The news finally dropped last week. The new home for Monster Energy AMA Supercross will be NBC Sports Group—NBC Sports, NBC, NBC Sports Gold App—after many years under the Fox Sports umbrella. Change is always something that fans fear, and this new deal, announced late, offers fewer live races than before. But as anyone who’s ever tried to use the Fox Sports app to watch the races and then also use the NBC Sports Gold App to watch the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship knows, the online streaming of the sport will definitely be a step better. NBC Sports Gold works really well.
There is some confusion and questions about this deal and one would think that with the announcement coming just three weeks before the first race, negotiations must have dragged on pretty late. To shed some light on what this deal means for you and the sport in general, we had Adam Stern on the PulpMX Show this past Monday night. Adam’s the motorsports reporter for the very respected Sports Business Journal publication.
(You can follow Adam Stern on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news on the motorsports media business)
Racer X: You’re the motorsports reporter at Sports Business Journal, a really cool online site and magazine. The new home for Feld’s supercross series [Monster Energy Supercross] is NBCSN. What do you know about this deal as far as breaking it down? NBC seems to be going towards motorsports here.
Adam Stern: I think that’s exactly right. NBC clearly has dialed in on the motorsports strategy. There’s been this kind of perfect storm in recent years of media rights that have come up that they’ve taken advantage of. Obviously they lost F1, but outside of that they’re really done nothing but gain properties with IMSA, supercross, taking the full IndyCar series schedule after only having half, obviously continuing to have half the NASCAR schedule. So I think with supercross and Monster Jam, they just saw properties that match up nicely with several other objectives. For example, they don’t have NASCAR races until July. Obviously supercross starts in January so that’s something that helps them fill some programming hours that they had open. Obviously they also have motocross and American Flat Track, so kind of turning to the home of motorcycle racing. I think they see cross-promotional opportunities with NASCAR, IndyCar, supercross. Obviously they kind of complement each other in different forms of motorsports.
So I think they just saw these rights come up and said, let’s keep building on being this home of motorsports. They had a summit [with various motorsports properties visiting NBC Sports’ Stamford, Connecticut headquarters] a couple weeks ago. There’s been summits like that, but just to have all those properties by one broadcaster was kind of the first of its kind. NBC, I think, has clearly dialed in on this strategy. They have hours to fill with NBCSN, and then also their new Gold package online. It seems like, understandably, there’s a big response from supercross fans about kind of now going behind the pay wall and not all the races are going to be like they were with FS1 where they were live on cable. Talking to John Miller from NBC Sports who is their president of programming, he said the majority of them are live, or “close to live” is the way he put it. They feel like they’re putting together a good schedule, but obviously the customer is always right. So it will be interesting to see ultimately if supercross fans adapt. We also spoke with the CMO of Feld Motor Sports, Vicky Silver, and she was saying that with so many of our fans being young and being cord-nevers or cord-cutters, we feel like this works. But obviously the proof will be in the pudding. I think the package is somewhere in that $75-$85 range all-in. So it will be very interesting to see how the market responds and where they go from here.
We’ve had the Gold app for motocross series, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s going to be great. Every race is going to be live on that, if people want to pay, which is in this day and age, that’s where we’re going. It’s a la carte normally now for TV programming and things like that, Netflix or whatever. So it is interesting. I’ve been getting a lot of backlash on my social channels just because I think people don’t like the change, and they get Fox for “free.” They didn’t really get it for free, but they thought they kind of did. Now if they want it all live they’ve got to buy this app. But that’s the way sports and TV is going, isn’t it?
No question. Like you said, people are always resistant to change. I think motorsports fans appear to be particularly resistant to change at times. It’s one of those things where it sounds all well and good when you’re talking about it and just kind of speaking hypothetically about, this is the future and this going to be what sports are going to be about, but when it comes to your sport finally going behind the pay wall, some people are going to be like, “This stinks.” Like you said, people kind of regard cable as somewhat free. Obviously you pay for cable, but it’s so ingrained in the American identity to have cable. Obviously that’s changing. So I’m not necessarily surprised to see this reaction from supercross fans. It’s interesting that IndyCar actually hasn’t unveiled their pricing yet and I’m trying to get it out of either IndyCar or NBC Sports, and they’re not ready to reveal yet. So on my end, I’m interested to see whether IndyCar fans similarly have a bad reaction when they finally get that price. I think IndyCar is probably looking at a hundred dollars at most.
But again, certainly Feld, I’m sure they’ve seen this reaction and they’re just going to have to weather the storm. They’re going to have to put on a good product, because obviously at the end of the day the customer is always right. They’ve taken this bet now and they’ve decided to go down this route with NBC. Hopefully from their perspective, they put on a good enough product and fans are happy with it. It’s no sure thing. F1 launched an OTT [Over The Top, or online pay model] channel this year and had a number of major issues with it. It’s not an easy thing to do. Obviously supercross won’t have the problem of launching it because they’re going to have NBC behind them. It’s a little bit of a different deal. F1 literally had technical issues. Nonetheless, it’s a big bet.
I’m getting conflicting reports on my end of people I talk to. Did FS1 tell supercross, “We’re not going to renew. We’re not interested,” which forced the Feld guys to go to NBC or was there a bidding war in this? What do you know from people you talked to?
I’m still waiting to get the absolute 100 percent verified story on that, but I don’t believe that Fox just gave it up. I think Fox put in a bid and supercross said they wanted to go a different way. Now granted the big caveat there is did Fox not put in an impressive bid, thereby giving supercross the incentive to go elsewhere? That’s a possibility that I haven’t gotten the full story on yet, but certainly it seems from my understanding that Fox did put in a bid and Feld just notified them that they were going a different direction. I think Fox wanted to continue with it. I don’t know if it’s the end of the world that they’re losing supercross, but I don’t think that was something that they wanted to lose. My understanding pretty much is I don’t think there was any sort of gigantic pay increase for supercross going from Fox to NBC. I don’t have the exact figures. I’d be surprised if they’re getting more than low eight figures annually.
It will be interesting to see the move. I’ve been doing this long enough where I remember when the supercross folks would pay ESPN2 to put it on the air, and this is where we’re at now where we’re getting some money. So the sport certainly, like a lot of live sports, is generating income for the promoters, which is a good thing. That’s cool to see for our sport.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m not sure the exact arrangement as far as whether supercross helps produce it. I’m not sure. You guys might have more information on that than me as far as whether Fox absolutely did 100 percent of the production on their own or whether supercross helps share in some of those. I’m sure supercross is getting some sort of check. I would be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of increase, but that doesn’t mean it was a gigantic amount. The ratings are what they are, but again the demographic is very alluring. I think NBC is very excited about the prospects of aligning with supercross.
Me being Canadian, of course I’m a big hockey fan, so NBCSN is all-in on hockey down in the U.S., and now they have motocross and supercross, so for me that’s a great channel. I love it. It’s fantastic. How do you feel their sports network stacks up against CBS, FS1? You talked about aligning with motorsports and going that direction. Are they winning? Nobody’s touching ESPN of course, but how’s NBC in the grand scope of a home for our sport?
Well, it’s interesting. There was just an article in SBJ from our media reporter a week or two ago who was reporting that NBCSN is going to finish this year as the number two most-watched sports channel in the U.S., and actually number three is going to be FS1. It’s actually the first time in 25 years since ESPN2 was launched that ESPN2 was not number two, with number one being of course ESPN. First time in 25 years. So it just goes to show that these guys, Fox Sports and NBC Sports, they’ve launched these channels—FS1 and NBCSN—about four or five years ago, and they’ve steadily built up the viewership around them. For both channels, they’ve been motorsports heavy. Obviously, Fox has NASCAR and they used to have supercross. They have Formula E. NBCSN, they’ve built themselves into a pretty nice channel. I think from a pure aggregate perspective of how many homes they’re in, I think they’re roughly comparable to FS1. I think they’re both probably in about 90 million homes.
So you’re not really losing a lot of as your possible ceiling of viewers from going from Fox Sports to NBC Sports. Are people a little bit more familiar on the dial with FS1 than NBCSN? Maybe a little bit, but I feel like at this point most people have learned those channels. So I don’t really buy too much into the notion—and this happens in NASCAR all the time—there’s a lot of NASCAR fans who claim their ratings are going down in part because fans can’t find NBCSN or FS1. I’m not too big on that. I feel like most people these days can find it one way or the other. I think it just goes back to like you said, the fact that more races are tape delayed in a day and age where people are all over social media. They want to talk about stuff live. It’s risky.
Literally it was the exact same network, when NBC goes through this with the Olympics a little bit where not everything they show is live and some people flip out. They’re like, “This is ridiculous in this day and age.” So between the pay wall and NBC Sports Gold and the fact that not all their races are going to be live, obviously I think, like you said, they’re going to have to kind of prove out that this is ultimately beneficial for the fans. Do people ultimately accept the value of that $75-$85 to be able to watch everything live, all the practices, et cetera? I could see that happening. Like you said, this is the way TV is moving. You’ve got a young demographic. It’s way too early, in my opinion, to say that it’s definitely a bad move. I think it could easily turn into a great move for fans, but no question that the jury is still out as far as whether it will ultimately be more beneficial for fans from being all these races on FS1.
Something was going on though because we’re three weeks away from our first race and nobody even knows who the commentators are right now. I think Ralph Sheheen is making the move over from Fox to NBC. From people I talk to inside the sport, no one really knows. I think Will Christien is going to assume the job of the pit reporter role that Jenny Taft had with FS1. But something must have been going sideways with the talks with NBC or with FS1 and Feld because it was really late that it just got announced. You were actually the first guy that I saw that officially broke the news. We kind of heard whispers. I’d love to know what was going on. It’s late.
No, you’re exactly spot on. I can tell you that this thing almost got announced like six different times. So they were definitely taking their time to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Now, I don’t think it was necessarily anything to do with Fox. People at Fox were totally puzzled as to why it hadn’t been announced. Fox was informed probably two to three months ago that they had lost. So I don’t think it had anything to do with them. They were waiting for it to be announced that they were going to NBC. So I agree. It would be fascinating. I can try and do some digging and we’ll see what I can dig up. It’s definitely very unusual to have a media deal unveiled three weeks before the first event, but that’s not to say that ultimately it’s going to lead to any issues. I agree with your point about the talent. I’ve tried to ask who they’re going to have broadcast, and they won’t reveal it yet. They say they’re still working on it. So definitely very late in the game. It’s not to say they can’t make it work, but I totally agree. That definitely would be fascinating to know why it took quite this long to unveil.
We go to the races every week. We follow this thing with our nose six inches from it. You’re taking a broader overall view of all motorsports. When you talk to IndyCar CEO, NASCAR people, any kind of motorsports, drag racing, flat track, TV people, what do they say about supercross? What do they tell you about our sport? Give me their impression of our little rinky-dink motorcycle racing here.
I’d say people are very impressed by supercross by and large. Obviously I think it’s somewhat seen as a niche just due to its viewership figures and the numbers they draw. The numbers are what they are. They’re not absolutely massive relative to all sports, but again, if see how many young folks are associated with supercross, I think that is something that first and foremost other motorsports are very interested in, maybe even a little bit envious of. There’s no question because when we talk about NASCAR and IndyCar, they kind of got the opposite problem—particularly NASCAR. They’re still pretty large compared not even just all motorsports, just all sports, but they’re absolutely certainly getting older. It’s a very advanced age if you look at the media and their average age. I think first and foremost people are just impressed with the fact that you’ve got a motorsports series that has a very longtime sponsor in Monster Energy. It’s consistently a good product. It’s held in good venues. It’s got this great demographic of fans that are very passionate.
Obviously, when you talk about hardcore motorsports folks I think people obviously notice just how many OEM’s are in the series as well. It seems like they’re doing very well from that regard. So I think overall people see it as a little bit of a niche, but a really good niche. You talk about NASCAR folks and their top executives and also IndyCar and IMSA, I’m sure they’re all thinking right now about ways they can cross-promote more. Certainly after that summit a couple weeks ago that was a big focus. We’ve seen NASCAR and supercross folks do stuff all the time. I remember a couple years ago in Atlanta they were both there the same weekend and all those NASCAR guys went and rode. Clint Bowyer got on the bike…
Hit the wall.
Basically crashed, which was amazing. That was such a great moment. It seems more and more NASCAR drivers are tweeting about it. Obviously the fact that supercross was with Fox and now it’s NBC, NASCAR is with both so I don’t think you’re going to see any drop-off there. It’s just going to continue. Again, I think people overall see it as a niche, but at the same time you could say all of motorsports is a niche, first and foremost. Secondarily, I think people see it as a good niche and one that they think is doing a lot of good things.