Did You Notice? … NASCAR still hasn’t signed a new TV contract for both its Cup and Craftsman Truck series beyond the 2024 season?
An article by Jon Ourand of the Sports Business Journal Monday (Oct. 16) gave an update this week, making clear a deal that was initially expected by late summer now has “no timetable” for being announced anytime soon.
At this point, only the NASCAR Xfinity Series is set going forward; their races will move to CW-affiliated networks beginning in 2025 at a cost of $115 million per year. It’s the first time the NXS has been split into its own, separate TV rights contract since the sport’s first blockbuster deal in 2001.
Why is this lag time happening? I’m going to give some perspective while laying all my bias out on the table. Keep in mind I’ve worked in sports television production my entire career, including many NASCAR races with some of the major players in the industry.
Let’s start with the facts. NASCAR has had three major TV contracts since “nationalizing” all their races through linear networks beginning in 2001. Based on when these contracts were signed, things are not as far behind as you might think.
|NASCAR TV Deal||Networks Involved||Date Announced|
|2001-06||FOX, FX, NBC, TNT||Nov. 11, 1999|
|2007-14||FOX, TNT, ESPN/ABC||Dec. 7, 2005|
|2015-24||FOX, FS1, NBC, NBCSN (now USA)||July 23, 2013 (NBC)|
Aug. 1, 2013 (FOX)
Based on that history, it’s not unprecedented for the next big Cup Series TV deal to be announced shortly after the Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway. I also think it’s reasonable to expect an eight-year contract, keeping Cup and Trucks in line with the NXS deal signed above.
It’s important to note FOX and NBC have remained consistent frontrunners throughout the duration of the negotiating process. They’ve covered the sport (in FOX’s case) for 20-something years and know what they’re getting into here. There are no surprises.
So why is the deal not done? People are basing their concerns on expectations raised that this contract would already be completed. And it does seem NASCAR’s been caught flat-footed a bit after flouting some initial confidence.
From off-the-record conversations I’ve had these past few months, I’d be shocked if FOX is the problem. The first half of the NASCAR schedule fits its sports calendar like a glove, couched neatly after NFL, college football and (most) of its college basketball coverage. The network recently hired Kevin Harvick to fill an open booth analyst position for 2024 and seems to have a heir-in-waiting at play-by-play (Adam Alexander) if 74-year-old Mike Joy decides to hang it up heading into the next version of the contract.
Unlike NBC, FOX also has programming hours to fill with its 24-hour sports channels, FOX Sports 1 and 2. Even with streaming cutting viewership, it’s remained plenty capable of supporting big games like the MLB playoffs, FBS college football and more.
I think what to watch for at FOX is how many Cup races they’ll get. That number has varied through the years, from 13 to nearly half the schedule. Currently, it does the first 16, plus two exhibitions (Clash at the Coliseum and the All-Star Race) before NBC takes over for the final 20.
It feels like Fox could take or leave any of the races after the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend. Sure, the wineries of Napa Valley are the perfect way to celebrate their season-ender at Sonoma Raceway in June. But those races are typically some of the lowest rated all season; it wouldn’t surprise me if they were carved out as part of the six-race package NASCAR is reportedly shopping to a third network.
The other question is whether FOX will continue on with the Truck Series. NASCAR has a remote facility based in Charlotte that it’ll likely utilize for NXS broadcasts, in partnership with the CW, in order to make things cost-efficient. Perhaps the Trucks are where it can experiment with a streaming platform, someone willing to take racing on for the first time while utilizing NASCAR Production facilities and personnel to air those broadcasts.
I do think, though, the most likely scenario is Trucks stays right where it is. It’s a good link to FS1’s Race Hub and other NASCAR-related programming the network airs once its portion of the season is complete.
That brings us to NBC, who recently shuttered NBCSN and moved its NASCAR races over to USA Network. It’s also been pushing its streaming service, Peacock, which airs at least one NTT IndyCar Series race exclusively on that contract.
Unfortunately, the reach of Peacock is limited, with just 24 million subscribers, and it lost a whopping $651 million in the second quarter of 2023. It leaves NBC in a far more difficult financial position, as its main sports contract outside the NFL, the Olympics, has vastly underperformed. Record-low ratings during the most recent Summer and Winter Olympics leave that $8 billion investment in a precarious position.
Even with those financial constraints, NBC is also very interested in another lucrative sports deal: the NBA. Its current $2.6 billion-a-year media rights deal is expected to go for as much as $8 billion in the next contract. By comparison, FOX and NBC combined currently pay NASCAR $820 million per year.
That’s the golden goose for any network, especially considering the NBA’s connection to the coveted age 18-to-34 advertising bracket. Just this week, a 7 p.m. ET preseason game pulled 109,000 of those viewers; NASCAR had just 125,000 for its race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Is NBC more focused on pooling its remaining resources toward that bid? If so, would it be able to afford both the NBA and NASCAR? The doomsday scenario would be NBC pulls out, leaving the entire second half of the schedule opened up with limited suitors. ESPN also has its own cash flow problems and will need to not only pony up money for the upcoming NBA deal; there are new College Football Playoff games in the expanded format it’ll need to bid on.
CBS can’t handle the second half due to its NFL schedule; NASCAR would need to literally move the playoffs to Saturday, if that could even work. Turner seems a better fit for the six-race summer deal, a package it picked up in the past (2007-14), rather than a full second-half partner.
There is some good news from the streaming side as we wait for the final contracts to come out. Thursday Night Football, in its second season for Amazon, is thriving. The audience of nearly 15 million is over 70% more than when the games were shown on NFL Network in 2021. The median audience is also much younger, connecting to fans that have cut the cord on cable and moved to full-time streaming.
It may mean 2025 is the perfect time for NASCAR to make the switch over to that world. Amazon is reportedly interested; the question is whether it’ll be willing to pay a price increase to pick up a sport with an aging demographic. Apple could also be a great, under-the-radar option after a successful first season taking on all of MLS. Those might also be backups if, for some reason, NBC chooses to go another direction.
The final piece in this waiting game is the impasse we haven’t heard much about in recent weeks: owners negotiating over the charter deal. NASCAR still hasn’t reached an agreement to extend it beyond 2024, although the sides reportedly met back in September.
It would make sense for both these deals (TV and charter) to be rolled out all at once to provide clarity for major stakeholders. It’s notable the sport didn’t see any new owners jump into the fray full time this year after a wave of star power the past few years (see: Michael Jordan, Pitbull). The recent charter market appears healthy, headlined by a record-$40-million transfer from Live Fast Motorsports to Spire Motorsports, but all the same players are playing the game.
NASCAR needs another round of fresh faces to jump in. Unfortunately, all the hot names interested in racing right now are making a move … toward Formula 1. Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes were the latest to do so, investing in AlphaTauri instead of turning their attention toward stock cars.
A charter deal would be aided by the teams knowing just how much money was at stake in the new TV contract. So there’s a little bit of running in circles as the talks continue; which side will blink first?
I think everyone involved in the sport just hopes someone will start blinking soon.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …
- What happened with Ryan Blaney‘s car in inspection shouldn’t happen. End of story. But kudos to NASCAR for coming clean with an embarrassing mistake and fixing it before Team Penske appealed.
- The drivers still winless this year are an eye-opening list, including Kevin Harvick in his final season and Chase Elliott in his worst. Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace are also two playoff stalwarts who have come close but remain in winless droughts.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.