Tuesday, June 5, 2012

NASCAR Media Group Ends Its Run

There were big expectations for the NASCAR Media Group (NMG) when it was formed in 2008. The man in the center of this photo, Jay Abraham, was named Chief Operating Officer. NASCAR had combined its broadcast, digital and images divisions into one entity. Sports Emmy Awards followed for a variety of series, specials and TV movies.

Click here to review a 2009 NASCAR.com article about the company. You may notice that there is a theme throughout the story. That is the desire for a dedicated NASCAR TV network.

"For NASCAR to consider its own network, I think that's a smart investigation," said Mark Lazarus the former Turner Sports chief in the article. "It's smart in terms of controlling their content, but also because of their fiduciary responsibility to the industry, teams and tracks."

"We wanted more control over the process of creating and distributing our content," said Abraham at the time. "With what we're building, with a very small incremental investment, we could become our own TV network if we wanted to."

But instead of moving forward with TV network plans, NMG continued to simply be a program provider. The company eventually became dependent on one TV network as the major client. That network was SPEED.

Here are some words about the network's relationship with NMG from the 2009 article:

SPEED, in more than 75 million homes, serves as a de facto NASCAR network already with exhaustive coverage through the week and on race weekends. NMG provides content for seven or eight shows a week and calls SPEED easily its biggest client.

The fly in the ointment was that NASCAR did not have an ownership stake in SPEED and therefore did not have a say in the strategic direction of the network. That direction took a sudden turn when the network dropped all NASCAR programming on Monday through Thursday and moved toward a new goal.

Click here for a 2009 CableU.tv interview with SPEED VP Robert Ecker. Here are some excerpts:

CableU: What programs and/or genres are you looking for in the next year?

Ecker: We are actively developing personality-based programs with strong characters in various automotive-related settings.

CableU: What is the key element that makes a program right for your network?

Ecker: Well, clearly we live and breathe the automotive genre, so any non-event program we commission generally has to have a minimum of two tires and a combustible engine. Beyond that, in the original program category we are primarily interested in automotive lifestyle shows that have a combination of the following five elements – adrenaline, competition, cars, bikes and girls.

Needless to say, this ended NMG's ability to produce weekday NASCAR series for SPEED. Other than the Friday through Sunday productions from the Sprint Cup Series tracks, SPEED turned away from NASCAR and set a weekday course for reality TV series rebranded as "automotive lifestyle" programming.

While NMG had pitched NASCAR-themed programming to other cable and broadcast networks, the reality of paying for shows without getting any live races made it a struggle. The picture above was an Emmy award presented for one of the former SPEED series that NMG wound-up producing for the short-lived VOOM HD Network

This year, NMG was informed by Showtime that the network wanted out of its current contract for the high-profile Inside NASCAR series. That basically ended the original NASCAR programming being produced by NMG away from the tracks.

As the overall NASCAR business began to suffer, NMG had gone out and solicited other sports programming to produce. It began to become involved with college athletics and produced a variety of non-motorsports series. But as the years went by, it became clear things were not going well.

Tuesday the end came for Abraham and NMG. Brian France announced Abraham was out and a restructuring would turn NMG into the smaller and streamlined NASCAR Productions. Steve Herbst, the existing NASCAR VP who coordinates domestic and international TV rights, would also oversee the new department.

All of the non-motorsports production will end when the current contracts are over. No more college sports TV for NASCAR. ""It's the right thing that those folks are going to focus on NASCAR," said Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps to the Sports Business Journal. "We need to build our NASCAR audience. We need to focus on our fans. We took our eyes off the ball a bit."

Click here to read the full announcement about the changes. Three existing staff members have been put in place to manage the department. The current weekend programming on SPEED like RaceDay, Victory Lane and Trackside will continue as will the practice and qualifying coverage.

Ultimately, it's a shame that NASCAR did not chase the dream of a dedicated cable TV network when the economy was robust and the money from the current TV contract was still fresh in the bank. These days real media power lies in combining a cable TV network with digital assets.

Now streamlined, NASCAR Productions once again begins the process of trying to expand the NASCAR brand through new program series and network partners. Good luck to those taking on this challenge and goodbye to the NASCAR Media Group as we knew it. Sometimes, it seems that the only thing consistent in TV land is change.

We welcome your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.


Anonymous said...

Makes you wonder if nascar has another plan in regards to tv or if they do not want to spend any money to develope the tv market or if they are just happy with the tv coverage and only want the money. I just do not get the impression bzf really cares about nascar racing and cannot even point to any corporate decisions he has made that has made that has not been detrimental to the sport or he was forced to make. MC

LpMv2407 said...

All the specials they have done have been first class. Behind the headsets & The Day series have been amazing.

GinaV24 said...

NMG did some of the best video/program work for NASCAR related content. I loved seeing their work - when we saw it.

Unfortunately the decisions that Speed has made over the past 5 years has made it very unappealing to watch for this fan. I'm not into lifestyle programming so except for RaceHub and practice and qualifying (when I'm home to watch), there's really not much I care to watch.

I wish all those talented folks the best of luck in their future work and hope that one day, NASCAR fans may actually get to see decent programming again - maybe even on Speed. I am not, however, holding my breath.

53 said...

Looks like lots of suits with fancy
titles from other sports venues. Until NA$CAR convinces someone to
show the racing and forget the gimmicks, along with losing The Chase, the sport is doomed.

Buschseries61 said...

2012 is the year London Bridge is falling down in NASCARland. But hopefully, with all this change comes something better than we had before.

It's been clear for a few years SPEED is directing the NASCAR ship towards a sea full of strong, pointy icebergs. Then again, nearly all of cable tv is also heading towards the icebergs as well. Dozens of channels with their own identies have all morphed into lifestyle and personality based programming, which is basically one-note characters staged to argue and fight with a specific theme. What is actually real is too boring or complicated for these networks, which results in TruTV becoming anything but true, the Weather Channel losing half the weather and SPEED losing most of its motorsports.

In the end, SPEED needs viewers more than viewers need SPEED. If it wasn't for the Trucks I would have cancelled paying for the network. Hopefully all the people that are now looking for work will land on their feet very soon. Hopefully, some quality NASCAR programming will find a home soon and everyone can move foward in their own directions.

AncientRacer said...


Well this certainly explains your one-off tweet that appeared on the Planet Tweet Ticker I asked you about weeks back. A question that you in your typically diplomatic style (and I have no complaints with that) ignored. :)

Anonymous said...

Can I ask a stupid question?? I'm looking at the picture of that gang and have to ask....Do these people know anything about Nascar RACING?? I don't mean making neat videos. Do they have any experience or knowledge about Nascar racing, race cars,etc.??? Just curious.

fbu1 said...

In my opinion, If NASCAR does not have its own channel, it needs to have a single network relationship with a company that will make a real effort to enhance the brand. The current network deal became a commercial money grab for the "partners" without an iota of NASCAR oversight.

The constant identity crisis at Speed has left NASCAR holding a mostly empty bag. Speed has apparently decided that their future lies as a vaguely automotive version of Bravo. Their CWTS coverage is good, as is Race Hub if you can find it, but otherwise....

ESPN can't be the white knight. They barely cover the one series for which they're 100% responsible. FX may have been a NASCAR fit, but I think that ship has left the port. TNT seems mostly interested in self promotion.

So, here is a radical idea. TNN is returning to life via reruns of its old feature programming. TNN is a well respected brand in the NASCAR universe. If NASCAR were to hire a savvy racing producer like Patti Wheeler and put together a multi front production team, it would almost be like having their own network, assuming that TNN agrees. If that were to happen, the cable and dish providers would jump at carrying TNN 2. Otherwise, the races could be syndicated in available markets. That would give the new NASCAR broadcast group something to do. Of course, young Mr France would have to get over his aversion to NASCAR being identified with country/Southern folks.

Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

I don't think NASCAR has enough content to have their own 24-hour network. I know many of us would like to see re-runs of old races, but I don't think those would get high ratings or be able to sell advertising easily. I also think you can only show so many documentaries about Dale Sr or Bill Sr before they start to get stale. I think if NASCAR had 24-hours to fill, it would inevitably end up showing Michael Waltrip-hosted singing competitions, car auctions, and reality shows. In other words - it would become SPEED.

I think SPEED has been a pretty good experiment in what an all-racing network would be: a network with just not that much racing on it. Think about it - they not only cover NASCAR, but can cover any form of racing from Indy to motorcycles to F1 to Rolex cars... and even they can barely make a full round-the-clock schedule.

If an all-NASCAR channel was on TV, I would definitely watch it... but you can only do so much NASCAR news, NASCAR profiles, and NASCAR preview shows before you end up with filler material. And who needs any more of that?

Dennis said...

SPEED's change in direction does highlight the problem of putting your success in other people's hands.

Better to be the master of your own destiny even if it's to be on a smaller scale.

Anonymous said...

Ancillary shoulder programming is a key to developing personalities for a sport. During Abraham's reign, NASCAR created 25 new series that ran on 20 different networks. He sold 3 feature length films to CMT; "Dale," "Ride of Their Lives," and "Petty Blue." And NMG dominated the Sports Emmys in Live Event Turnaround, winning 4 of the last 5 times they entered.

Somewhere along the way, quality and quantity lost out. But it was a heck of a run.

kmorr115 said...

They should start with an online channel. Pretty simple. Place their programs on NASCAR.com and make it a pay site. Then streem the races. People will be able to watch the programing when they want and watch the races live. Plus the advertisers on race coverage will be seen on the streem.

RAEckart said...

Not spending the money to create a cable channel may have been the right decision after all. Oprah's single-handedly proving this.

You can be the biggest star & have all the money in the world, but getting cable distribution to a wide audience on different carriers is tough. Cable's just too fragmented.

Better that they try to do all this cheaply on-line. Go "all-in" with NASCAR.com & focus this thing like a start-up.

It's a new era of content delivery, and the old model of cable TV network will step aside for on-line content providers.
"Funny-or-Die" is the new model; NASCAR needs to ride the new wave, not the old one.

Anonymous said...

Anyone in the business knows that the problem wasn't Abraham. It was his right hand man Jim Jorden. A gifted film maker but a terrible business man and even worse people person. He ticked off all the networks, especially Speed.

DJ1971 said...

To Anonymous, I see Ryan McGee in that picture. He knows plenty. The rest of them, I have no clue. I didn't know he worked there.