After televising the sport from 2001-2006, NASCAR is making its return to NBC. After Fox had announced last year it was extending its agreement with NASCAR till 2022 to televise the first 13 races of the season including the Daytona 500, speculation began as to what would happen to the TV rights for the rest of the NASCAR season. Since 2007, TNT had aired several races in the summer with ESPN airing the closing stages of the season including the Chase/Sprint playoffs.
John Ourand and Tripp Mickie of Sports Business Journal report that NBC has won those rights back starting after the 2014 season, beating ESPN and Turner Sports to the line:
"ESPN and Turner Sports will be out of the NASCAR business after next season, according to several sources. NASCAR is planning a press conference later today to announce that Fox and NBC will share rights to the sport starting in 2014. Financial terms of NBC’s deal and its broadcast plans aren’t known, but the network had been pitching NASCAR on returning the Sprint Cup series to broadcast TV and could air races on Sunday afternoons on NBC prior to "Sunday Night Football." NBC also picked up rights to the second half of the Nationwide Series. It’s unclear if those races will be on NBC or NBC Sports Network."
NASCAR ratings have been going down since the sport's peak several years ago. However, NASCAR is still quite a powerful TV entity. To put it in perspective, NASCAR races still averaged 5.8 million viewers last season in spite of ratings declines in recent years. The Stanley Cup Playoffs on NBC only averaged 1.467 million viewers. NASCAR represents four times the audience of the NHL. The 5.8 million average viewership also beats every NBA regular season game and greatly surpasses MLB regular season numbers.
NASCAR has a press conference this afternoon where the deal will be officially announced, but this will be NBC's biggest rights victory since the launch of NBC Sports Network. Make no mistake – NASCAR is a major American sport. And with IndyCar and Formula One and the dissolution fo Speed, NBCSN may be becoming the network of choice for American racing fans. NASCAR immediately becomes NBC's most valuable sports property after the Olympics and Sunday Night Football.
If NBCSN picks up just a few Sprint Cup races and the Nationwide schedule it will be a huge victory for a sports cable network that's been somewhat forgotten in the wake of Fox Sports 1's impending launch. After missing out on MLB and various college rights, it's a statement by NBC that they're still a player in the great sports rights arms race.
UPDATE: NBC and NASCAR made it official this afternoon. Here's what we know:
-NBC has rights to the last 20 races beginning in 2015 including the entire Chase. This leaves the first 3 races that currently air on TNT still up for grabs. (Possibly back to Fox?)
-13 of the 20 NASCAR races will air on NBC Sports Network with 7 airing on NBC. This is massive for NBCSN. Massive. It's a risk for NASCAR though facing declining ratings and a move to a cable network that has much less awareness than ESPN.
-NBC will air the last 19 races of the Nationwide calendar with a 15/4 split between NBCSN and the NBC mothership.
-Rights to various NASCAR regional series and the end of season awards banquet.
And for the record, here is ESPN President John Skipper's response on losing NASCAR rights.
And in a "cat out of the bag" moment, NASCAR head honcho Brian France revealed the first half of the Nationwide schedule will be on Fox Sports 1. That would lead me to believe it's very likely the final 3 NASCAR races unaccounted for will end up on Fox in some capacity as well.