With NASCAR returning to its lineup, NBC Sports will become the first U.S. media company to televise all three major auto racing circuits in the same year.
NBC Sports Group drops the flag on Formula One coverage this week from Australia, before revving up IndyCar action from Nawlins on April 12. NASCAR, with the Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series, bows over Fourth of July weekend.
“Our Formula 1 coverage will serve as a [promotional] platform. IndyCar followers already interact with Formula 1 and NASCAR fans are going to be introduced to F1,” said Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC and NBCSN. “There is going to be great exposure to the different race circuits.”
Filling in some of the gaps left from the conversion of Speed into Fox Sports 1 in August 2013, NBC Sports Group also provides motor enthusiasts with presentations of some 300 hours Mecum Auctions programming, as well as season-long coverage of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and Red Bull Global Rally Cross, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
In addition, NBC Sports Group will present more than 200 hours of original motorsports programming, including daily episodes of NASCAR America on NBCSN, as well as the NBCSN original series Mecum Dealmakers, Off The Grid, and /DRIVE on NBC Sports.
All told, NBC, NBCSN, financial sister network CNBC and streaming app NBC Sports Live Extra will air almost 800 live hours, as part of nearly1,400 motorsports hours overall during 2015,
“We’re very happy with our commitment to motor sports. The ratings and momentum are strong. We have high confidence in our portfolio. We’re ready to go," said Miller.
Formula 1 competition begins on the Ides of March from Down Under, with the Australian Grand Prix at 12:30 a.m. (ET) on NBCSN. Covering the entire 20-race circuit, NBCSN will present 13 races, NBC four, and CNBC three. The broadcast network’s coverage begins on Sunday, May 24 with the Monaco Grand Prix, and continues Sunday, June 7, with the Canadian Grand Prix. NBC’s coverage returns on Sunday, Oct. 25, with the United States Grand Prix, before concludes on Sunday, Nov. 15 with the Brazilian Grand Prix.
NBCSN’s coverage will feature the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the Singapore Grand Prix “under the lights” on the streets there, the return of the Mexican Grand Prix, and the season finale from Abu Dhabi.
In addition, NBC Sports Group will present comprehensive coverage of practice and qualifying of all 20 races across its family of networks and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Australian Grand Prix coverage commences on Thursday, March 12 at 9:30 p.m. (ET), with Practice 1 on Live Extra, and continues on Live Extra and NBCSN on Friday and Saturday. F1 Countdown kicks off race coverage Sunday at 12 a.m, leading into the Australian Grand Prix at 12:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN. An encore presentation of the race will air Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
“Some of Formula 1 starts at 2:30 or 3:30 in the morning. Formula 1 fans are passionate, knowledgeable and they expect to see the races live,” said Miller. “Or they’re going to their DVRs or watching the replays later in the day.”
Miller noted that the circuit has good traction with the streaming set: “Formula 1 fans are tech-savvy; it’s a good match with NBC Sports Live Extra.”
It was also a good match where the Nielsens were concerned with NBCSN during the 2014 campaign. Formula One registered its most-watched season ever for a single cable network, averaging 385,000 viewers for its 12 races on NBCSN, 86% amelioration over 2013.
Over the 19 races, NBC Sports Group’s coverage averaged 477,000 viewers in 2014, up 30% from 366,000 the prior year and 15% more than the 414,000 for Fox and Speed recorded with 20 races in 2012.
Ratings also throttled during NBCSN’s coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, averaging 378,000 watchers for a dozen races, according to Nielsen data, a 34% improvement from the 282,000 over 13 competitions in the 2013 season. The delivery stood as the second highest on NBCSN since its predecessor Versus, acquired the rights in 2009, behind the 402,000 in 2011.
This year, NBCSN will present coverage of 11 races during the upcoming 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, beginning on Sunday, April 12, with the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana.
Coverage extends to the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19, and the final eight events of the season, including the Streets of Toronto on June 14; Auto Club Speedway from Fontana on June 27; the annual race at the Milwaukee Mile on July 12. There’s also a visit to Pocono Raceway on Aug. 23; and the season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Aug. 30.
As for NASCAR, NBC Sports is returning to the stock car circuit for the first time since 2006, via a 10-year, $4.4 billion deal, that manifests with a combined 39 Sprint Cup Series and Xfinitiy Series races across NBC and NBCSN, beginning on July 4th weekend from Daytona International Speedway.
Miller said NBC Sports can’t wait to get back on the NASCAR track, and will feature more than 250 hours of Spring Cup Series fare this year.
“We engaged in significant promotion for the Daytona 500 and the ratings were good from Atlanta Clearly, we want Fox to get off to a great start with NASCAR, and deliver ratings and momentum, before we begin our coverage on Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “We think we have a great Sprint Cup schedule, with seven races on NBC, including five of the last seven and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22, and 13 on NBCSN.”
Four of NBC Sports Group’s 19 NASCAR Xfinity Series races – through a 10-year deal, Comcast’s operating system supplanted Nationwide as the title sponsor for the organization’s second-level race circuit -- will air on NBC, with 15 airing on NBCSN.
“[Comcast] has also made a significant investment,” said Miller. “It’s great when our parent company sees the same value in NASCAR that we do.”