The idea of a league having its own over-the-top streaming service is far from a new one, as the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL all have that in some form, along with MLS, WWE, the UFC, several NCAA conferences, and even some individual schools. But most of those league streaming services are built around live games, with services like NBA League Pass and MLB.tv offering options for individual teams or the entire league, and even the NFL getting into that game this year by offering NFL Network RedZone over the top.
A potential NASCAR service would likely have to take a very different approach, as their TV and streaming rights for their three national series are locked up (with Fox and NBC) through 2024. But as per a report from Sports Business Journal‘s Adam Stern, NASCAR “continues to look into the possibility of launching an over-the-top streaming service” despite that:
NASCAR has been studying the idea of launching an OTT service, according to sources. The possibility was first acknowledged in a tweet by former NASCAR President Brent Dewar in January.
…The network could launch as soon as 2020, according to one source, but issues such as the revenue model and use of outside vendors remain unclear.
While such a network couldn’t show live races from NASCAR national series races until 2025, it could show everything from lower-level forms of racing to archived events and NASCAR/motorsports lifestyle content. It is unknown whether the network could show highlights after races air on Fox and NBC channels.
It’s notable that there are already some OTT streaming services in the racing world (Formula 1 launched one this year, which does include live races in the U.S., and IndyCar is set to be part of a new channel on OTT service NBC Sports Gold), so NASCAR wouldn’t even be heading to a totally-untapped market. Yes, they’ve got a different audience for their product, but this service wouldn’t be showing a whole ton of top NASCAR races, at least not live. And the demographics don’t look great for NASCAR; their audience has long been listed as one of the oldest in sports, with an average age of 58 in 2016 (third-highest, behind only men’s tennis and golf) and a change of +9 years since 2006 (the highest in that study), and OTT products are marketed at cord-cutters, who by and large tend to be younger. That’s also to say nothing of the dramatically-declining audience for NASCAR races in general; if even the top races aren’t pulling in viewers, will “lower-level forms of racing” on a streaming service really do it?
There are some potential ways this could be helpful for NASCAR, of course. There is an audience for insightful studio coverage of the sport, as FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub (one of the few remaining shows from FS1’s 2013 launch, and one that dates back even further to the channel’s past as Speed) continues to show (it regularly produces some of the best ratings on that network, although that’s also a reflection of their other programming’s struggles). And there isn’t a ton of NASCAR talk elsewhere on TV, especially after Speed and Fuel became FS1 and FS2; maybe an OTT service can pick up some hardcore fans who want more on the sport than what general-interest TV is providing.
Moreover, NASCAR has already dove into creating some shoulder programming, such as an eight-part docuseries on Bubba Wallace that aired on Facebook Watch and a variety of other documentaries that have aired on their network partners. Their own streaming service might provide an impetus to do more of that, and if they create interesting enough programming, that might bring in some subscribers. Pulling in archived races could help too, although it can be expensive to digitize that footage. And maybe if they launch this service in a small way and build it up, they could retain some races in their next media deal to show there.
But launching an OTT streaming service without top-tier live event coverage seems like a tough sell. And that’s especially true when you work in that the NASCAR fanbase doesn’t seem particularly full of cord-cutters. We’ll see if this happens, but there are certainly plenty of obstacles in its way.