NBC to take over part of NASCAR TV package in 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR will return to NBC in 2015, ending its eight-year partnership with both ESPN and Turner Sports.

The 10-year deal with NBC Sports Group announced Tuesday begins in 2015 and gives the network the final 20 Sprint Cup Series races of the season and final 19 Nationwide races. NBC last broadcast races in 2006 before ESPN took over its portion of the schedule.

"We are back. We are thrilled to be back," said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group. He said of all the deals made since Comcast Corp. purchased NBC, the NASCAR deal "is one that we've really been focused on, one that we have wanted to have the opportunity to be able to sit at the table when contractual opportunities came due."

"The quantity of content that this deal provides and the quality of content that this provides is really a game changer for us for our entire group, and we can't wait to get started," Lazarus added.

The deal makes NBC Sports Group the premier motorsports network with NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar among its properties — a trifecta Lazarus said made NBC the motorsports leader.

"I believe with us now being the home to the second half of the NASCAR season, the home for cable for Indy and the home to Formula 1, that we are probably the most dominant home for motorsports, and that that circulation of motorsports fans will be good for all," he said.

A previous relationship with Lazarus, who was formerly with Turner Sports, and the ability to be part of NBC's sports properties attracted NASCAR.

"With NBC, you're joining a family at NBC Sports where you'll be surrounded by incredible championship-type programming," said Steve Herbst, NASCAR's vice president of broadcasting and production. "Their football package on Sunday night is the No. 1 show on television ... they are the home to championship programming and we'll be promoted and marketed and shown alongside those top-tier events."

NBC will air seven Cup races, while 13 will be on the NBC Sports Network. The Nationwide Series will have four events on NBC and 15 on NBC Sports Network.

There are still three Sprint Cup races to be sold, which Herbst believes will move quickly. Lazarus said NBC purchased everything made available to the network, which means the three events not currently held by Fox were not offered.

"We were offered a package that had 20 in them, so we bought everything that was made available to us. That doesn't mean we bought everything we wanted," Lazarus said.

Herbst said some of the Cup events on NBC will be a lead-in to "Sunday Night Football."

"We're going to have the opportunity as we get into the fall season and the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup to be on Sunday afternoons leading into NFL football, and that's an exciting opportunity for us, given the obvious power of the NFL," he said. "We still have a ways to go to figure out what races and when, but it will be select races that go into Sunday Night Football."

The deal also gave NBC Sports Group rights to the K&N Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events, NASCAR Toyota (Mexico) Series events, the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony and season-ending banquets, live-streaming rights for Cup and Nationwide, and Spanish-language broadcast rights on Telemundo and Mun2 for national series events and NASCAR Toyota (Mexico) Series.

The rights to the first half of the Nationwide schedule have not been publicly announced, but NASCAR chairman Brian France let slip in a Tuesday conference call with reporters that there will be Nationwide races on Fox Sports 1.

"We will have both Cup and Nationwide on FOX Sports 1 at some level," France said during the call. ESPN currently broadcasts the entire Nationwide schedule.

If correct, Fox would be the leading candidate for the three remaining unsold Cup races.

NBC Sports Group replaces ESPN, which carries 17 events and picks up its portion of the schedule this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Turner, which currently has six races on the schedule.

NBC shared the television contract with Fox from 2001-06 in the first national TV deal for NASCAR. NBC pulled out of negotiations on an extension, and ESPN picked up that portion of the schedule in 2007.

John Skipper, president of ESPN, said the network will continue to cover NASCAR when its deal expires.

"ESPN has enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with NASCAR. We have tremendous respect for the France family, the drivers and all in the sport and wish them well," he said. "We will continue to serve NASCAR fans through SportsCenter and our other news platforms as we continue to enhance our industry-leading collection of quality assets. We are looking forward to the start of our Sprint Cup season and will continue with our deep commitment to the highest quality coverage."

Turner indicated earlier Tuesday it could not compete financially in the negotiations to extend its 31-year relationship with NASCAR.

"We think NASCAR is an attractive property, but we are disciplined in our approach to negotiating sports rights and could not come up with a business model that was financially prudent for our company," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner.