Nascar Shifts TV Rights to NBC Starting In 2015

Longtime Partners ESPN, Turner Outbid As Rights Prices Climb

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A big shift is taking place on the racing front as sports-rights costs kick into higher gear: NBC Sports Group has cut a deal with Nascar starting with the 2015 season, leaving ESPN and Turner Sports in the dust.

Nascar's Daytona 500
Nascar's Daytona 500

NBC's 10-year deal covers rights to the final 20 of Nascar's yearly Sprint Cup Series races; the final 19 Nascar Nationwide Series events; and other content starting the year after next, said Nascar Chairman-CEO Brian France. Under the terms of the pact, the Peacock Network will also be home to the Chase for the Sprint Cup title. The move enables NBC to effectively take over the second half of Nascar's TV schedule currently televised by ESPN. (Nascar stages 36 Sprint Cup races a year.)

NBC Sports Group said it will show seven of the Sprint Cup races on its broadcast network and 13 across its new sports cable channel, NBC Sports Network. Among 19 Nationwide races, four will be shown on broadcast and 15 on the NBC Sports Network."It's the All-Star game every weekend," said NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus.

The news was first reported by SportsBusinessDaily, which said NBC will pay up to a 50% increase in annual rights fees from ESPN's current contract. Nascar and NBC declined to comment on details.

The move ends two of the longer relationships in sports TV. ESPN has,carried Nascar for 25 years: from 1981 to 2000 and since 2007 under its current deal. David Levy, president-sales, distribution and sports for Turner, said Nascar's price had become too prohibitive. "We think Nascar is an attractive property but we are disciplined in our approach to negotiating, sports rights and could not come up with a business model that was financially prudent for our company," he said.

Mr. France thanked ESPN and Turner for their work. "This isn't about the present. It's about the future," he said.

Fox Sports will continue to show the first half of Nascar's season after signing a $2.4 billion, eight-year extension last year that runs through 2022. Fox plans to launch the new Fox Sports 1 cable channel on Aug. 17. Mr. France told reporters on a conference call that both Sprint Cup and Nationwide races will appear on the new national competitor to ESPN.

Although Nascar averaged 7.3 million viewers on broadcast in 2012, down from 8.6 million viewers the year before, according to Nielsen, the market for sports keeps going up and up and up.

The appeal for networks is that TV viewers are less likely to DVR live sporting events and more likely to watch TV commercials. Nascar ranks as one of the nation's top sports properties along with NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and college football/basketball.

And the bidding wars for Nascar are not over. There's still a first half package of Sprint Cup/Nationwide races up for grabs, said Steve Herbst, Nascar VP-broadcasting and production.

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