Marketers Should See Gains In Nascar Sprint Shift To ESPN

January 14, 2010: ESPN's claim to be the "worldwide leader in sports" got a significant dose of pedal to the medal as the cable network said it would increase its number of telecasts of Nascar Sprint Cup races from six to 14. In addition, nine of the 10 season-ending races in the Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup will be on ESPN.

The telecasts are being shifted from ABC, which this season will broadcast just three Nascar Sprint Cup races and one Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup. For the past three seasons, ABC aired 11 Nascar Sprint Cup events and ESPN six.

One key reason for the move: ESPN's Sprint Cup races drew a higher rating than ABC's - 3.6% of U.S. TV households vs. ABC's 3.5 average. It also opens up the potential for Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup races to be aired on the new ESPN 3D network launching in June. The move comes at a time when Nascar's TV ratings have flattened or in some cases declined over the past couple of years after several years of growth.

"Last year's performance showed us that ESPN provides the best home for Nascar," John Skipper, ESPN evp-content, said in a statement. “ESPN further strengthens Nascar’s consistent [1 PM ET Sunday] start times message for the fans, and with the strong support of Nascar across our multimedia platforms, we hope to build on that momentum in 2010.”

Shifting production is not an issue as the entire production team of ABC Sports was folded into ESPN about three years ago, with events on ABC now tagged ESPN on ABC. Both networks are divisions of The Disney Co.

ESPN’s 17-race coverage of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series begins with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25 and concludes with the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 21. The two Nascar Sprint Cup regular season races on ABC will be at Bristol, Tenn. (Aug. 21) and Richmond, Va. (Sept. 11). The lone  Chase for the Nascar Sprint Cup telecast on ABC will be from the Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 16). All Nascar Sprint Cup race telecasts on the ESPN networks will continue to be preceded by the show, Nascar Countdown.

In addition, the entire Nascar Nationwide Series will continue to appear on ESPN outlets, with the majority on ESPN2 and the remaining events on either ESPN or ABC.

Marketing partners and advertisers are not expected to complain as the move will attract not only a large viewer base but a more desirable demographic.

"This is exciting news for Nascar and our fans,"  Paul Brooks, president for Nascar Media Group, said in a statement. "The ESPN subscriber base is larger than ever at nearly 100 million, and the network has the proven ability to attract younger viewers. As the premier network during the most competitive time of the year for sports, having more Nascar races on ESPN will create more exposure."

Prior to the first ESPN telecast on July 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 2010 Nascar Sprint season will start on Fox on Feb. 14 with coverage of the Daytona 500. Fox airs the first 13 races in the Sprint schedule through May 30 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. TNT gets the next six races on the schedule before ESPN takes over. The Sprint Chase for the Cup ten-race series begins on Sept. 19 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The final race will again be at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, on Nov. 21. 

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