Like other sports events on television, ratings for NASCAR
races continue to climb. And the costs of its rights fees are rising, as well.
The Nashville Network, one of several cable and broadcast
networks that air NASCAR races, recently bid about $5.5 million to buy rights to an
October 1999 event at the Phoenix International Raceway. That's a significant
increase from the $800,000 that TNN paid to air that same race later this year and the
$650,000 that it anted up for the Phoenix event in 1997.
"The numbers for NASCAR rights have been spiraling up
in the past two years," said Dave Hall, president of TNN and Country Music
Television. "They punched through $1 million a couple of years ago. Some of the
long-term deals have expired now, and [prices] have caught up with the market."
And the more than $5 million that TNN will pay for Phoenix
next year isn't the top dollar that's been paid for NASCAR events, according to
Hall. The rights to a new NASCAR race in Las Vegas went for $7 million, and those for the
classic Daytona Beach, Fla., event sold for $12 million, he added.
TNN, ESPN and TBS Superstation all made the list of
top-50-rated basic-cable programs for May with their NASCAR events, according to Nielsen
Media Research. Various stock-car races also air on broadcast networks CBS and ABC, which
are corporate siblings to TNN and ESPN, respectively.
"All of the carriers of NASCAR-Winston Cup are pretty
pleased with the ratings results that we have," said Kevin O'Malley, senior vice
president of programming for Turner Sports. "And from 1996 to the present time, there
has been a substantial increase in rights fees. In most cases, they're justified by
the fact that there's been a solid upward curve not just in the ratings, but from
advertising, in having sponsors assured. No sport has been hotter."
All in all, TNN on weekends will be televising about 90
live NASCAR events this year, including nine Winston Cup races and 10 Busch events, Hall
said. Ratings for several of the races this year are up by 12 percent to 14 percent, he
added. The ratings numbers have spanned between 3.3 and 5.6. On May 31, TNN's NASCAR
Platinum 500 did a 3.6 rating.
Also in May, TBS' airing of the NASCAR Coca-Cola
Classic did a 5.0 rating, as did ESPN's airing of the NASCAR California 500,
according to Nielsen.
Of the 33 Winston Cup races, TBS airs four, while ESPN
televises 14, according to John Wildhack, senior vice president of programming for ESPN
From 1997 to 1998, ratings for the Winston Cup were up 54
percent, to a 4.3 from a 2.8, according to Wildhack.
"It's our second-highest-rated series, behind the
NFL [National Football League]," he added.
ESPN airs its Winston Cup races live on ESPN, and it then
repeats them on both ESPN and ESPN2. A prerace show also airs on ESPN2.
An ESPN spokesman said race fans are particularly
brand-conscious and brand-loyal, which draws advertisers to NASCAR events.
"They [NASCAR fans] notice who sponsors the race and
race cars," the spokesman said, "and advertisers know that."