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TV Sports: Speedvision hopes NASCAR partnership revs up growth

Oct 29, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Speedvision hopes to be racing away from the pack this winter when the network’s new partnership with NASCAR shifts into high gear. The relationship will boost Speedvision’s NASCAR coverage from one hour a week to five to seven hours each weekday and one to two hours on weekends. Along with the new programming focus will come a new name for the network, Speed Channel.
“We are going to be the complete place to get any news or information regarding racing,” said Jim Liberatore, president of Speedvision. The network currently reaches 45 million homes and is on track to reach 60 million by 2004, said Lindsay Gardner, executive VP of affiliates sales and marketing for Fox Cable Networks. Mr. Liberatore said he believes Speedvision has the potential to be fully penetrated within several years, thanks to its Fox ownership and the NASCAR partnership.
Fox purchased Speedvision this summer, shortly after Fox became one of NASCAR’s regular broadcast partners at the start of the 2001 racing season last February. The Speedvision partnership evolved out of that relationship, said Paul Brooks, VP of broadcasting for NASCAR. “As we saw [Fox’s] vision and commitment for what they could do for NASCAR as a whole, we wanted to develop a NASCAR-centric channel. The majority of racing fans are NASCAR fans,” he said.
The fact that Speedvision grew to 45 million homes since its 1996 launch without any NASCAR coverage bodes well for further growth with NASCAR, which has become a phenomenon in recent years. NASCAR estimates that there are 63 million NASCAR fans, with 25 million of those being “hard-core,” Mr. Brooks said. Those fans will have a new home for the stories behind the races as Speedvision becomes more NASCAR-centric at the start of the 39-week 2002 racing season in February.
Mr. Liberatore said the network’s expanded coverage will consist of behind-the-scenes stories, interviews with drivers and historical information on races as well as qualifying rounds and races when the regular broadcast partners-Fox/FX and NBC/TNT-don’t carry them. On Wednesday nights, the network will replay races from the previous weekend with breakdown, analysis and perspective from the drivers. Speedvision will also create shows on classic NASCAR races and past champions and preseason and postseason previews and reviews.
In August the network added three new NASCAR series to its lineup. “Totally NASCAR” is a daily news and analysis show featuring former NASCAR star Darrell Waltrip. “NASCAR Tech” provides a behind-the-scenes look at racing technology and airs Sundays. “NASCAR Victory Lane,” on Monday nights, is a wrap-up of the weekend’s races and a preview of upcoming ones.
Mr. Liberatore emphasized that the NASCAR programming does not replace any of the Formula One or CART coverage that has driven the network since its inception. “This is going to be a brand-new audience,” he said.
Mike Goodman, an analyst with the Yankee Group is Boston, is unsure that Speedvision will become fully penetrated to the tune of 85 million homes like ESPN but said the NASCAR affiliation will help it come closer to that goal. The revamped Speedvision is highly targeted and should play well with advertisers and viewers. “[Speedvision] is associating [itself] with a very popular product-and for a television network, that’s a good thing,” he said.
The addition of NASCAR races certainly played a role in the growth this year of FX, which counted 58 million subscribers when the NASCAR season started last February and now reaches 73 million. When FX telecast its last NASCAR race in early July, the network was at about 68 million homes.
The burgeoning relationship between the network and the league should also help grow NASCAR’s touring series, a racing division for drivers honing their skills. Speedvision will carry some of those races.
Speedvision, currently based in Stamford, Conn., will relocate to Charlotte, N.C., where many of the racers reside, by the new year. The network will also introduce a new graphics package at the start of the racing season.#