FOX could move some Cup races to SPEED in coming years

Jay Busbee
From the Marbles

FOX has begun airing the possibility that some of its Sprint Cup races could air on SPEED.

That got your attention, didn't it?

The network, five years into its monstrous eight-year, $1.76 billion NASCAR broadcast deal, has begun informal discussions about moving some of the 13 regular-season Cup races it shows to the SPEED network it owns. FOX officials tell Sports Business Daily that as many as six races could be shown on the cable network.

"It would be very good for Speed to put Cup races there," said FOX Sports chairman David Hill. "You can see that when the All-Star Race is on it, and I'd like to put another couple of races on Speed if we can. That's just part of the dialogue, so we'll see."

While this deal may work well for FOX from a strategic perspective, it's sure to meet with protests from fans. NASCAR fans have a history of complaining about pretty much everything the sport does starting with the moment they stopped racing on sand, but this is a case where the fans may have a point. SPEED is not available on all cable packages, and many NASCAR fans have protested the placing of the All-Star Race on the channel.

There's also the very real concern of ratings decline as races jump channels. Last year, ABC moved most of its Chase races to ESPN, and ratings dropped by 14 percent. As SBD notes, the Sprint All-Star Race on SPEED this year had a 3.3 rating and 4 million viewers, while FOX averaged a 5.0 rating and 8.6 million viewers for its regular-season races. If this move were to go into effect, viewers would be switching from FOX to SPEED (and possibly back again), to TNT, to ABC, and finally to ESPN over the course of an entire season.

Hill called SPEED "the default NASCAR network," and indicated that NASCAR itself could be looking to create its own channel in the same way the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball have done. The NASCAR Media Group has both the production capability and the archival material to launch its own channel, if it so desired.

However, the difference between those other sports and NASCAR is that while they telecast some of their games during each week on their premium channels, they don't telecast their entire weekly offerings there. If you want to watch the NFL and you don't have to follow a specific team, you don't have to switch to the NFL Network. But if you wanted to see the Cup race broadcast on SPEED in a given week, you'd have no choice.

Of course, the introduction of NASCAR races on SPEED could entice more cable operators to add them to basic packages. On the flip side, as SBD notes, SPEED could charge more than the 30 cents per household, per month it demands of cable operators.

But critics of the move should also consider another possibility. NASCAR's TV packages end in 2014, and unlike in previous years, NASCAR is not, at the moment, in the proverbial driver's seat in terms of dictating price. A tough economy and depressed (though recovering) ratings have devalued the product from its early 2000s highs, and NASCAR faces a far different broadcast landscape. Pushing too hard for a favorable deal could leave NASCAR without at least one of its major broadcast partners.

The days of broadcast-only coverage are long gone; this is the new reality for NASCAR fans. Between this possibility, the six cable races on TNT, and the Chase on ESPN, cable is fast becoming the go-to source for racing.

FOX eyes shift of future Cup races to SPEED [Sports Business Daily]

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