After the 2014 NASCAR season concludes, ESPN will be out of the NASCAR game for the time being. Fox retained their rights for 2015 and beyond with their new contract, and NBC swooped in to pick up the rights from ESPN. Needless to say, ESPN’s pool of NASCAR talent is likely going to start getting picked at by those two networks in the coming months. The first defection? Pit reporter Jamie Little, who’s heading to Fox after covering both the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series with ESPN since 2007.
Little initially worked under the Fox banner with Speed in 2002 and 2003, and bounced around with other networks before catching on with ESPN during their coverage of NASCAR and the X-Games. Fox picking her up for the 2015 is a nice get, solidifying their already solid NASCAR coverage while also keeping a recognizable face away from NBC’s coverage.
I’m wondering where the rest of ESPN’s talent pool is going to end up landing. Obviously Fox isn’t going to sign up everyone and create a stable of NASCAR commentators that is comparable to ESPN’s pool of NFL analysts, but ESPN isn’t going to have a tremendous need for on-air NASCAR talent after this season concludes. Maybe a couple more will end up heading to Fox, a bunch will go to NBC, and a couple others will end up staying at ESPN to fill the Barry Melrose token analyst role.
This is an under-reported part of networks losing rights to sports – the exodus of talent that occurs when leagues find new homes. For example, if NBC loses the rights to the Premier League when they expire after next season, do you really think they’ll keep Rebecca Lowe and company around? Without EPL games on the docket, there’s no need for them. The same is true for ESPN and NASCAR – they don’t need play by play commentators, color commentators, and analysts for a sport they don’t have the rights to. This is only the beginning, and I assume we’re going to learn more and more about their talent finding new homes in the coming months.