The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED to FOX Sports 1 - Sometimes Change is a Bad Thing by Phil Allaway -- Wednesday August 14, 2013

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You’ve undoubtedly heard about how amped up everyone at FOX Sports is about Saturday’s launch of FOX Sports 1. The press releases (which were put out way too late, by the way) touted FOX Sports 1 launching to 90 million homes and becoming a legitimate threat to ESPN’s complete dominance of sports television.

That just might happen someday. That day will not be Saturday. As I write this, four days before the launch, they will not be in 90 million homes on Saturday. Sporting News’ Bob Pockrass reported on Monday that FOX Sports 1 currently has commitments from a number of cable/telco outlets, most notably Comcast, ATt&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS. However, those commitments only add up to a potential 44 million homes. That is not all that much more than the current number of homes that Fuel is in right now.

Could many fans be missing out on Truck Series racing come Saturday when SPEED changes to FOX Sports 1?

Who are the big holdouts? The companies that matter if you have a dish (DirecTV and Dish Network), plus Time Warner Cable (which I have) and Bright House Networks, which in negotiations acts like Time Warner Cable’s little brother or nephew (they piggyback onto whatever Time Warner Cable does).

Those four outlets cover more homes than what FOX Sports 1 already has committed. Knowing that Time Warner Cable (and by extension, Bright House Networks) is still in a middle of a spat with CBS over the Showtime networks, retransmission fees, and a bunch of other stuff, I have no confidence that I’ll be able to watch Saturday’s truck race, or any race on the network anytime soon.

Those of you clamoring for FOX Sports 2 (formerly Fuel) might be in an even worse position. That channel was already only in 37 million homes (including mine, where it is currently right next to SPEED). They might be looking at a Longhorn Network-esque launch Saturday morning. That bites since next week’s UNOH Perfect Storm 150 will be live on there, not to mention Saturday night’s Rolex Series race at Kansas Speedway.

The only good thing about the move is that almost all of the NASCAR programming will survive untouched. It seems like sports car racing will continue in their current capacity as well (live or same day delayed Rolex Series, tape delayed CTSCC races from one week earlier) for the rest of the year, and thanks to a new deal announced last weekend at Road America, the next five more. The other racing properties have left for greener pastures (F1 to NBC Sports Network, NBC and CNBC, AMA Superbikes to CBS Sports Network).

I’m not really concerned about hardcore fans tuning out the network so much as NASCAR on FOX Sports 1 losing audience for two major reasons. One is that many people that could get SPEED won’t be able to get FOX Sports 1 because FOX wants an increase in per-subscriber fees by nearly 348 percent up front (23 cents to 80 cents), plus incremental additional increases in the future. Unfortunately for us, not everyone watches sports on television. People are getting sick of the bloat in bills almost solely because of sports. “The blog All Things Digital”: posted this list of cable per-subscriber fees back in 2010, based on fees in 2009. Almost none of the non-sports cable networks charge even remotely close to what FOX Sports wants for FOX Sports 1. In my case, you can’t switch to anything around here that has a deal with FOX Sports 1. Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network are the only programming providers available here. Verizon FiOS, which is available in much of the Albany TV market, is not available in my ZIP code.

The other reason is something that would happen regardless of carriage. NASCAR will no longer be the main draw to the network. NASCAR programming will now share space with baseball (starting next year), college sports and soccer. The NASCAR programming (practice sessions, qualifying, Truck Races, and coming in 2015, Sprint Cup and Nationwide races) for the foreseeable future. Most of the action will be covered on FOX Sports 1 live. However, it will not be as heavily promoted as before. The casual fans (and even some of the more hardcore individuals) might be unable to find the action.

As for the hardcore fans, they strike me as the kind of fans who were already tuning out the non-racing programming that was on SPEED (you know, Pinks: All Out, Pass Time, Pimp My Ride reruns, etc.). I don’t think they’ll change their habits all that much (if they can get the channel, of course).

Before I go, I will state this. While I was in the Media Center at Watkins Glen waiting for the Zippo 200 to start, I watched the CTSCC race from Road America on (which will continue beyond Saturday, and has scheduled live races beyond that date). They were already using the new FOX Sports 2 graphics since that particular race is scheduled to air Saturday afternoon on FOX Sports 2 at 3 PM. If you can get the network(s), you’ll find that their telecasts will not be much different. You’ll just have some different graphics to deal with, along with new fire suits with the FOX Sports logo on them.

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08/14/2013 07:47 AM

It’s up to Nascar to fix Nascar. Seen the Humpy Wheeler video yet?

If trucks still spend their time on superspeedways it doesn’t matter what station it’s on. It’s still gonna be boring.

And why all the crying over the loss of SPEED anyway? It was mostly crap TV.

08/14/2013 10:32 AM

All this sobbing about the loss of speed really makes me laugh. When the network (channel) first started, it was a gearheads dream. Lots of live racing, reruns of old races, European and American, motorcycles, etc. It was my default channel. Many of us foolishly believed Werner and hounded our cable companies to carry Speed. Ultimately it began to catch on and were we gearheads happy! Then Werner pulled a Penske and bailed on us, selling it to Fox and it instantly became the NASCAR channel and the crap channel with those stupid reality shows I don’t even remember. Still, it had Formula 1, world Superbike and some other good racing tucked in amidst the NASCAR stuff. Then they lost Formula 1 to NBC, now its becoming a sports channel. What racing there is will only be a fractional part of the programming; why? The rates, Sports channels generate more revenue than anything else so get used to it. The only way it will ever change is to do Speed over again, focusing strictly on racing and racing related programming. Don’t hold your breath.

08/14/2013 10:45 AM

The “old” Speed with its coverage of all things racing was always must see tv for me. Once the new management came in and decided that lifestyle programming, whatever the heck that is, was better, I stopped watching except for NASCAR related programming. Then Race Day & Trackside became either totally dominated by Waltrips or everyone speaking was simply a shill for NASCAR and I stopped watching that programming.

I have FIOS which means I am going to have the channel formerly known as Speed. However, I’m rather tired of my cable bill going up each month because of sports programming. I seldom watch ESPN and I don’t really want to keep paying huge $ for it or for whatever FS1 is going to offer me.

Michael in SoCal
08/14/2013 11:21 AM

JP beat me to it – if you’re going to miss the Trucks at Michigan, are you really missing anything?

08/14/2013 12:52 PM

I’m getting sick of all these network v. cable provider battles. The consumer loses no matter what. You have the providers using cable/sports revenues to make up for lost ad revenue in a DVR world, and cable companies trying to hose customers. Time Warner Cable is the worst too. They put up the biggest fights and the rates and fees still go up. We didn’t get NFL Network until last year. I will not be a happy camper if I start missing Truck races because of this fight. However, I think the providers have the leverage here because Fox Sports 1 is an unproven commodity at this point. If Fox was smart they would retreat on this fight, get FS1 in as many homes as possible, then fight another day.

Tim S.
08/14/2013 12:59 PM

I think the Trucks at Michigan are good. Certainly a better ratio of good events to clunkers vs. the Cup series during the same time period. Cup at Michigan hasn’t been must-see TV since about 1997.

08/14/2013 01:56 PM

It wouldn’t bother me a bit if Fox Sports 1 is never on my Dish Network package. They lost me years ago. I don’t think much more of ESPN. What used to be must see is now “do I have to?”

08/14/2013 04:38 PM

I got so sick of the inflated cable/sat fees that I dumped it all. If the race is on a broadcast network (OTA) I watch it. If its not…oh well. Saves me $75 a month.