NASCAR President Steve Phelps appeared on The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast this week to discuss a variety of topics. Most notably, the three discussed NASCAR’s next media rights contract. While the current deal ends after the 2024 season, NASCAR is set to begin exclusive negotiations with current broadcasters Fox and NBC at the beginning of 2023 according to Phelps.
Phelps is anticipating an “eight-to-ten” year contract on the next deal. It’s certainly not set in stone but it does follow the eight- and ten-year deals that began in 2007 and 2015. And given the deals signed by the other “big four” leagues, an eight-to-ten year contract is right in line with them.
A portion of the NASCAR fanbase has been concerned with how the next rights deal will look. With more and more sports leagues embracing streaming, it would be insane for NASCAR to totally ignore that.
Last year, SVP of Media and Productions Brian Herbst revealed that streaming would “play a larger role” on the next deal and that may very well be the case. Although, Phelps indicated that while he sees NASCAR within the direct-to-consumer streaming world, it’s important to find a balance, and broadcast TV is still a priority due to the sport being so sponsorship dependent.
“How we look at the digital world versus over-the-air versus cable, and it really kind of look at it as… the partners that we have today, Fox and NBC look at that world very differently based on, Fox really having Tubi so it’s not really a real direct-to-consumer play as NBC has with Peacock,” Phelps said. “Our sport [it’s] very important to make sure that we have significant eyeballs. The team model is very dependent on sponsorship so we need to make sure that whatever partner that we would… stay with or move to… we need to make sure that over-the-air is an important part of what that will be.”
“And then it really comes down to, ‘Alright, what is direct-to-consumer versus cable look like?’ And we’ve got a little bit of time there to continue to see what happens in the cable universe. We’re obviously making the switch in the second half from NBCSN to USA, broader distribution, I think the migration of the sports properties over there particularly by the time we get there will be in good shape.”
“We’ll have to see where that goes. Do I believe there’s a world for us in direct-to-consumer, I do. The question is, ‘What’s that balance between over-the-air, cable, and direct-to-consumer?”
Phelps later elaborated that he “doesn’t think there will be a radical shift” in the next rights deal as their inventory differs from a stick and ball sport and doesn’t exactly work with a streaming first deal, but some digital companies could be involved more as a supplement to the overall TV deal as more and more people (particularly younger people) embrace streaming. For example, Netflix’s docuseries on Bubba Wallace that just launched.
Phelps also talked about how he wished ESPN would provide more coverage to NASCAR but understood, using the NHL as an example, that ESPN is going to provide more coverage to the sports properties they have the rights to.
Who knows, the promise of more coverage on other ESPN shows could be a carrot that Disney dangles at NASCAR if they choose to get in on negotiations.