) said...

RFMjr sez ... "and the band played on", and that statement folks, sums it up to a tee. Sounds like a lot of people are putting away their wallet's when it comes to NA$CAR these days. And thats the strongest vote, and loudest voice we can use. It hits'em where it hurts. I love racing too, but come on.

Anonymous said...

@ Terri - I'm with you on the Nascar Foundation. I read that less than half of what they take in actually goes to the charities. I find that completely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Does this surprise anyone? ESPN and NASCAR. The problem is NASCAR. Let me ask you, what Fortune 500 company would have Mike Helton President and Brian France CEO? If the sport had a real board, this fiasco would end. Mike Helton, Brian France, Robin Pemberton? Davit Hootz claim to fame? He's a Teamster who drove feeders for UPS.
Let's face it, no Harvard MBAs, in fact, no internet-graduate MBAs, IQs between a raddish and a turnip.
And we wonder how this could happen?

KoHoSo said...

I am not terribly surprised that this is how it turned out. NASCAR failed to see the future that so many of us already saw clearly as early as the late 1990's and sold its soul through 2014 to too many competing devils.

The only questions now are how much further behind and much more of a media joke NASCAR will be when the negotiations for the next media deal start in earnest.

OSBORNK said...

NASCAR needs leadership that is familiar with this century. What industry would use technology that became obsolete 30 years ago by mandating a 4 barrel instead of fuel injection. How long has independent rear suspension been the automotive industry standard? Computers are a mystery to the aging/ignorant/befuddled leaders of the sport.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand all the negative comments. I watched Brian France on NASCAR NOW this week, and he said everything is fine. He doesn't even concern himself with the short term. He is thinking in the long term, years down the road. He is making sure that NASCAR performs as well in the future as it does now.

Who am I to believe? Who knows better, Brian France or the fans?

(Sarcasm switch now reset to off position)

sbaker17 said...

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, no Harvard MBAs, in fact, no internet-graduate MBAs, IQs between a raddish and a turnip.
And we wonder how this could happen?

May 5, 2011 6:15 PM

Squash falls between raddish and turnip...........

Anonymous said...

The fact remains that TV is an antiquated medium as far as the younger crowd goes..If you want to raise ratings, open up the world of online viewing and charge a premium for advertising there..Hire the brightest young Tech Savvy minds and make it must stream internet...Come On Guys it's not that hard is it...You are stunting your own growth by failing to embrace the present, formerly known as the future...To be honest, I'm old school and I would love to be able to watch the race on my iPhone while drinking a Budweiser, reading my shopping list off of a 3M Post-It Note at the Home Depot about to buy some Scott's Turfbuilder because I have a Kingsford BBQ set up where we will be watching the 52" flat screen that I just bought from Best Buy....but hey that's just me...

Charlie said...

If Nascar does nothing until 2014 just look how far behind they will be.
Three years ago not much was known about iPads, iPhones, Androids, Apps, 3G, 4G. What will be around three years from now to use.

Nascar will have to get on-line before 2014.

Anonymous said...

As previously mentioned I have had to cut back on my cable because of financial concerns. I can watch the race on fox or download it from foxsports. I will be able to watch the race on But just like last year I will not be able to watch half of the season because epsn. Not a big fan of the current contract that nascar has.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to worry about here,I'll just read about it when my latest copy of SPEED SPORT NEWS arrives in the mail.

FloridaMatt said...

Seems to me that Turner bought online rights which it can't fully use. Either they screwed up when negotiating, or it's time for them to bring in the lawyers.

Less talk and more engines said...

Always wonderful to hear Worst wick who just cant talk in a
normal voice. The sounds are great
but of course the announcers cant
shut up. It's free tho and always
remember this
when there are too many
commercials ..
" The race coverage is FREE .. it
means somebody has to pay for it..
Amen less talk much less talk

It is always something dumb said...


NOT NOT Drivers start engines.
Is that too hard to understand.

Practice before you go to the big
time. we thank you ..amen

Anonymous said...

Guess what folks, blacked out on TV too! How can we stay fans when we can't see the race? Somebody sure didn't think this one through.