Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NASCAR TV: The Cart Before The Horse

The word is on the street that FOX Sports is back in the driver's seat with NASCAR. The Sports Business Journal suggests that FOX is about to announce a new TV contract with the sanctioning body. The current agreement expires at the end of 2014.

It's pretty easy to understand why FOX wants to get this deal done. The company is about to kill the cable network we now know as SPEED. FOX uses words like "rebranding" to explain this change, but the bottom line is that the only TV network originally dedicated to motorsports has failed.

Once NASCAR allows FOX to sign on the dotted line for Sprint Cup Series races, SPEED will become the FOX Sports 1 cable network and carry sports of all types. The implied promise by FOX to NASCAR is that there will still be NASCAR programming on the new network. Unfortunately, history tells a different tale.

The very reason SPEED moved from Stamford, CT to Charlotte, NC years ago was to become the official NASCAR cable TV network. Prior to that transition, SpeedVision carried a variety of programming related to cars, boats, planes and motorcycles.  The new company buying the network made no bones about the fact their agenda was NASCAR. That company was FOX.

FOX was so committed to NASCAR that it became a partner in the official TV production arm of the sport, then called NASCAR Images. It was all going to be so perfect. FOX would continue to carry live Sprint Cup Series races, be a partner with NASCAR in TV production and open a 24 hour cable TV network to show those programs.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to NASCAR nirvana. Things quickly fell apart. FOX and NASCAR quietly parted company in the ownership of NASCAR Images. SPEED's management parade then saw an eroding of the commitment to motorsports and the rise of reality/lifestyle programming.

Ultimately, SPEED became a two-headed monster that made no sense. Motorsports on Friday through Sunday and some of the worst reality and lifestyle programming ever produced for American television on Monday through Thursday. All the while, the SPEED management never saw the big picture.

Now, it's NASCAR's turn to either remember the past or get burned by it. Once FOX has a signed deal for the Sprint Cup Series events, there is absolutely no incentive for the company to make NASCAR programming a priority for the new FOX Sports 1 network. As veteran fans know, this type of support or shoulder programming is vital to the sport.

From January through November, SPEED is the official TV network of NASCAR. Even without a Sprint Cup Series points race or any Nationwide Series events, SPEED is NASCAR's most important TV partner. Whether it is practice, qualifying or pre and post-race programming no network comes close to SPEED.

The network has single-handedly kept the Camping World Truck Series alive with sparkling old school coverage aimed directly at the TV viewer. Free from agendas and full of characters, SPEED makes the rag-tag series come to life with hardcore coverage of just plain racing.

The new agenda of FOX Sports is to use the millions of homes already subscribed to SPEED as a platform to chase the ESPN franchise and revenue stream by developing the FOX Sports 1 network. Broadening the agenda of the new network by adding mainstream sports like Major League Baseball, college football and news will deeply affect motorsports in general.

In the current TV deal, NASCAR went for the dollars and the results were not good. The sanctioning body was forced to buy back it's own digital (online) rights from TV partner Turner. ESPN has buried the Nationwide Series every year once college football begins and the network's Chase coverage has been panned.

FOX comes in with a splash at Daytona, makes a lot of noise about itself and then goes away. The only broadcast TV network left in the entire TV contract, this season FOX featured the Waltrip brothers and their self-promoting agendas. It's not hard to imagine that Darrell and Michael may be in the TV booth together in the new deal.

A NASCAR on FOX announcer hinted months ago on Twitter that FOX may be expanding the amount of Sprint Cup Series races the network covers in the new contract. It is no secret that there is no love lost between NASCAR and TNT after years of digital tension between the two companies that ultimately cost NASCAR tens of millions of dollars. Those 6 TNT races may be on the negotiating table.

The bottom line is that making a new deal for Sprint Cup Series races on FOX without locking in a full season of support programming on FOX Sports 1 would be a huge mistake. You can't sell the bacon without the sizzle and losing the practice, qualifying and news programs that now air on SPEED would be a disaster.

Many TDP columns were written asking SPEED to expand NASCAR programming to weeknights. The answer was no. The concept of a weekday morning NASCAR news and interview show, perhaps in cooperation with MRN/Sirius radio, was panned. The idea of a nightly NASCAR news show was openly mocked for years. Now, these issues have come full circle.

FOX is simply a company chasing higher profit margins through the conversion of an existing specialized cable TV network to a  general sports network. The company is not partners with NASCAR. FOX wants Sprint Cup Series races for its broadcast network until other sports can fill Sunday afternoons.

When the news of this new FOX deal with NASCAR emerges, keep an eye on what else is included other than the races. That should be a clear-cut sign of just how well NASCAR negotiated and also what real agenda of FOX emerges after the money changes hands.

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


thebobster10 said...

This TV contract could be the final nail in the coffin for the dying sport of NASCAR. The TV contract since 2007 and the combination of gimmicks like the Chase for the Sprint Cup since 2004 is slowly killing NASCAR.

Thank you Brian France for ruining this great sport. The only way to save it is to get rid of the Chase, rid of Brian France and create a 24/7 NASCAR Network directed by the fans.

Bruce Simmons said...

You make good points about what happens when FOX snags the NASCAR contract once again. And if they get those additional races that TNT used to cover, that would seem to mean more boogity boogity boogity coverage in the season.

But if SPEED becomes more of an all sports network once again, what becomes of the TRUCK SERIES coverage? Where do you think that would land? Would it get coverage on Fox, during off-hours, or an alternate Fox net?

It looks like the Truck Series might get the short end of the stick here if NASCAR doesn't stand up for it during contract negotiations.

Arian Gomez said...

I'm interested to see what's going to happen, to the tv rights for the new Nascar owned unified American Sports Car Series in 2014. Again, this is the worst that can happen to any motorsports fans that likes all forms of racing. The glory days of motorsports racing on tv have long gone behind us (other racing series on tv channels like TNN/ ESPN 2 circa late 90's) and hopefully I'm wrong about that.

But again, the putting Speed out of it's miresy (Old Yeller style) may not be such a bad thing after all, because I'm not proud how the network has become. At the end, things usually works out and maybe Motorsports coverage in America will actually be in better shape.

RPM said...

If NASCAR was smart they would get a broadcast network commitment for the ESPN portion of the schedule. ESPN has proven they do not care about anything that does not involve a stick and ball. Limiting coverage to cable access only serves to shrink the viewer access, even in this day and age.

NBC might be in a good position to re-enter the competition. They only have 1 NFL game to deal with and they have NBCSN begging for programming that could pick up where SPEED will end (practice,qualifying, ect).

MortonGroveDon said...

When this happens, and it will happen, expect every show on the new channel to reek of Waltrip.It isnt mentioned in the story, but I am sure that Darrell has been on the phone to the Fox offices asking them to include Mikey and himself as bargaining tools when they sit down with Nascar.Jaws mouth is watering at the chance to become the biggest thing in the sport. This is starting to remind me of when Vince McMahon started to include himself on every major angle on the top WWF shows.The only place to get away from them will be at the track, but this wont spike attendance, it willonly drive away the people fed up with him and his tired act.

w17scott said...

Mr Editor -
"CLICK!" ...that's the sound of this 50+ yr fan turning off FOX should this scenario become reality ...clearly a BZF money grab and further sullying of the France name ...having followed the sport on radio alone for many years and enjoying, albeit grainy and tape-delayed, television broadcasts, I've become fed-up with NASCAR leadership's disregard for fan interest ...my interest is on the knife's edge

Anonymous said...

I've always been too cheap to pay Comcast more money because they have SPEED's HD channel in a higher tier. At least I won't have that frustration anymore.

53 yr. fan said...

It will be just another take the money and run from the Daytona Beach Bozos. They are second only to the networks in not caring about providing a quality program.
NA$CAR and all it "partners" are
only concerned about how much money they can suck out of the sport. As I have said many times,
the product is stale and the presentations are stale.

It won't be too long before we see most of the stands covered with the
advertising banners as they were in Dover Sunday.

53 said...


Forgot to say I got a chuckle from
your cart & horse. I think the
next one we see will be the one
from the movie Animal House.

Buschseries61 said...

I wouldn't believe that the sport would be down this path a decade ago. Hopefully this is the worst case scenario. It's really a shame that the family/community enviornment that used to define this sport has been abandoned as most of the players are just looking after themselves.

GinaV24 said...

As long as the France family gets their money for the TV contract, they don't care one bit how the broadcast actually treats the sport.

As far as I am concerned, that is a proven fact based on my own observations of how things happened after the most recent contract renewal.

Brian France doesn't care about the fans, the drivers, or even stock car racing based on his actions since he took over.

It's a shame. It was one heckuva fun ride until the 3rd generation destroyed it.

I had said that I would continue to watch as long as Jeff Gordon was on the track in a race car. If the renewal goes through and Fox gets its way, I don't think I will bother. I will just catch up via the web.

Brandon Joseph said...

There seems to be a general thinking that sense practice and qualifying don't carry huge amount of viewers (aside from Daytona) they could find an OTA home on FUEL (which still fits the niche) which allows the UFC program on FUEL to move to Fox Sports 1. With Nascar having their digital rights back they will also be able to put all stuff that is not over the air on NASCAR.com

Lost will be the extra programs that have either failed to resonate or "jumped the shark", RaceHub, Raceday to name a few.

AncientRacer said...

Oh. Well. I, and others including JD and many Planeteers have been saying for a long time the heyday of NASCAR on TV is over even as its heyday as a sports draw is over. This is more proof and I don't blame FOX a bit for taking the course JD has outlined here and in previous columns. Newscorp in a business and FOX (Broadcast) TV / FOX Sports are parts of that business. In fact, I guess I can say I am not quite as crushed over all this as I was over the cancellation in 1968 of The Man From U.N.C.L.E..

Besides, I have found there are many interesting things to do on weekends that do not involve watching spec cars. I will, if they leave completely, seriously miss the live coverage of the occasional Modified race as well as the occasional live coverage of ARCA; two series I have, if I am honest with myself, become much more fond of than Cup or NNS or Trucks.

Thanks Bri...

KoHoSo said...

...the bottom line is that the only TV network originally dedicated to motorsports has failed.

Maybe it wouldn't have failed if it had stuck with its original vision and attracted a dedicated audience while Fox simultaneously had not piddled away its original opportunity to compete against ESPN with the Fox Sports Net concept.

Maybe I'm being unrealistic but I believe all these channels that no longer fit their original description -- Speed with no racing, MTV with no music, History Channel with no documentaries -- should have remained as they were. It seems to me that, by trying to widen the audience and/or go after nothing but the the younger male demographic, all they are doing is slicing up the available pie into smaller pieces where no channel can ever truly win.

Other than that, it will be fun in an admittedly mean sort of way to watch how the Waltrips go from the early-to-mid 2000s as being among the most beloved NASCAR personalities to the most despised if they continue to rule the roost on whatever is left of Fox's NASCAR coverage. If Awful Announcing ever cared about anything besides the "big three" sports, they could easily end up on that website's Mount Rushmore of shame masthead.

James said...

It comes as no surprise that FOX will be the primary network for NASCAR. I agree with the other posts that it might as well be the all access WALTRIP channel. If so, the DAYTONA BRAIN TRUST has made the final move to drive the fans away. All the posting in the world will not change the direction this "SHOW" has taken of late. NASCAR has become a wasted pursuit of time and effort. There is no way it can survive under these conditions. As Mr. Economaki has said, racing has become a charity, no longer supporting its teams or its heroes, just filling the pockets of management. The only thing I add, it was not supposed to be the retirement vehicle for the former participants. The dedicated fan, journalists and participants who invested in this grand adventure have to see the hopelessness of it all. The sport became Brian Frances, to do with what he wished, no fan ever signed up for this.

Maverick24 said...

In recent days we've seen news of NASCAR considering or implementing the following:

- A "new" Friday qualifying schedule. They really do think we're stupid don't they? Are we not supposed to remember that qualifying on Friday was the way it used to be in the 90s?

- Bringing back testing. Again, the way it used to be.

- And today I read they're considering returning to the provisional qualifying system and shelving the top 35 rule, and opening up a little more leeway on car setups. Yet again, going back to the way it used to be. Imagine that.

You're too late, Brian.

Given all these "back to the future" changes, it's too bad we can't bring back Bob Jenkins, Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, or Eli Gold for the TV booth. I believe it was an article I read on SBNation that mentioned the way these TV negotiations are playing could ultimately lead to a new network vying for some races. What I wouldn't give to see NASCAR racing return to CBS.

Colorado said...

Thank you Darrell. Thank you Brian. You two should get married.

RFMjr said...

It's sad to think that NASCAR is in such a position that they must accept a terrible contract. Is the situation so dire in the world of NASCAR that the networks are calling the shots? Is BF that bad of a businessman? Have the networks colluded to drive down the ratings in order to yield lower cost TV rights? Too much is unknown but it is becoming clear that there is a rat somewhere.

GinaV24 said...

Maverick24 - and Brainless France fiddles while NASCAR burned.

17972 B. C. said...

FoxSports1 get 40 baseball games in the deal,26 weeks in the MLB season,plus figure they will move their NCAA stuff over from FX, that pretty much kills Saturday racing for them. Truck series is interesting for them to figure out as only 8 of 22 are on Saturdays, and 4 of them are night races(I know that switches y2y).
From a strictly business standpoint JD,you would have to make me a pretty good argument why FS1 should have to supply the full season of practice and qualifying coverage, why should they cover for another rights holder? I personally think practices will be headed to streams, and Raceday lives on for a full season.Trackside is toast,but many thought it died during the last 2 years anyway.
Still believe ESPN keeps their half of NSC season,NBC could be interested, but a lot of races would need to land on NBCSN because of golf(and Olympics every 4th year) and ask IndyCar how NBCSN is doing for them.NNS could move, do not think ESPN will overbid to keep it, but every other sports network will still have to fit it in post Labor Day, as they all have NCAA deals now.Maybe an unknown takes them and trucks. To quote Dylan," The Times They Are a-Changin'"

Arian Gomez said...

Or TNN. Let's bring back TNN from the dead. Lol. I'm down for it.

Tim said...

Saw these paragraphs in an article about Fox's new deal with Major League Baseball:

Fox, which broadcasts a Saturday regular-season game each week under its current deal, will double regular-season game rights from 26 to 52 under the new contract.

Twelve of those will be exclusively shown on Fox, but the deal gives the network the right to air as many as 40 games on another nationally distributed Fox channel.

"We are continuing to evaluate the possibility of a national sports channel," Randy Freer, co-president of Fox Sports Media Group, said during a conference call. He added that no announcement on such a network was imminent.

Speculation has been that Fox will rebrand its Speed Network into a ESPN-style, all-sports network, and having major league baseball games to show on it would help greatly with distribution to cable and satellite providers.

Anonymous said...

For the life of me I don't know why FOX, David Hill, thinks we want to see the Waltrips.They both need to go away from all NASCAR broadcasts, people are SICK OF THEM. SPEED, itself can be OK, but their choice of on air talent gets an F.Get some intelligent, well spoken people , treat the sport and us fans with respect.PLEASE!

longtimeracefan said...

As it relates to much more than many realize, JD's article noted: "The sanctioning body was forced to buy back it's own digital (online) rights from TV partner Turner.

While I doubt that the Turner folks twisted anyone's arm in negotiating its digital rights buyout, it will probably become one of NASCAR's best moves ever.

It gives them two full years to get their digital ducks in a row before the new TV packages begin. Two years in the digital world is a very long time.

The potential for providing additional content not covered by the networks is huge. The possible, yet untapped, pool of invisible opportunities is mind boggling.

Kudos to NASCAR. Smart move.

Buschseries61 said...

I wanted to add something that I left out of my original comment. This does seem like karmic forces affecting NASCAR. When tv rights shifted from tracks to the sanctioning body, NASCAR left behind all three networks that helped raise the sport into a new league. NASCAR went for the money and picked FOX and NBC/Turner over loyal partners ESPN, TNN & CBS. While the new broadcast partners helped make NASCAR a nationally recognized sport in the early 2000's, we are seeing the negative consequences today as the networks move on to the next rising fad.

longtimeracefan said...

The most intriguing part of JD's article was this sentence: "The sanctioning body was forced to buy back it's own digital (online) rights from TV partner Turner."

Does that mean that the current state of nascar.com is so bad that it forced the NASCAR folks to write a multi-million dollar check?

I doubt it.

If anything, this one little bit of good news signals the beginning of a whole new era for millions of NASCAR fans worldwide. Those NASCAR folks who lobbied for this to happen, whoever they are, deserve a shout-out.

Want to see practice and qualifying, click. Miss the interview with driver X, click. Want to watch a rerun of the last race, click. How about that Talladega race when the old number 3 made that late race charge to the front, click.

The potential is huge, what they make of it will be the challenge.

NASCAR has two full years to work out all the bugs before the new TV deals begin.

Two years in the digital world is a very long time.


Sophia said...

Well, I don't see enough interested fans to warrant a NASCAR channel.

After all, haven't we real fans stopped watching races due to the horrendous coverage bad camera workings that now makes us miss the racing anyway?

I am now depressed what has happened to Wind Tunnel? Why is Dave gone so much? Why so many un-needed co-hosts? (Unless it's Robin Miller to talk Indycar and show that struggling but deserving series some love, that's ok! :) )

What about Truck races, indeed or the ARCA series?

AND: What about Formula 1? SPEEDs coverage was better than the Fox coverage which begins the race with the first lap and ends with the last. Thus no pre-race and no post race interviews :-(

Honestly, all tv stations look alike with the "Fake reality aka lifestyle programs." It's disgusting what TV has become. I avoid watching it but EVERYBODY from the news folks to my local Reds radio guys are talking of the white trash show about a kid named Honey B-- B--? ( I refuse to name this show or the "K" family show that's all over the media/news sites. How far humanity has fallen.

NASCAR is now lumped in with this stuff and WWE 'fights.'

Its very sad to read of yet another ESPN like channel. All sports is ruining itself due to greed.

Now that Cincy Reds are in playoffs, those game will NOT be shown on local Fox or national Fox but MLB network which many people a. don't get b. can't afford digital tv.

This makes me sad but just another saga of what's happened to modern tv and sports. Thankfully it's on radio but for folks that love watching it on tv, those days are over and who wants to go to a bar to watch a game??

We are just noticing it with NASCAR cause it was more specialized sport. None of my IRL (in real life) friends watch it and a couple of brothers no longer watch LIVE, or even DVR but may attend a race or 2 a year.

We are all finding other hobbies.

All because NASCAR was so full of itself it thought it could do no wrong.

Brian France should be kicked OUT of the sport.

But he's too busy covering up legal laws to protect his messy divorce/private life. Meanwhile, NASCAR is great at ruining the lives of drivers.

Alex Jordan said...

When Speed started it was the motorsports authority. Now thats not the case as just Fridays thru Sundays are dedicated to motorsports and mondays-thursdays feature nonmotorsports programming except Nascar Racehub. When Speed becomes Fox Sports 1 it will be interesting to see if Fox Sports 1 will be used for motorsports. I've heard that Fox wants to have more races and Turner wants more races too. It will be interesting to see if Fox and Turner get more races and if other networks bid for the rights. If other networks bid, I think it will be NBC. They can use NBC Sports Network to broadcast races as well as NBC. It will be interesting to see what happens.

sbaker17 said...

Is that a cart and a horse or a cart and a jackass? If the Fox people think I'll watch more Waltrip, they are mistaken.

Charlie said...

Is this new, maybe, FOX contract just a renewal of the races they have now plus maybe the races TNT had or is this for all the Sprint Cup races, from Daytona to the end of the chase at Homestead?

Could FOX say they want the whole schedule?

Rob Blount said...

I used to love Fox's coverage until about 2 or 3 seasons ago. They used to have the least amount of commercials, would actually show the debris, break out of commercial if a caution came out, etc. But now, they're possibly the worst of the three. I don't mind DW. I like him a lot. Especially during practice shows. He gives a lot of insight during the practice shows. He can be very bad during races though (Johnson learned from Danica to take hands off the wheel, someone should get inside burning jet-dryer and drive it down banking, etc). I didn't have a problem with Michael either. I like him a lot during Truck series races and didn't care during Cup races.

The problem I came to have with Fox was everything that they did that set them apart from ESPN/TNT, they reversed this season.

A lot of commercials, tight shots, don't break away from commercials for cautions. The worst is their side-by-side commercials. The commercials that they show all sponsor cars on the track. So they'd show the car on track that coincides with the commercial. Which is a joke. Completely defeats the purpose of side-by-side commercials. But then again, that's Fox's agenda.

I never thought I'd say it, but ESPN has become the best TV partner for actual race coverage. And that's not saying much for the state of NASCAR on TV.

Unlike many of you, I still love this sport. It's basically my life. I don't care if sometimes the races are boring or the TV coverage is bad. The Cubs still have a large fanbase and they haven't one a World Series in forever.

Dennis said...

Whenever I hear NASCAR is negotiating TV contracts, the number of commercials pops into my head. I wish NASCAR would put a cap on the number per hour. Of course, they won't. NASCAR may have started to grow the sport of stock car racing. But, it's no longer about bringing us racing. It's about being a business trying to maximize profit. The racing just happens to be the setting.

Anonymous said...

Want to see practice and qualifying, click. Miss the interview with driver X, click.

Want to watch the race live on your computer? $75 per year and you have to go through our co-branded Fox-NASCAR site. No deductions if you already get Fox Sports1, and $10 more if you want it on your phone.

Want to watch practice and qualifying? Sure, that'll be $25 a year. $5 more for your phone. We'll throw in all of the truck races for free.

Nationwide? Unavailable on any network but we have that for only $35 a year. Vintage races? Sure, we've got everything since the last TV contracts in 2000. $45 a year, we pick which two races are available each week. Sign up for the whole package and it's only $150. Entire amount collected in one payment, no refunds, automatic yearly renewals.

NASCAR isn't interested in you unless your wallet is open. They don't want you to watch content online, they want you force you to attend races at tracks that ISC owns.

Anonymous said...

Don't invest in tracks that host Cup races. The sport is already in a serious decline. They've lost it as far as competitiveness on the track. Now, hooking up with "Bart Simpson Motorsports," another nail is placed firmly in the coffin. Plus, if you add Dumb (MIchael) and Dumber (Darrell) Waltrips to the booth, already declining ratings will continue the fall.
Take a look at North Wilksboro Speedway. Imagine Charlotte, Darlington, Daytona, et all, with weeds growing. Five years and this sport is gone.

Anonymous said...

If the death throes of SPEED signals the death throes of LarryMac, Kyle Petty, Spencer, and Wallace, it will be worth it. Now if only The Motormouth Waltrips would take a 10-year vacation, my world would be fine.

Anonymous said...

funny that planateers want more NASCAR but less Waltrips. Sorry to keep FOX you have to keep whoever is the booth. You dont get to choose. They never ask the fan.

Alex Jordan said...

Rob- I agree with you that Fox's side by side coverage this year was a complete joke. They would just show the car who's sponsor was that of the commerical and show us nothing else. At least ESPN isn't doing that with their Nascar Nonstop coverage.
JD mentions that both Waltrips could be in the booth in the next deal. If they are I hope its for the Truck races. Fox has a good booth and that doesn't need to change.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR you need to get your act together TV coverage needs to improve NOT go away!!! Nor take a back seat to ANY other sport!! The time is NOW....

Anonymous said...

FOX is pretty smart. They see/saw that NASCAR hit its peak a few years ago and thanks to Brian France the sport has declined for numerous reasons (won't list them here) and NASCAR ratings won't improve anytime soon. The fact is American TV viewers like football, baseball, basketball and hockey more than NASCAR and there is nothing wrong with that.

.Less mikey not more mikey said...

WAit a second.. Let me get this
str8. Some folks think that the
FOX ???? DW fine but Mikey is a
ticking time bomb.
He never knows which voice to use
or how loud he is.
Are we saying that Fox is going
to do all ofthe races ?
Excuse my stupid rambling. Anytime
I hear that mikey is GOING TO Do

Truck Driver Training said...

My fingers are crossed. I am hoping for the best of the sports. I'm a very big fan of racing specially NASCAR.