Only July 15, the day after the deadline window closed without Turner or ESPN making renewal bids, executives from NASCAR and NBC agreed to a meeting in New York City. The two groups reached a tentative agreement almost immediately, but it took eight more days to settle on the final details. The NBC Media Group will begin its coverage in the middle of 2015, after FOX again does the first half of the season.
For NBC executive Mark Lazarus, the deal was a no-brainer. He already had convinced his boss, NBC's Steve Burke, that the move made sense, even amid the declining ratings and tough ad market that ESPN and Turner faced.
"We think this is a major feather in our cap for our total business," Mr. Lazarus said in the SBJ report. "The importance to distributors and affiliates is a very strong business factor for us…NASCAR is a major passion point for fans, and we're there to serve all markets. I had to sell the value of NASCAR to my bosses. The NASCAR footprint made the sale easy. NASCAR's audience is truly all over the country."
But it's not just about distribution for NBC Sports Network. The deal also gives the cable channel a ton of new programming—more than 90 hours of live races per year and requisite shoulder programming. And it gives NBC's broadcast network a Sunday programming schedule that's particularly strong, with races leading into "Sunday Night Football" for up to seven weeks. "NASCAR is one element of a sports strategy that we have developed and executed," Mr. Lazarus said. "We have a five-year plan. We're only 1 1/2 years in."
As much as price, it was Mr. Lazarus' commitment and confidence that won over NASCAR officials. He's been a big supporter since the early 1990s, when he started working at Turner. In 1998, he was head of Turner Sports and cut the deal to share a national TV package with NBC.
According to SBJ, the 10-year NBC package is $4.4 billion for the second half of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series schedules. It also gets Cup and Nationwide practice and qualifying sessions, plus races in the K&N, Whelen Modified and Toyota Mexico series, the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony and season-ending banquets. NBC has promised the sanctioning body more promotions, more storytelling, more broadcast TV and, perhaps, higher ratings.
While some of his staff worried about losing ESPN's impact as a major supporter of the sport for several decades, NASCAR CEO Brian France trusted Mr. Lazarus and believed the upside in promotion and broadcast exposure for NASCAR outweighed the downside of leaving ESPN. "The integration of the assets that they are marshalling together, because this is such an important franchise for them, made it so compelling that it was just the right choice," Mr. France said at the time the new arrangement was announcement.
The $440 million annual value of the new deal is a 54-percent increase over the $285 million ESPN and Turner are paying for the same races. NASCAR still has 14 Nationwide and three Cup races to sell. Combined with the $300 million that FOX already pays annually, NASCAR's annual TV rights amounts to $740 million beginning in 2015.
"We wouldn't have made the change if it weren't a favorable arrangement for the industry financially," Mr. France said. "And it is, and everybody will benefit from that, as every league does."
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.