NBC and TNT apparently have bowed out of negotiations for the next megabillion-dollar, multiyear NASCAR contract, highly placed sources within NASCAR told Yahoo! Sports on Friday afternoon.
As it stands, NBC will make its swan song in 2006, televising the second half of the season.
In NBC's place beginning in 2007 likely will be ABC and ESPN. Although no contract has been signed between NASCAR and ABC/ESPN, sources confirm that NASCAR has been in talks with the networks, and they are the only other significant broadcast entity that can afford half of what is likely to be a total deal worth $4 billion over a five- or six-year period, through either 2011 or 2012.
"It's a done deal," a highly placed source told Yahoo! Sports at Lowe's Motor Speedway, site of Saturday's UAW-GM Quality 500. "I've double-checked it and NBC is definitely out."
If indeed true, it really is no surprise that NBC has bowed out. The peacock network has committed significant financial resources to the Olympics (through 2012) as well as its Sunday night NFL package due to begin next year.
Any significant increase in broadcast rights fees – from the current estimated $2.7 billion total package to the expected nearly $4 billion pact – would have been a tough financial pill for NBC to swallow.
ABC and ESPN have been trying to get back into NASCAR since they dropped out of the bidding for the current contract back in 2000. Numerous reports have surfaced in the past season that ABC president George Bodenheimer had made reacquiring NASCAR the most significant item on his agenda.
There is speculation that in conjunction with the new deal, ESPN2 likely would televise all Craftsman Truck Series races once that series' current deal expires and that ESPN would televise all Busch Series races beginning in 2007.
Various reports had ABC/ESPN coveting the middle part of the season in a proposed new deal if NBC had stayed the course. Rumors that Fox would have televised the first part of the season, ABC/ESPN the middle and NBC/TNT the final stretch had picked up steam in the last two months.
If ABC/ESPN makes the deal official, sources indicate the likelihood of a significant NASCAR presence on both entities, including the potential for Monday night and either Wednesday or Thursday night race broadcasts, branding them in much the way ABC did with Monday Night Football.
There also likely will be significant involvement with ESPN's other properties, particularly those in radio, the Internet and in "ESPN The Magazine."
An announcement on finalization of the deal is expected during the week preceding the final race of the season at Homestead, Fla., during the last week of November or during the first week of December in conjunction with NASCAR's annual awards banquet in New York City.
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Updated on Friday, Oct 14, 2005 8:01 pm, EDT