The rumor that we’ve been hearing recently has unfortunately come true – NBCSN is going to come to a swift close by the end of the year. Now, how does that affect racing moving forward? Right now, NASCAR, the NTT IndyCar Series as well as IMSA all air on NBC Sports. Without SN, this absolutely affects them in a great deal.
It has varying affects for each too. As in NASCAR’s case, their TV deal doesn’t end until the after the 2023 season. So, they have this year, next year and the year following under NBC’s portion of their contract which equates to basically the entire second half of the year each season.
Per today’s announcement, NASCAR races that won’t air on network TV will move to USA. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the sense that USA does get some ratings, but will many people consider USA a legitimate “racing network?”
Plus, with how much NBC paid for NASCAR, I have a feeling that a majority of the Cup Series races will air on NBC with a few sprinkled in on USA between. The major ones at the very least including the postseason should mostly air on NBC, so nothing will necessarily change on the NASCAR end.
For IMSA, it likely means most of their races will unfortunately go to USA. Their contract goes through 2024, so this could hurt them in the long run. Their fan base is way less than NASCAR’s and a move to USA or even to Peacock could greatly affect their future moving forward.
Same for INDYCAR.
The fan base isn’t big enough to force their races behind a paywall. I’m not naïve enough to think hundreds of thousands of folks are going to fork out extra money to watch an INDYCAR or IMSA race behind a paywall. It’s simply not going to happen. Period.
So, how do you move forward with the best interest of each of the respective series and not kill the brand over the next few years in the process?
INDYCAR is sitting in the best spot though among the trio because their contract with NBC Sports is up at the end of the season. 9 of their 17 races are already on network TV in 2021. Only the doubleheader in Texas (May 1-2), Road America (June 20), Toronto (July 11), Nashville (Aug. 8), Indy Road Course (Aug. 14) and Long Beach (Sept. 26) are on NBCSN.
I think they’ll keep NBCSN going for a little more while which should lead to Texas and even Road America being fine. Even Toronto could still be good so long as the Olympics still end up going this summer. That’s an entirely different conversation but while the prospects of the Olympics going looks bleak, if they do indeed end up playing the games this July/August, then NBC needs SN to make it happen.
That should mean Texas, Road America and Toronto are fine and maybe even Nashville since that airs on the day of the Closing Ceremonies.
That will just leave the Indy Road Course and Long Beach but NBC can honestly pick up Indy since that’s the Brickyard Super Weekend. Two of the final three races are on NBC anyways with Long Beach as the finale could shift to NBC as well.
Then, if I’m INDYCAR, I’d negotiate the hell out of the contract for 2022. NBC has been a great partner and its been great to have every race on one network. If NBC still wants the Indy 500, then force at the very minimum 70-75% of the races each season to be on network NBC and the rest on USA. If they can’t match that, then see what CBS or ESPN/ABC would want. Even Fox Sports who has the first half of the NASCAR season for Cup and NXS, the full Truck Series season and NHRA.
INDYCAR can be very valuable to a TV provider as they’d come cheaper than NASCAR and are a rising sport still. The thing for them is, will NBC offer more to INDYCAR and give them the streaming rights back than the others? Remember, ESPN/ABC didn’t pay as much as NBC and surely didn’t promote them like they should have. Do you really want to go back to the way it was with them? They only wanted the Indy 500 and wanting really nothing to do with INDYCAR past that. You can’t go back to that happening again as all the races outside of Indy are valuable too.
Is it better to get paid more and the higher exposure even if some races are behind a paywall?
At the end of the day, all these series have to look out for the greater good and their futures and have to ensure a way to stay in front of a paywall, not behind it.
Racing has shown that they can be pandemic proof. They’ve got a great playbook on how to still go on even under dire circumstances. Don’t think that won’t play into as a negotiation chip. With stick-and-ball sports still very susceptible to any future viruses, racing has shown that they can keep going.
TV networks notice that. In a day and age where TV rings king, to have a sport that can keep going and be live will play a pivotal role.
INDYCAR has to do the right thing with their contract up first.