There seems to be a constant flow of stories about NASCAR moving into neutral, if not reverse. The coverage can be pretty formulaic with statistics cited showing attendance, TV ratings and sponsors’ interest on the decline, followed by a NASCAR defense.
The Wall Street Journal went that route Tuesday with a piece mentioning a five-year plan to resuscitate the sport, quoting NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps saying: “You can feel the excitement and optimism.”
The King isn’t so sure. Richard Petty, maybe the greatest driver ever and now a team owner, told the Journal: “We're just sort of keeping our head above water. We feel if we can survive, we'll have a base to build on, but something's got to happen in the next couple of seasons.”
Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal and subsequent commitment to sports may be it. NASCAR recently re-upped its TV deal with Fox – an eight-year arrangement reportedly 36% higher than the current one – that runs through 2022. Next year, it’s expected to get down to business with ESPN and Turner on negotiations about renewals with them.
Negotiations always work best when there’s an outsider looking to get in. And NBCUniversal looks to play the role. It’s shown an interest in motor sports and could use some more top- or even mid-tier content for its all-sports network.
Meanwhile, ESPN and Turner have made some big commitments in sports rights recently. And, both need to prepare to spend what promises to be big money to keep the NBA as their current arrangement are set to expire in 2016.
Both probably can afford to let NASCAR go and finances might force them to. So, NASCAR should feel fortunate NBCU could help it reach the checkered flag in its new round of TV deals in pretty good shape. And that money should be plenty to try and build back up as Petty suggests is needed.