NASCAR’s reported shakeup with its TV deal could have huge implications for open wheel racing.
According to the Sports Business Daily NASCAR is leaving ESPN for NBC, and potentially NBC Sports. Details aren’t available at the moment, but it appears to be for the second half of the NASCAR season and includes the Nationwide Series as well. A key factor that isn’t public is how many, if any, Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series races be on NBC Sports, the main home of the IZOD Indycar Series, and the American home of Formula One.
NBC Sports, formerly Versus, has invested in Indycar, covering the Firestone Indy Lights series, carrying hours of Indy 500 qualifying and creating Indycar36, a reality show that highlights Indycar drivers. In my opinion it’s all but certain that NBC Sports will carry at least part of the NASCAR weekend, because I doubt NBC is willing to put Nationwide qualifying up live on their main channel on Saturdays, especially during college football season. So my fear comes from the network plans to balancing two schedules that overlap.
The IZOD Indycar series calendar is almost certain to change next year, but as of today three Indycar races directly conflict with the Sprint Cup schedule in the second half and two more conflict with Nationwide Series. The biggest crushes are going to be on Saturdays in the fall for NBC, which already has contracts to carry college football. In October there is one Saturday where there is football, the Nationwide race at Kansas and the first double header at Houston all overlapping. Which race gets shown tape delayed on NBC Sports? Because we all know it won’t be the college football match up.
This could be a good thing for open wheel. Indycar has been dying on NBC Sports, no one but the dedicated fans find the races there. If NASCAR moves to the channel it could move it further down the cable list and bring it more exposure. That’s the hopeful scenario.
The other positive scenario I see is that there would be so many conflicts between Indycar and NASCAR events that NBC Sports decides to let Indycar out of its contract. With ABC/ESPN losing NASCAR there are some holes in their programing. ABC has a lengthy history with the Indy 500 and open wheel, if they were willing to pick up the rest of the schedule on the ESPN family of networks it would be an improvement for Indycar. ESPN is still the home of the casual fan and the network, even given its rating decline, is a massive promotional machine. If Indycar were to move its NBC Sports races to ESPN I’m certain there would be an immediate bump in ratings.
The thing that scares me is that NBC Sports will try to do both, and be able to get away with giving NASCAR preferential treatment. When the two series conflicts the Indycar race would be shown after the conclusion of the NASCAR event on tape delay. Any benefit in following a NASCAR race would be cut by pissing off the devoted fans who like to watch races live.
There are only a few people who know what this deal will mean to for Indycar, and they aren’t talking yet. Hopefully we’ll know soon how this will be handled, and hopefully things will get better, or at least offer an out clause.