Start Your Engines: NBC Sports Group Preps for NASCAR’s Return

Two years ago, NBC Sports Group announced that it would add NASCAR to its already impressive lineup of premier sports properties. In two weeks, that deal takes effect. And NBC Sports, fresh off an historic Triple Crown and exciting Stanley Cup Final, prepares to hit the NASCAR track for the first time since 2006.

nbc-nascar-logo“To say that we’re thrilled to be back in NASCAR after an eight-year hiatus is an understatement,” said NBC Sports VP of NASCAR Production Jeff Behnke at Cynopsis Sports’ Business Summit on Tuesday. “Our primary goal is always to make big events bigger. Whether that’s the Stanley Cup, Sunday Night Football, the Olympics, the Players Championship, we do that through storytelling. The long-term legacy of NBC is storytelling, and, in NASCAR, there is an incredible amount of those stories to be told every single week.”

The deal grants NBC Sports exclusive rights to the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, which includes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (the last 10 races of the season) and the season-ending championship event. NBC and NBC Sports Network will also join forces to broadcast the final 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series events, selected NASCAR Regional and Touring series events, and other live content.

“The Chase format really created the NASCAR playoffs, and we felt that was a real opportunity,” says NBC Sports CMO John Miller. “It’s one of those premier properties. In addition to that, because it is a major property — actually, second-highest to the NFL on a regular-season basis — it provides the opportunity for us to have it be a major cross-company priority.”

In early 2014, NBC Sports launched NASCAR America, a 30-minute daily show. Originating from its Stamford, CT, headquarters as well as from a new studio in Charlotte, NC, the show has enabled NBC Sports to cultivate a relationship with NASCAR, its drivers, and the venues.

“The primary goal [in starting NASCAR America] was to start building relationships, and that was so important,” says Behnke. “We spent a year and a half working with the drivers and the race teams and, certainly, our partners at NASCAR and the tracks: visiting them, getting to know them, sending our announcers and reporters to race shops. Really, it’s been a year and a half of building relationships and, at the same time, putting on a show every day to try to show our commitment.”

NBC takes over the second half of the NASCAR season on July 5 at Daytona International Speedway from Fox Sports, which has the exclusive rights to the first 16 races of the season. The two networks secured their respective rights deals in 2013 as ESPN and Turner were finishing the seventh year of their respective eight-year agreements.

“We’ve had great relationships,” says Steve Herbst, SVP, broadcasting and production, NASCAR. “We’ve been really blessed to have terrific TV partnerships over the years with Turner, ESPN, and others. NBC [brings] a certain gravitas to the whole production with the way they story-tell, the way they surround events and make events bigger.”

In addition to the linear rights, NBC Sports’ deal covers exclusive TV Everywhere live-streaming rights and certain on-demand rights for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series races. And, as NBC Sports and NASCAR embark on their 10-year partnership, the two plan to up the digital ante with enhanced telemetry, video content, and more.

“We are in the works to try to create that next evolution [and] try to engage the fan and have that fan spend more time with our sport,” says NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps. “Ideally, they’re [engaging with their mobile device] at the race track. … Because of the wall of noise that exists at an event, [this would offer] the opportunity to hear what’s happening through a headset and [get] data, camera angles, virtualized racing on your device at the racetrack. You get all the sights and smells of what’s happening there, plus rich content that is being delivered over the device. That’s fantastic.”