The only regular racing coverage ESPN still hosts are NHRA drag races. ESPN occasionally brands ABC motorsports broadcasts, and they host the X Games, too, but as far as normal racing season content goes, NHRA is all they’ve got. That will no longer be the case next year, as NHRA goes to Fox Sports 1.
Sports Business Daily reports that the NHRA and Fox Sports have agreed on the terms, but have yet to sign a formal contract. Regardless, this ends a 14-year run on ESPN.
It’s odd to think that one of the major sports networks won’t have motorsports, but will probably continue to host spelling bees, poker and video game tournaments, none of which seem to be actual sports in any way, shape or form. (Interesting at times, sure, but still bizarre to see on a sports network.) Sure, there’s always the debate as to whether motorsports count as sports or not since competitors are so reliant on their equipment to function well, but there’s at least some physicality involved. You don’t take that many G-forces and still be a total slouch, regardless of how Tony Stewart’s epic dad-bod may appear. You can be Pizza the Hutt in people-form and still manage to play poker. I’m just sayin’.
Of the major networks’ sports channels, I’m not sure Fox Sports is the best move, but it’s a move. There’s a different channel to find. That’s, uh, all I’ve got.
The best-case scenario for motorsports in the U.S. right now is probably NBC’s family of networks, which has been incredibly good with IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR. They even handled two worst-case scenarios—a long rain delay and a huge accident where fans were injured—with the utmost professionalism on the debut of the return of their NASCAR coverage. NBC has their occasional flubs, but so far, so good. They even tend to switch to side-by-side commercial breaks towards the ends of long races, allowing you to at least watch the action non-stop even if there’s no audio for it. That I can appreciate.
Fox probably won’t chop NHRA coverage into weird one-hour highlight sessions like CBSSN tends to do, but they might preempt it for Division III football with no heads-up. They get some points for trying to host all of this year’s World Endurance Championship races, but get all those points taken back and then some for unannounced schedule changes, bizarre network switch timing that forced everyone to switch channels for the last two and a half laps for Le Mans, heinously timed commercials breaks, and killing Speedvision. (Speed was just okay. It’s Speedvision that needs a comeback.)
So, enjoy, NHRA fans! Um.
At least Fox Sports 1 is widely available, which I can’t say for giant chunks of the United SportsCar season that get stranded on Fox Sports 2.
Of course, ESPN wasn’t the perfect home for NHRA drag racing, either. According to Sports Business Daily, NHRA officials were upset with ESPN hosting races on time delay and in unattractive timeslots. Because of this, the NHRA was looking to leave their current five-year contract a year early. Now, the NHRA has struck that deal, leaving before the contract runs out in 2016 and paying ESPN an undisclosed amount for breaking that contract.
The financial details have not been released. We’ll have to learn how much that early switch cost the NHRA another day.
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