SPEED Channel will morph into Fox Sports One next year but reportedly still carry NASCAR content. (SPEED)
Only in the crazy world of television can a sport lose viewers but actually command more money for its product.
Sounds nutty I know but that's exactly what appears will happen when the next NASCAR TV product kicks in beginning in 2014.
The deal with NASCAR's current television partners – FOX, TNT and ABC/ESPN - expires after next season. The original deal netted the sanctioning body $2.74 billion.
But despite a ratings erosion in recent years including with the coveted 18-45 age demographic, the wheels are already in motion for NASCAR to potentially net even more in rights fees on the new deal.
FOX has reportedly already offered in excess of its current $220 million per season to continue carrying roughly the first half of the Sprint Cup Series season, which kicks off annually with the Daytona 500.
However the curveball in a new FOX deal is the impact the network's change of SPEED into Fox Sports One, a new all sports channel that will carry Major League Baseball, college football and basketball and other sports in addition to NASCAR programming.
Hoping to keep up with the likes of the ABC/ESPN, NBC/NBC Sports Network as well as CBS/CBS Sports Network pairings, FOX plans to flip the current motorsports and automotive channel into its own general sports cable network.
As of now ancillary NASCAR programming such as practice, qualifying and support events like the Camping World Truck Series would be mixed into the revamped channel's content line-up.
There is word FOX will also stream NASCAR programming beginning next season, ala the “Watch ESPN” initiative that will allow mobile device access for thousands of viewers.
Assuming FOX comes to terms, the remainder of the new NASCAR television package is a bit fuzzier. While it appears ABC/ESPN and TNT will return to the negotiating table, the NBC's interest is a wild card.
Desperate for content to help build its fledging sports net, the Peacock folks are eyeballing a return to the business of stock car racing. NBC was an original partner in NASCAR's landmark television contract of 2001 that helped sky rocket the sport into the sports mainstream with its first true network deal that also included FOX.
The Nationwide Series, currently an ABC/ESPN property, could be in play for NBC as well as the Truck Series should FOX decide to back off the amount of NASCAR programming for its cable sports network or the “World Wide Leader” scale back its stock car investment.
CBS or perhaps niche outlets like “The History Channel” might also dip their toes into the negotiations.
However the final pieces of the network puzzle fall into place, industry insiders predict NASCAR will easily surpass the current $2.74 billion fees.
The current environment for nearly all television sports property deals is quite healthy. Major League Baseball just inked a $12.4 billion, eight year contract with FOX, TBS and ESPN, which doubles the previous agreement. College football and basketball conferences, the NHL and the NBA have also seen a rise in fees.
And of course the 800 pound gorilla of them all, the mighty NFL commanded a 60 percent increase for a package that will eventually see $3.1 billion paid annually by CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN and the NFL Network.
Of course all of these monopoly money numbers will eventually come with a price for fans that will have to pay the freight with an increased cable or satellite bill.
In order for networks to recoup the heavy investment they'll make to secure NASCAR programming, you can also expect a rise in broadcast commercialism. Whether its added breaks, more in race sponsored segments or other corporately funded elements, count on the networks to find any way possible to generate revenue and cover their costs.
But it appears the doomsday prophets who predicted NASCAR's value as a viable television property would plummet were wrong.
The number of viewers may be down but not those networks are willing to write on checks.