Thursday, September 6, 2012

TV Negotiations Suggest Rebranding Of SPEED

It was back in April when the Sports Business Journal first raised the possibility of the new management team at FOX Sports making some changes to SPEED. The FOX team had previously taken the outdoor and extreme sports network FUEL and turned it into a network full of boxing and mixed martial arts. Clearly, this group is about advancing their own agenda. Click here to read the original story.

Monday, word came from several sources that the ongoing TV rights negotiations over Major League Baseball had revealed some more details of the FOX plan. Click here for a story from our friends at Sports Media Watch. This is the first time that plans for a new FOX cable sports network have been revealed as part of a negotiation for TV rights.

In other words, FOX had on the table an offer to host a significant amount of MLB content on a network not yet in existence. The popular theory is that this mystery network is SPEED. That would help to make sense of the fact that SPEED continues to offer Pimp My Ride shows from many years ago and other dated programming. The network seems to simply be riding out the existing TV contracts and waiting for the change to come.

SPEED's multiple personalities are well known by motorsports fans. Once a thriving network deeply invested in racing of all kinds, the network took a hard left years ago when it came to weekdays. The term "automotive lifestyle programming" came to mean cheaply scripted reality shows that continue to this day. Most have been nothing short of disastrous.

At the same time, Friday through Sunday on SPEED continued to deliver some of the best motorsports coverage ever seen on television. Formula One, NASCAR and sports cars are among the series that have thrived in this environment. Weekends continue to be a hotbed of racing on SPEED.

The network's former president came from a regional sports network, an RSN. That environment is quite different than a high-profile national cable network. SPEED never developed a weekday morning show, never chased a noon news program and never established weekly shows that supported the various motorsports series shown on the network. All NASCAR programming not originating from a track was eventually cancelled.

The only current NASCAR weekday offering, a show called Race Hub, is said to have resulted from NASCAR forcing SPEED to produce that series in exchange for exclusive rights to the Hall of Fame inductions and other coverage. For many years SPEED executives had stubbornly declared no one watched TV for NASCAR content on weekdays. Race Hub was thrashed together in days.

While most believe it will be SPEED that is rebranded, reporter Joe Flint at the LA Times believes that FUEL may be the network to become FOX's version of ESPN. Click here to read his take on the subject and the baseball negotiations. Most believe, however, that SPEED is the network that will go away.

All of this comes because FOX missed the train long ago on starting a national cable sports network. Back in the mid-90's, FOX purchased a group of regional sports networks and one 24 hour stand-alone network that operated under the Prime Network banner. Instead of pushing ahead nationally, FOX chose to operate the regional networks and used the renamed FOX Sports Network (FSN) to provide additional programming to them.

These days, FOX Sports finds itself fighting at a disadvantage. ABC pairs with ESPN, CBS now has the CBS Sports Network and NBC changed VERSUS into the NBC Sports Network. That gives each of those parties an opportunity to spread sports programming between broadcast and cable networks. FOX desperately needs the same to remain viable in negotiations for sports properties.

SPEED's production facilities and administrative group are located in the Charlotte, NC area. The remainder of the FOX Sports cable networks operate from Los Angeles, CA. The best case scenario for the Charlotte-based employees would be for that group to continue to originate the motorsports studio shows like Race Hub, SpeedCenter and Wind Tunnel.

In today's digital world, SPEED also has a thriving website and a broadband channel that carries additional motorsports programming. If these two projects are allowed to continue when the network itself is rebranded, the impact to the remaining motorsports programming may be minimal.

The other side of the coin is for FOX to simply close SPEED and have NASCAR Productions, the in-house TV arm of NASCAR, produce all the NASCAR-related programming. The sanctioning body has a studio, production facilities and and an experienced staff already in place at the Hall of Fame building in downtown Charlotte.

In talking to friends involved in sports programming, it was pointed out to me that motorsports events directly conflict with many of the sports properties that FOX Sports has been chasing or already owns. The bottom line is that when and if SPEED goes away, it is doubtful that the wall-to-wall coverage of NASCAR practice, qualifying and racing will remain intact on the new network.

It seems that the only real question is when this change will take place. The current TV contract between FOX Sports and NASCAR ends at the conclusion of the 2014 season. But, that certainly would not prevent FOX from changing the network name and other programming content on SPEED next year. It would just mandate that the current NASCAR content continue.

As negotiations take place on other key sports products, we should continue to get a clearer picture of what FOX Sports plans to do with SPEED and when the FOX Sports 1 cable network may appear on our channel guide. As we always say, the only thing constant in sports TV is change.

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


Anonymous said...

I think it might be time for NASCAR to start their own network. MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA all have their network and show the random game from time to time. They could do it and keep the Camping World Series on it, as well has shows like RaceDay and Victory Lane. The only thing would be that they would more than likely need to hire more people but that would be nice to open up jobs, maybe for the radio guys to get on TV. NASCAR does need to keep big networks though and loosing FOX would hurt but I think they can survive

The Loose Wheel said...

I'm torn on this. I have loved SPEED since it was SpeedVision and would hate to see it go away. But at the same time, NASCAR has been flirting with the idea of its own network for years. Now that they will be taking over full control of their own online rights starting next year and the television contracts up for negotiations, it might work out. NASCAR could use their own site for content and streaming purposes for shows and practice/qualifying sessions. What they might charge to do that would be my concern. Also if FOX were to allow SPEED to continue in an online capacity I'd be okay with that as well.

This is just one gigantic, ugly mess.

Kevin said...

Might be time for NASCAR to head toward their own network.

NBA has a network, broadcasting their own games.

NHL has a network, broadcasting their own games.

NFL has a network, broadcasting their own games.

MLB has a network, broadcasting their own games.

Tennis has a network. Golf has a channel.

The Big 10 has a network, broadcasting their own games.

The Pac 12 has a network, broadcasting their own games.

The University of Texas has a network, they broadcast UT's game on Saturday.

The Horizon League has an online network, broadcasting sports.

One might wonder why NASCAR can't head in that direction? Sprint/Nationwide/Truck practices and qualifying could easily be on the NASCAR Network. Modified races could be televised live. East/West touring series could be televised live. Local NASCAR short tracks could be televised on a tape-delayed and selective basis.

There's going to be a lot of programming time to fill on any Fox/NBC/CBS sports channel. But there is an opportunity for NASCAR to control their own sport as well.

Spring Rubber said...

On the positive side, weekdays on the channel might actually have something worth watching if they get the rights to MLB or something, but it could also turn into a network that really doesn't have much to offer most days like NBC Sports Network is.

On the other hand, once the new Fox Sports network takes off, I wouldn't be surprised if they obliterate most of the NASCAR coverage. I have to agree with you John that this change could happen as early as the beginning of 2013 or 2014. As the network launches, they'll probably welcome the fact that they have a plethora of NASCAR coverage to fall back on for the first few years as they work on growing a stable of programming. Once 2015 comes around, if Fox does indeed manage to secure the rights to some high-profile stick and ball sports, I would expect the network's NASCAR coverage to be reduced to something akin to ESPN's current coverage - races only with a select few practice and qualifying events on the few weekends where they have no scheduling conflicts.

Colorado said...

All I can say is: Thanks Brian France.

OSBORNK said...

I'm not against a dedicated NASCAR network but I think we need to think about whether or not it is an endeavor that will succeed.

Kevin is right about the many sports and even conferences having their own network. However many are available on cable only in the areas where there is sufficient interest. A NASCAR network would need to be broadcast nationally to be successful. I don't think a NASCAR network would be carried in locations where there is limited interest in NASCAR racing, especially on cable systems with limited capacity. It is clear that many network executives have little or no interest in the sport and many of these same networks have ownership interests in many cable systems.

Also, how will they fund the network? Will the cable systems pay enough for the network and will they be able to sell enough ads to sustain a network when the interest in the sport is clearly dropping?

I also don't thing there is enough fresh and interesting programing available or likely to be available to keep the most dedicated NASCAR fan interested.

Buschseries61 said...

FOX is walking into negotiations with less benefits than before. I've found it difficult to believe FOX would ask for more races. Yet it makes sense to have 2 players in the contract rather than 3.

This probably will push NASCAR to use to stream events like practice and qualifying. We saw a glimpse of this when Nationwide series qualifying at Montreal wouldn't fit on tv. I don't think it is a bad thing while qualifying remains underwhelming with the top 35 rule and the lower 2 series maintaining just enough teams to make a full field.

GinaV24 said...

This is all really confusing for me as a fan. I loved the old Speed where I got to see all kinds of racing and the coverage that they did at the track was great. The programming was fun and the talent was great. FF several years and I seldom tune in to watch Speed - IWC is gone, Trackside has gone to the stupid side of things, I don't watch RaceDay because I've given up all pre-race coverage for the sake of my own sanity.

I read an article in the WSJ last week (I think it was last week), that talked about ESPN and the new sports coverage they have grabbed up. Honestly I don't think ESPN has room for NASCAR coverage in its rotation - plus, except for a few people like Bestwick, Evernham, Craven and Petree, they do a fairly dismal job of coverage. I simply will NOT tune in to see any of the Wallace, Waltrip or listen to Big Mouth Brad expound about nothing.

Maybe Speed can become the NASCAR channel, I have no idea, but unless the coverage of NASCAR is far better than it has been on the current TV partners, I have no interest in spending extra money for it - and I am quite sure that all of this will cost the fans more money.

dawg said...

What's that I see on the NA$CAR horizon?

Could it be PPV?

KoHoSo said...

Just from a TV geek perspective, I'm interested to see if NewsCorp/Fox pursues the Fuel angle. Of course, as JD rightfully pointed out to me on Twitter, Fuel is in far fewer households than Speed. On the other hand, Fuel is usually the absolute lowest-rated cable channel out there, sometimes getting beat in the ratings by infomercials and the local cable access station. Since Comcast just threw its weight around to get several providers to move NBCSN to better channel locations, I have been thinking it might be wiser for Fox to eliminate the weaker of the two brands and negotiate to get Fuel/Fox Sports One also in greener pastures.

Then again, if they take the easier route and it is Speed that is lost, I see that as no big deal. Other than for actual racing events, nothing on that channel interests me anymore especially since the recently-discussed deterioration of Wind Tunnel. If nobody else wants practices, qualifying, and lower-tier racing, with NASCAR finally owning its own digital presence beginning next season, it would certainly end up online. I'm not so confident about F1 because Bernie is so greedy but, then again, if one knows where to look, F1 can be easily found and watched with English commentary through "alternate means." ;-)

Dot said...

You can already tell that SPEED doesn't really want nascar coverage. Why is it that Race Hub is only shown once a day? And yet, the other shows are on twice. Most shows on cable are run twice. I like this in case I miss the first showing, I can watch it later or DVR it.

I just know that I am tired of being treated like a 2nd class citizen in the TV world because I'm a race fan.

Rick said...

I would love to see Nascar get their own network. But if they do I hope they will gear it toward the true hard core Nascar fans. I don't want to see any more of this crap where they keep trying to gear it toward some young punk hip hop crowd because trying that has gotten them no where except for a bunch of empty seats and droping TV ratings. The Nascar crowd has always been a blue collar red neck crowd thats the crowd that made them big. Also I understand that cable rates will ptobably go up some thats fine but don't make the cost crazy.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Golf and Tennis broadcast live events - NASCAR is the ONLY major sport without a cable network of its own that broadcasts its own events.

Anonymous said...

Reading all the linked stories it seems that the potential bidders have increased - from ESPN/TBS/SPEED (racing only) + FOX/NBC/CBS to adding NBCSN/CBS SN/Fox Sports1. from 6 bidders to 8 bidders. This does not even consider MLB network. But yet programming - NASCAR - may decrease and MLB is about maxed out - on almost every night of the week somewhere. Some network is going to lose out in one of the remaining sports to be decided MLB or NASCAR as NFL, college football, CFL, Lacrosse and Soccer all have TV contracts.

The argument that you would only accept a NASCAR channel IF your cable system carried is your problem. Ask those that did not and may still not have NFL network or perhaps MLB network or Tennis channel.

Do not underestimate NBC SN and NASCAR. they may get back in.

Anonymous said...

has anyone noticed that besides qualifying and practices- NASCAR related - NOTHING is worth watching any more with possible exception of RACEDAY which us produced at NASCAR Media Group and was ported over from Fox Sports Net many years ago. besides that it is all major fluff and talking heads. Victory Land does not even originate from Victory Lane!. Fox (or is it NMG?) did away with portable stage they used in Victory Lane. Trackside is a major joke - and NASCAR live is a recap of what you already were told and replay of replays you just saw.

There was once a time when people actually watched these programs. not sure what changed.

Jake(Coffeeshop42) said...

Colorado:You couldn't have said it any better.And Dot,that last line also rings so true.My(and im guessing many peoples)dreams are of a NASCAR network that represents everything the sport is rather than what the brass wants it to.We'll have to see if FOX(or anyone else)wants to play ball.

Sally said...

Othe sports can afford to host their own channel because they have multiple games every week. On a good weekend, Nascar has only 3 events to cover. Unless they take over covering lots of other racing series, there's no way they can make a go of just Nascar programming. Besides, if Nascar controls the content, will we get anything other than the "All is perfect in Nascar" party line? Remember what happens when anyone tries to point out anything that isn't perfect with the sport or it's management.

boutitbenza699 said...

if Speed does get blown up to make room or Fox Sports 1, then might as well move all NASCAR practices and Qualifying coverage to YouTube next year. the internet has a bigger presence these days and could try to do that next season.

it could work, i meant YouTube would love to stream live NASCAR events, after all recently, YouTube teamed up with WWE to bring a pre-show for it's PPVs. so what better way then to get started with a possible change of NASCAR on TV, then by streaming Practice and Qualifying on YouTube with the announce teams of the weekends races.

this will work if NASCAR is still not interested with launching a 24/7 Network dedicated to NASCAR.

Fed UP said...

Sometimes, you just need to stop, take a look around and regroup.

IMO, this is the end of Speed. I can't see any current network taking over practice, nor the truck series. (which btw..the truck series has the best coverage around-even including motormouth jr in the mix.)

If it goes to network tv its going to be different. But, if it goes to cable, many of us have already cut cable, and won't see it either. I'm not paying extra for a motor sports channel.

Have to wait and see....change is hard. Hopefully, the best decision will be made.

Anonymous said...

It just sucks that NA$CAR may stomp out anything in it's path, again.
If SPEED was to turn into a NA$CAR channel, or just totally change and the Daytona/Charlotte Mafia starts a TV channel up, what happens to all the other racing series that have struggled for exposure for so long with quality racing, that finally had an outlet on SPEED? WOO Sprints and LM's, the DIRT mods, ARCA, all the series that Lucas Oil sponsors (which I'm sure will go away with no TV).
There is so much motorsports, land, air, and water, that the rights can be had for dirt cheap, because they would kill for the exposure. Prototype and GT racing is safe because the France's just sucked all that up.
There is more (and better) racing in the world than NA$CAR. The Australian Super V8's, where Marcos Ambrose came from) is just as, if not more entertaining than the Truck series. Which is just ride 249 laps, then take the leader out.

Anonymous said...

One has to wonder why, if a Nascar channel is such a great idea it hasn't already been done?
Certainly Nascar has the money if they chose to spend it.

Jimbacca said...

Speed should be what it was. All kinds of racing. I shouldn't have to wait for hte offseason to see BTCC DTM etc. You shouldn't have to need access online to see all the racing (speed2).

A nascar car channel? Speed even runs out of things when they do the all nascar all the time days. Nascar sanctions far more then just 3 races a week btw.
I hope they keep speed and do a little less scripted reality shows. It's been a rather psychotic channel over the past few years. Changing persona's.

Mike in Pittsburgh said...

Fox buying Speedvision was the beginning of the end. Truck racing Grand Am, Outlaws V8 supercars the K&N and modified are great but they are slowly killing it by putting crappy NASCAR and other shows on and cutting the motorsports that was on. Fuel took a bullet to the brain when it turned in to the UFC channel. If they start putting others sports on speed it will be the be all over for anything that I want to watch.

fbu1 said...

Sports TV seems to be built on a foundation of mercury. If the TV rights to the US Men's National Soccer Team can be granted to Al Jazeera, anything can happen. SPEED's programming has shifted dimensions so often over the last few years that nothing would be a surprise.

A while back, I made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the new incarnation of TNN could be a venue for NASCAR programming because of its name recognition among racing fans. Now, I'm clucking my tongue in contemplation that perhaps NASCAR really should take an equity interest in an existing network if SPEED goes away. If NASCAR had an equity position that allowed it to take priority on racing weekends, the network could either produce other racing programs or show reruns of Club Dance, just as long as our NASCAR racing jonz was satisfied. The Sprint Cup race could possibly be syndicated nationally a' la MRN/PRN. Just a thought, but a little more serious this time.

One last comment: I can watch youtube, netflix and live programming via the ustream app on my $99 Android tablet. It is certainly not my first choice for watching a movie, but it shows that the technology is in place for imaginative folks to create new non-traditional venues. IMO, NASCAR should not sign any long term deals that lock it into old technology.


Charlie said...

It will be interesting to see how all this works out. I don't see a Nascar channel. Nascar is not the growing sport it use to be. Nascar is in decline. I don't see a company investing in a sport that is losing fans and viewers.

Spring Rubber said...

Would it be possible that News Corp could turn Speed into Fox Sports One (what a weird name to use in the United States...wonder if that will change), and then they could shift some of the current Speed programming over to Fuel starting in 2015?

bevo said...

I agree that it looks like the end of SPEED. It's obvious that FOX has followed a plan of benign neglect for the channel the past four years. FOX came in at the high water mark of NASCAR nationally with the thought that it was a property that could sustain the growth and that would create companion programming to fill the days without races. As we've all seen ratings fall, attendance fall,sponsors leave, manufacturers leave it's pretty plain to see where television coverage is going too.

I see NASCAR once again becoming a predominately regional sport. There will still be pockets of interest here and there but the chance to really put it on a national level with the NFL,MLB and NBA has passed. Leadership in Daytona and Charlotte got fat and happy on the tv money and failed to change the culture of NASCAR. Growth is in the youth demographic and they totally missed that boat.

With as much money as FOX is paying for the NFL,MLB and regional networks (Houston,LA,Dallas Fort Worth just to name a few)there is no way they will pay NASCAR anywhere near what they have been in the past. I agree with other comments that PPV is in the cards for races.

glenc1 said...

anon 6:29, that is is the problem. They never choose to spend their own money. NASCAR will cooperate with some other group to spend the other group's money, but not their own. Penny-wise and pound foolish, IMHO. If there was no market for a racing channel, why was Speedvision started in the first place? Someone must've had a business plan, and at that time, NASCAR was only a small portion of it. It seems to me it would not be difficult for FOX to put practice, qualifying and some other small programming on one of their many networks. What does FX show during the day, for example? But whether or not the ratings are there to justify such a thing, I have no idea (there is obviously a cost for the people that you have on staff to cover it, although they are there already anyways.) Or perhaps some other small network would be willing to broadcast using a FOX/ESPN staff. I guess time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Speed lost me as a viewer when they changed from SpeedVision and became the NASCAR channel. Most of the current content is NASCAR stuff and if you are bored silly by cars making left turns all the time, they don't offer much else. I liked it better when they showed more how to shows and even "The Lost Drive In" with Bruce Dern was more interesting. Won't miss it if it goes.

Anonymous said...

If NASCAR moves to something I currently don't pay for, then no NASCAR for me.

I'll miss Grand-Am, F1 + NASCAR in that order but I'll quit chasing them to a different cable tier.

I wonder where Grand Ams purchase of ALMS today falls in all this.

ALMS turned into a joke with live internet TV and abbreviated coverage on ABC/ESPN the next day. I'm not sure if all the races were even shown the next day.

ALMS has the tech but definitely not the competition.

I also don't see where there enough good content to fill 24 hours 7 days a week for all the players. ESPN the supposed leader, shows garbage most of the day. If anything, a new sports network will mean higher bids to broadcast the sports with the costs being passed down to the viewer by a higher carry fee or more commercials.

Anonymous said...

The CBS reality show Big Brother drew 6.1 million viewers last night going up against NFL football.

The Bristol race on ABC, up against nowhere near the same level of compitition drew 5.9 million viewers.

I'm sure Big Brother costs CBS peanuts to produce. Not exactly the same as a NASCAR race, even before the rights fees.

Its tough enough for the races to draw any viewers. I just don't see how all the other stuff such as qualifying and practices can justify their airtime if they can't draw viewers.

@AuzGrams on Twitter said...

I think NBC Sports Network is going to carry A LOT of the practice/qualifying/race content in the new TV contract. They will showcase NASCAR.

Anonymous said...

I look for a split between FOX/FOX Sports One and NBC Sports Network in the new contract.

I don't see ESPN renewing and TNT definately wants out. FOX is the only one of the current partners that has expressed future interest. Also NBC Sports Network is one of the only non partners that has even mentioned the fact NASCAR is going up for bid.

Ultimately I think NASCAR is in for a harsh reality check with this upcoming round of negotiations. I'm really not sure anyone is interested.

I feel the most for the Truck Series. I could see NASCAR dissolving that series completely if a TV partner is not found.

FindyCar said...

I think NASCAR will buy SPEED from 20th Century Fox and turn it into the NASCAR Network. They already are getting back from Turner so it's all pretty clear what they wanna do.