But both NASCAR and network partner ESPN, when asked about college football running late and pre-empting NASCAR programming, expressed little concern with the issue.
On Saturday the entire ESPN “Countdown” show for the Nationwide race at Kansas as well as prerace festivities were moved from ESPN to ESPNEWS when the game between SEC rivals LSU and Texas A&M ran past its scheduled end time.
It’s a scenario that has happened on numerous Saturdays since ESPN reacquired NASCAR broadcast rights in 2007, either truncating Nationwide/Sprint Cup Happy Hour broadcasts or forcing them to another of ESPN’s family of networks.
“We obviously prefer that our NASCAR Nationwide Series races that take place on Saturday afternoon start on time with the Countdown Show but we understand the nature of live sports programming and how all sports are impacted by these scenarios,” NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield told As the World Turns (Left) via email. “We’re also very thankful that ESPN has multiple networks in their portfolio, all of which play a big role in the success of NASCAR.”
But when a network switch takes place, the potential viewing audience isn’t necessarily apples to apples. According to the 2012 ESPN Media Zone Fact Sheet, ESPN and ESPN2 are both available in 99 million homes. But ESPNEWS is only available in 74 million homes, essentially 25 percent fewer homes. That potentially truncates NASCAR’s audience at a time championships are being decided, an issue NASCAR doesn’t have with broadcast partners Fox and TNT.
“We continually evaluate our programming schedule in an effort to make it the best it can be,” ESPN spokesman Andy Hall told As the World Turns (Left) via e-mail. “We are a live-event entity and are fortunate to have multiple networks available to serve sports fans. Our normal practice is to stay with a live event until it is concluded.”
The issue of ESPN NASCAR broadcasts being compromised is significant in light of Fox’s new eight-year, $2.4 billion deal to broadcast NASCAR between 2015-2022. ESPN and TNT have not yet begun negotiating a new deal with NASCAR past the 2014 season, and is expected to get competition from former NASCAR broadcast partner NBC. NBC is looking for new content for its fledgling NBC Sports Network and likely wouldn’t have all the broadcast commitments that forces NASCAR programming to be affected on ESPN.
When asked whether pre-emptions would factor into contract negotiations, Hall said, “As a company policy, we do not discuss contracts or other business matters. Warfield added, “As a private company we do not publicly discuss negotiations.”