With the NASCAR season about to start, major changes are underway concerning the TV coverage. NBC Sports Network will shut down by the end of 2021, meaning that fans will have to go to a new channel to watch stock car racing. They will have to watch the playoffs and the championship race on the USA Network.
According to NBC Sports, NBC will transfer its sports media rights to the new network during 2021 amid the major company change. These rights include the National Hockey League, English Premier League and NASCAR. Adam Stern of the Sports Business Journal also confirmed that NASCAR would move to the USA Network as part of this change. NBCSN currently has a $4.4 billion rights package with NASCAR that expires in 2024.
Interestingly enough, this change will provide more viewers with the option to watch NASCAR, considering that the USA Network is available in roughly 86 million homes. At the same time, NBCSN is only available in 80 million. However, the regional channels such as NBC Sports Boston, NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports Northwest will not be impacted by these changes. These channels operate as a separate business network.
The traditional Cup Series schedule features FOX Sports taking over the first half of the races and covering the annual All-Star Race. NBC Sports then takes over for the back half of the schedule and covers the final regular-season races, the playoffs, and the championship event. Now USA Network will reportedly cover these high-profile events as the drivers compete for the Bill France Cup.
Comcast originally launched NBCSN back in 1995. The channel was originally known as the Outdoor Life Network and touted the Tour de France's broadcast rights. In 2006, the channel obtained the broadcast rights for the NHL and switched up the branding. The Outdoor Life Network became Versus. Another change took place in 2011 after Comcast bought NBC. The company changed the network to the NBC Sports Network to compete with ESPN.
With the news that NBCSN will shutter in 2021, CNBC conducted interviews with industry figures to discuss the changes' aftermath. Sports media rights advisor Lee Berke explained that this move is actually "back to the future," considering that USA Network previously aired NBA action until 1984.
"The fact that sports is returning to USA isn't a new concept," Berke explained to CNBC. "Certainly, the distribution is helpful, but this move is reflective of a couple of things — the pay-TV bundle is shrinking. Subscriber base is shrinking. So, it justifies fewer networks to be on the air and the other part of it is the growth of streaming."