NASCAR will be seeking a 10% to 15% increase in rights fees for its next long-term media deal, sources tell Front Office Sports.
The stock car racing giant is set to kick off negotiations with incumbent TV partners Fox Sports and NBC Sports in early 2023.
Fox and NBC pay NASCAR a combined $820 million annually under a long-term deal that expires at the end of the 2024 season. NASCAR could seek a combined $900 million to $950 million annually under its next contract, said sources.
Brian Herbst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of media and productions, declined to comment on how much NASCAR is seeking.
But NASCAR is “bullish” on the upcoming negotiations, coming off a season in which TV viewership rose 4%, he said. The race circuit’s relationship with broadcast partners Fox and NBC has never been better, he added.
“We work really closely together, both from a scheduling perspective, but also just in terms of how they monetize the sport. Whether that’s pushing more brands and advertisers to spend on Fox and NBC,” Herbst said. “Fox had their third consecutive year of ad revenue increases in 2022. NBC had their second consecutive year of ad revenue increases in 2022. So it’s working for them — both from a viewership and an ad revenue perspective.”
As the incumbents, Fox and NBC will get first crack at the rights with an exclusive negotiating window. If no deal is reached, then outside bidders like ESPN, NASCAR’s former TV partner, and streaming giants like Amazon and Apple could join the fray.
NASCAR will likely seek a long-term 8-10-year deal. But it will do so in a tricky, challenging business environment.
Yes, the premium for live sports has never been higher. The NFL just negotiated over $100 billion in new rights deals with NBC, Fox, CBS, ESPN, and Amazon through 2033. The Big 12 and Big 10 scored new contracts at hefty increases.
But NASCAR will be competing for rights fees against the NBA, which is seeking its own long-term $50 billion to $75 billion deal.
Like the NBA, NASCAR may break off an exclusive streaming package. The addition of a streaming partner could help NASCAR boost its overall rights fees.
Said Herbst: “There’s going to be a broadcast component to this new media rights deal. There will be a cable component to this new media rights deal. And there will also be a direct-to-consumer or streaming component to the media rights deal.’
What other bidders could emerge? That’s where it gets tricky. Legacy media giants like ESPN parent Disney and Turner Sports parent Warner Bros. Discovery are in cost-cutting mode as the economy slides toward a recession.
ESPN, who previously partnered with NASCAR for 30 years, could be interested in a reunion at the right price, said sources.
But NASCAR, which went private in 2019, also has a strong story to sell in the upcoming negotiations. TV audiences are growing again, and NASCAR is succeeding with new venues and technologies.
- The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series averaged 3.04 million viewers this season, up 4% from last year. Fox’s average viewership (3.7 million) for its half of the season was the highest since 2017. Across its three national racing series, coverage was the highest in five years, with 30.28 billion total minutes consumed.
- NASCAR’s new “Clash at the Coliseum” in Los Angeles was a big hit. Fox averaged 4.28 million viewers for the preseason race at the historic venue, according to Sports Media Watch.
- Next year, NASCAR will give rival Formula 1 a dose of its own medicine by debuting a street race in downtown Chicago. NBC will televise the 2.2-mile, 12-turn race that will hit Windy City staples like Michigan Avenue and Soldier Field.
The rise of young drivers like NASCAR Cup Series champ Joey Logano and Chase Elliott has also energized racing fans still recovering from the retirement of stars like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Danica Patrick, and Jeff Gordon. Not to the mention the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001.
“We’ve talked about the youth movement of NASCAR for a while since we had the last generation of drivers retire and transition out,” said Herbst. “But in the last two or three years it felt real, with Chase Elliot winning in 2020, Kyle Larson winning in 2021, and Ross Chastain having one of the most vital moments in the sport’s history in 2022.”
Chastain’s “video-game move” to pass five cars at the finish line of Martinsville Speedway in Virginia has been viewed millions of time across social media.
Heading into media rights talks, Herbst believes NASCAR will be negotiating from a position of strength.
“We are pretty bullish on our outlook for 2023 and beyond. I think the trajectory of the sport has changed for the better, both from a viewership perspective and an ad revenue perspective,” he said. “And also just the relevancy of our brand and our sport today versus where we were five years ago. I think a lot of health signs and fundamentals of our business are heading in the right direction at the right time.”