The CW Sports NASCAR

A niche broadcast network that airs primetime programming mainly from 8-10 p.m. ET most days makes a splash by buying rights to live sports. If that sounds familiar, that’s exactly what happened in 1993 when Fox purchased the rights to the NFL. Jump ahead thirty years and The CW is doing something similar. While The CW has not bought into MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL, it is making some inroads.

Back in January, it signed a deal to air LIV Golf tournaments. While it was both criticized and laughed at, it showed that majority owner Nexstar was looking to expand The CW’s viewership. Up until this year, The CW was known for being the home of the DC Comics Arrowverse and programming that appealed to younger viewers. However, Nexstar which took over WGN America and turned it NewsNation, wanted to turn The CW into a broader network.

In May, company CEO Perry Sook told a media conference that The CW was in talks with “Power 5” college conferences and motorsports groups. That led to recent announcements that The CW will be home to 50 ACC football and basketball games that were once aired on the Bally Sports regional sports networks and then the topper, that it will be the home of the NASCAR Xfinity Series starting in 2025.

In just a short seven months, The CW has made itself a sports destination. In addition to live sports, The CW has brought the NFL Films produced Inside the NFL, an IndyCar docuseries and an eSports special on Madden NFL 18.

Nexstar owns 197 stations across the country of which 40 are CW affiliates. Many of those owned-and-operated CW stations are located in major markets, including KDAF in Dallas, KTLA in Los Angeles, WPIX in New York, WPHL in Philadelphia and WDCW in Washington, D.C. With this coverage, there’s reason to believe that sports executives are now looking at The CW as a potential player.

The LIV Golf deal may well have been a time buy by the once-renegade league to get on U.S. television and the ACC contract was a sublicense from ESPN through Raycom, but rights to the NASCAR Xfinity Series was an outright purchase by Nexstar for The CW. With its deep pockets, this certainly won’t be the last deal involving The CW.

As the Pac-12 (now 9) looks for a new home, The CW could very well be involved. In April, our Ben Koo wrote about the potential of the conference looking at The CW to carry its games. At the time, CW Sports was just CW Sport, but as we saw with Fox, becoming a major player didn’t happen overnight.

After signing the NFL in 1993, it obtained the rights to the NHL over a year later and then signed MLB just before the 1996 season. Then it created the Fox Sports Net regional sports networks finally becoming a sports empire. NASCAR came in 2000 then it was able to become a major player in college football in the 2010’s signing the Big 12, Pac-12 and eventually the Big Ten.

For The CW, gaining LIV, the ACC and NASCAR this year shows that Nexstar is serious about getting into the sports business. Right now, The CW is not being reported as a player for any of the upcoming rights negotiations like the NBA, but as it looks to gain more properties, The CW would love to have at least a seat at the table. And leagues would certainly entertain having another party to drive up the bidding.

There were once three major players in sports television, ABC, CBS and NBC. ESPN and Turner Sports joined the  bidding in the 1980’s, then Fox in the following decade. This mostly remained stable until tech (Amazon, Apple, Twitter) got involved in the 2010’s and 2020’s. Now Scripps with its Ion network and Nexstar’s The CW have come in too. All want a piece of the sports pie knowing that live programming will draw eyeballs.

Building a sports department from scratch takes commitment and a lot of money. When Fox bought into the NFL, it immediately gained credibility as a network. The CW is hoping to do the same. While it’s not making the same huge jump that Fox did, The CW is making a minor leap and that might be enough to make the major leagues stand up and notice.

The Nexstar strategy to open up its programming beyond the Arrowverse using sports and unscripted shows may work after all.

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.