Could ESPN and Turner be getting out of the NASCAR broadcasting business after the 2013 season?
In a report from the Sports Business Journal on Monday, the two networks are currently talking with NASCAR about the possibility. If ESPN and Turner got out of the sport a year before their current contracts are scheduled to end in 2014, Fox and NBC would assume their 2015 responsibilities a year early.
But any deal faces significant hurdles. Sources said it would have to be a complete switch, not a partial one in which Turner exits its six Sprint Cup races or ESPN exits part of its Nationwide Series season. That means it would require an agreement between four competitors — ESPN, Turner, Fox and NBC — and one property, which would be difficult to structure.
ESPN and Turner Sports are willing to sell their rights back to NASCAR for some sort of compensation. Fox Sports and NBC Sports Group are willing to buy the rights from NASCAR, but they feel they should be compensated for letting ESPN and Turner Sports out of their deals early. As the middleman, NASCAR would have to navigate those opposing interests.
Representatives from any of the TV companies or NASCAR declined comment to SBJ.
While it may seem surprising on the surface that ESPN and TNT would be looking to get out a year early, it makes sense, especially given the attention that's been paid to the new TV contracts that Fox and NBC signed beginning in 2015 worth over $4 billion. It would allow both networks to leave the sport immediately without a lame duck year.
When the new TV contract begins, Fox will add three Sprint Cup Series races to its current package at the beginning of the season, as well as the first 14 Nationwide Series races. NBC will have the final 20 Sprint Cup Series races as well as the final 19 Nationwide Series races. Currently, ESPN has the entirety of the Nationwide Series schedule, which, according to SBJ, is a bit of a budget buster in the first half of the season when ESPN is not broadcasting the Cup Series.