In the wake of the renewed contracts in recent years for sports leagues in the United States and overseas that have included streaming as an integral part of their negotiations, one league that has been conspicuously absent has been NASCAR.
The last renewal for the stock car racing organization came in 2013 — when streaming technology was literally embryonic in comparison to the remainder of broadcast television. Streaming was not even given a second thought when it came to how consumers would come to view sports in the future.
Now, we are living in a different universe, and according to NASCAR SVP of Media and Productions Brian Herbst, there will be “some streaming element” when its new rights deal becomes effective in 2025. Herbst spoke with Awful Announcing this week about NASCAR’s streaming future.
“Some streaming element will definitely be in place and it will play a larger role in the next deal cycle,” he said. “When you think about when we did our TV deals back in 2012, 2013, there were really just two different platforms where our content was going to be distributed to … Now, there’s a third bucket and that’s direct-to-consumer or over-the-top platforms. The balancing act for us as a sport is there’s a third economic driver that wasn’t necessarily there in 2012 or 2013, being these OTT platforms.”
While Herbst appears to be convinced that streaming is the future, he still appears to be hesitant to abandon the traditional outlets, given their level of penetration.
“For us as a sport, we’re a little bit more sensitive to shifting premier content over to those digital direct-to-consumer platforms just because the penetration level isn’t as high right now in terms of platforms. It’s really just a numbers game for us,” he said. “For broadcast TV, penetration that’s 120 to 125 million homes, cable TV is 75 million, and the direct-to-consumer platforms are somewhere in the 15 million range.”
According to Awful Announcing, NASCAR’s team sponsorship model is more sensitive to the financial problems that may exist as a result of fans or sponsors who may not be interested in paying for streaming platforms. While subscriber fees may subsidize viewership to make up for that drop, that also means sponsors potentially being hesitant on sponsoring a race car or offering less money, knowing that fewer people will be watching a race.
“If you’re ESPN+ or Peacock on the premium side, then that’s something we need to take into consideration; Most notably with our fanbase just in terms of their ability to watch our content but also the team sponsorship model as well. The teams sell against the three million viewers that tune into every Sunday afternoon to the extent that [if] that’s compromised in any way via a direct-to-consumer model, that’s something we have to take into consideration. It’s a balancing act. There’s financial stuff in the equation but the viewership piece, long-term, is critical for us as a sport. So we wrestle with that,” Herbst said. “Whatever we do in terms of shifting content, it’ll be done responsibly and with our fanbase at the forefront of that decision-making process.”
While NASCAR has started to build a younger audience in recent years, a larger part of its audience is older, which may not be as likely to embrace streaming. As a result, when the new television contract comes into play in 2025, there will still be a considerable broadcast and cable element and only a gradual shift of content into a streaming environment.
According to Awful Announcing, perhaps only practice and qualifying, along with the occasional Truck and Xfinity races may move off of linear TV outlets since they are considered niche events within NASCAR. As a result, diehard fans will seek them out on a streaming service.
That being said, care must be taken because Truck and Xfinity series races rely heavily on sponsorship for survival. If too many of those races are left off of linear television, some of those sponsors may start backing out of the races.
The next round of negotiations will be interesting, indeed, both the future of racing on television as well as the future of the sport itself will be in the balance.