NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, Chairman of NBC Sports Group Mark Lazarus and NASCAR vice president of broadcasting and production Steve Herbst meet the media to discuss Tuesday's announcement of a new 10-year TV rights deal
, to start with the 2015 season:
Q. Steve and Brian, can you give me a sense, you don't always see a property leaving ESPN. What is it about the NBC Universal-Comcast asset that you find at least or more compelling than ESPN's assets, which are always talked about, their many, many, many platforms?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'll take that. First of all, I think it's the commitment that they've made in terms of how important NASCAR is going to be within the already robust properties that they have, and start with that. And I can tell you from our discussions as we negotiated this, the integration, and I know that word is used a lot and over used probably sometimes, but the reality is that you can see what they've done with the NHL and other properties; they're in a mode where they're pulling together all their properties, and non-sports properties, as well, and plus the network. They still have a bigger emphasis on big events on network television.
So a combination of all of that, and then the trust that we have in Mark, because we've done business with him for many, many years, it brought it to a point where this is the right place for us to be.
Q. Following up on that: The last time ESPN didn't have a deal with you guys from 2001 to 2006, it seemed to affect their coverage of the races. I know you guys weren't as big a presence on SportsCenter. They're such a Goliath on the sporting landscape. Are you worried about how you might be affected in terms of being presented on ESPN?
BRIAN FRANCE: You know, we're actually not, and the reason is it's a different time now. They have different thinking about how they want to cover sports. John Skipper is as good as it gets in his organization, and we've had conversations. Obviously you think about all those things, but the reality is they have to cover the big events that people watch every weekend, and I don't -- you never can predict the future, but we didn't think that was something that would hold us back from making this deal, that's for sure.
Q. So they'll still be invited or credentialed for races if they choose to do that in 2015 and beyond?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, yes, but obviously there are exclusive rights and some things we'll have to all work through, but that's not anything different than what naturally occurs. So we'll be working through that. I have no problem that this is a different time than way back when, and I'm certain that we'll all figure that out together.
Q. Brian, can you talk about the balance between having races on network versus races on cable, specifically NBC Sports Network? I don't know if you can give us any final figure of how many races per season will be on network total and cable with the combined deals.
STEVE HERBST: Are you asking about the NBC package or the overall package?
Q. I know the NBC package. I was curious if you could give us any sort of figure for the entire package, at least for 33 of the 36.
STEVE HERBST: So the first-half package obviously with FOX, we're still discussing the mix there, so I don't have an overall number for you. You see the split for the second-half Cup on NBC of 13 and 7, but we are not ready to talk about -- 13 and 7 for NBC. But we'll have information in due time on what the total season will look like.
MARK LAZARUS: Let me just talk a little bit about having a balance and having both the broadcast and NBC Sports Network. What we have found and what we have learned and what I think we've demonstrated over the past several years is that when we're able to have a property, whether it's a part of a season or an entire season or complete ownership of a property like the Olympics, like the national hockey league, like premier league, like NASCAR, like Formula 1, and we're able to bring an audience and surround it with content, both on broadcast, on cable, in digital by promoting and marketing using our RSNs, that we're able to bring a level of awareness to a sport, to a property that is frankly unparalleled -- equal to or unparalleled in the industry, and that's what we intend to do with NASCAR. By having this mix, what we always do is make big events bigger, and that's what we'll do each Saturday and Sunday from July on starting in 2015.
Q. Brian, do you consider it a risk at all to go from what I would say is the more -- obviously an older, more established cable network to one that's kind of still in its infancy?
BRIAN FRANCE: No, because if you look at what they're doing right now, and Mark just outlined it, he's not just talking conceptually. They're doing that right now with record ratings with the NHL and the integration of the Olympics, Sunday Night Football. I mean, don't forget, they have a robust lineup obviously without us, and we're going to add to that in a significant way.
I can assure you from hearing from leadership throughout the Comcast system, they didn't just want to own sports properties, they wanted to integrate within all their assets, and they're doing it right now. We don't have to guess about it. We're looking forward to it.
Q. I just wonder if you could talk about, it's probably too early for this since it's a couple years ago, but will you be bringing over some of the TNT or ESPN or NASCAR on-air talent to NBC or NBC Sports, and also, how does this affect the future of the IndyCar Series on NBC and NBC Sports?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, two questions there. Let me start with the talent question: First of all, all those folks are under contract to TNT and ESPN, and we're respectful of those contracts. It is too early. Frankly this deal began and ended in very short order and expeditiously, so our production team is learning about it in sort of real-time here, so they haven't even spent any energy thinking about talent, though my guess is their heads are spinning and they're thinking very hard now. We have a couple of years on that.
But what I do promise is that when we hire talent, we do it with the thought of being relevant to the core fan but also being welcoming and open to the casual or new fan, and I think when you look around our Mount Rushmore of broadcasters, whether it's Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Johnny Miller, Bob Costas and others that I'm sure that I know I'm leaving off, Dan Patrick, that we are second to none both in play-by-play and analysts, and we will continue that with NASCAR as we move toward the beginning of our contract.
How does it relate to IndyCar? We think that this gives us -- listen, we have IndyCar rights for NBC Sports Network. We do not own the rights for broadcast. Those are held by ABC, so we are only the cable partner there, so we are not able to do what we do with other sports by wrapping around it fully.
This will have no impact there, other than that 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 one of the -- probably the most dominant home for motorsports, and that that circulation of motorsports fans will be good for all.
Q. Mark, I have a follow-up on what you just said, which is that you're the dominant home for motorsports. With three racing series that are worldwide, was it NBC Sports group's design to sort of grab the motorsports market, or is that just sort of how the properties fell?
MARK LAZARUS: Well, you know, a design would be probably too forward thinking. As we saw the way rights were developing over the last 24 months, we saw an opportunity, and as SPEED Channel decided to make its migration to something more multisport, we saw an opportunity to potentially fill a gap in the marketplace that might not be satisfied, and so we set forth, not knowing whether NASCAR would ever be able to us, but we set forth with the others. We inherited the IndyCar deal. We were able to acquire the F1 deal and that gave us the base.
But then seeing the opportunity that might exist with NASCAR, we believed that we can fill a gap in the marketplace for fans, for marketers and potentially with our cable operators and affiliates. No one else has ever had all three of those.