NBC had been on a bit of a losing streak when it comes to acquiring broadcast rights for major sports. Major League Baseball, the Pac-12, the old Big East (now the American Athletic Conference) all skipped over NBC and the NBC Sports Network for other pastures. On Tuesday, however, they appear to have landed one of the few remaining big fish in sports broadcasting.
According to a Sports Business Daily report, NASCAR is set to announce at a press conference on Tuesday that NBC will share broadcast rights to the Sprint Cup season along with Fox, starting with the 2015 season. This pushes out previous partners ESPN and Turner. NBC will also get rights to the second half of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season, which had previously been entirely under ESPN's control.
Though no specifics have been offered at this time as to NBC Sports Network's role in this deal, you'd have to think that they'll at least get some piece of the action. Any role in NASCAR coverage would likely stake NBC to the claim of having the deepest bench of motorsports coverage on television. NBC Sports Network already owns the U.S. broadcast rights to Formula 1 and most of the IndyCar Series. NASCAR would also provide an excellent bridge between NHL seasons for the network.
NBC, on the broadcast side, will clearly have a defined role. According to the report, NBC "had been pitching NASCAR on returning the Sprint Cup series to broadcast TV and could air races on Sunday afternoons on NBC prior to Sunday Night Football." Those races had often been buried on ESPN during football Sundays, so NBC appears poised to use the power of broadcast television to bump up NASCAR's ratings.
As for ESPN, this leaves a definite hole in their fall schedule. It'll likely free up more hours for college football coverage on Saturdays (when most of the Nationwide Series races air), but it leaves many hours of weekend programming during the summer and fall unfilled. While Turner's TNT can just fill it with more Will Smith movies, ESPN will need to find a way to make up for that programming. NBC got a big win today.