The rights to the first half of the Nationwide schedule have not been publicly announced, but NASCAR chairman Brian France let slip in a Tuesday conference call with reporters that there will be Nationwide races on Fox Sports 1.
"We will have both Cup and Nationwide on FOX Sports 1 at some level," France said during the call. ESPN currently broadcasts the entire Nationwide schedule.
If correct, Fox would be the leading candidate for the three remaining unsold Cup races.
Jon Ackley, an associate professor who teaches a NASCAR business course at Virginia Commonwealth, said he initially thought ESPN and Turner dropped NASCAR at the right time because of increased rights fees and sinking television ratings. But the more he studied it, the more he began to think NASCAR chose NBC over the others.
"Maybe this is a good deal for NASCAR, it certainly gives a lot of continuity for the schedule and makes it easier for viewers to find the race on each weekend," he said.
Still, he noted that it's unclear how many races will be on cable TV. Fox, for example, has not said how many Cup races will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
"I don't even know if I get NBC Sports on my satellite," he said. "That's another concern of mine is that unlike ESPN with its 24-hour coverage, everybody knows ESPN and they go to ESPN if they are looking for something. It's very accessible. There may be a learning curve and it may be a very slow learning curve for the public wondering where to find their NASCAR."
NBC Sports Group replaces ESPN, which carries 17 events and picks up its portion of the schedule this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Turner, which currently has six races on the schedule.
NBC shared the television contract with Fox from 2001-06 in the first national TV deal for NASCAR. NBC pulled out of negotiations on an extension, and ESPN picked up that portion of the schedule in 2007.
Ackley also wondered what the ramifications could be for NASCAR after severing ties with ESPN.
ESPN was not allowed to do on-camera interviews at the track from 2001-06, and its reporters were forced to race to a nearby helipad after races to speak to drivers before they headed home.
"I was sort of surprised that once again, NASCAR has turned its back on ESPN, like it did in 2000," Ackley said. "I'm wondering what the fallout will be, whether it will be a lack of respect of NASCAR coverage and reporting."
John Skipper, president of ESPN, said the network will continue to cover NASCAR when its deal expires.
"We will continue to serve NASCAR fans through SportsCenter and our other news platforms as we continue to enhance our industry-leading collection of quality assets. We are looking forward to the start of our Sprint Cup season and will continue with our deep commitment to the highest quality coverage," Skipper said in a statement.