In a move few saw coming, The CW has signed a seven-year deal to be the exclusive home of NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series beginning in 2025.
Sports Business Journal reported The CW will pay approximately $115 million per year for the Xfinity Series rights.
Every @NASCAR_Xfinity Series race in one place.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 28, 2023
Below, The Athletic’s Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi react to Friday morning’s announcement.
The CW? That seems like an out-of-nowhere player in NASCAR’s much-discussed media rights deals. What are your first impressions of The CW carrying every Xfinity Series race, practice session and qualifying?
Gluck: When I first saw the report, I thought, “What!? The CW? How random.” I can’t remember the last time I turned on The CW. But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? The CW was willing to pay nine figures per season to show NASCAR’s lower-tier series because it is trying to grow. And at the same time, it’s not like this is a bad thing for NASCAR fans — instead of another subscription service, The CW is completely free and available to 100 percent of the households in the United States. Just because you might not watch it doesn’t mean it’s not easily available. Once fans adjust, it won’t seem unusual. And with the number of sports The CW seems to be adding (it also airs LIV Golf and ACC football and basketball), turning to that channel might become a more regular occurrence anyway.
Bianchi: If you’re a NASCAR fan frustrated that a majority of Xfinity races are on cable, well, this is welcome news as all 33 races plus every practice and qualifying session will now be on a broadcast channel that is free and accessible over-the-air. This is a big departure from NASCAR’s previous TV deal, where at times Xfinity races felt like an afterthought, as they will now (presumably) be a centerpiece of a network that is pushing hard to grow and is using sports to increase its popularity.
Not long ago, NASCAR was said to be looking at a streaming-only package for the Xfinity Series. Now every race will be available on free, over-the-air TV. What impact will this move have on the Xfinity Series and its teams?
Gluck: You could argue the Xfinity teams want exposure for their sponsors, and being on FS1 or USA Network perhaps seems more relevant to sports fans. But what the teams really, really need is more money from the purse. If NASCAR figures out a way to share more of this windfall with the Xfinity teams and the mid-tier outfits aren’t struggling as much as they do now, the entire product will be better and give the series a boost overall — regardless of how many people watch. And hey, the availability of over-the-air TV (plus the same channel every week, at that) is certainly more attractive to potential sponsors than being on a streaming-only service.
Bianchi: When speculation ramped up that NASCAR was considering placing Xfinity races exclusively on a streaming platform, it created a lot of hand-wringing in the garage about how it would impact the bottom line for team owners. Some owners and team executives thought that while such a deal potentially could generate an influx of revenue, the tradeoff was that sponsors may also be less apt to sign on as races would no longer be easily accessible, with fewer people watching. Now, with The CW signing on, teams can go to their sponsors and sell them on the fact that Xfinity races are available in every home in America, for free.
The CW has never broadcast any NASCAR races and has few racing connections aside from being the home of IndyCar’s “100 Days to Indy” docuseries earlier this year. How will this work with NASCAR producing the broadcasts?
Gluck: NASCAR is in the process of completing a state-of-the-art building to house its NASCAR Productions group, and those are the people who will do the races for The CW. The SBJ report said The CW will hire the on-air talent, but all broadcasts will be produced by NASCAR. That’s mixed news in some ways. On the one hand, it’s great to have NASCAR in charge of things like camera angles and audio and all that goes into creating a racing broadcast. On the other hand, it raises questions as to how objective the broadcasts will be. If NASCAR does something that warrants criticism, for example, how will The CW address it?
Bianchi: This is an interesting wrinkle in all this. When NASCAR announced it was constructing a new building for its production group, it was presumed that eventually, NASCAR would start handling production for live national series (Cup, Xfinity or Trucks) races in some way. It made too much sense for them not to do it. So in this respect, it’s not surprising that NASCAR is taking on this role. What will be interesting is how the actual broadcast looks and if it will be any different than what fans are accustomed to seeing.
What does this mean for the remaining pieces of NASCAR’s TV deal?
Gluck: This seems pretty darn significant to pull in $800 million just for the Xfinity Series. If NASCAR was hoping for a reason to ask for more money from Fox and NBC to renew their Cup Series deals, or even the reported midseason streaming-only package, then executives can simply point to The CW’s willingness to pay a record-smashing amount. NASCAR should be having champagne toasts in its offices today.
Bianchi: Securing $800 million for a second-tier series is impressive. So as Jeff stated, NASCAR should be celebrating this deal. Champagne all around. And from the larger viewpoint, it reinforces the expectation that the contracts NASCAR is currently finalizing with Fox, NBC and Amazon to air Cup races should surpass its previous television deal.
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(Photo of Ty Gibbs celebrating the 2022 Xfinity Series championship: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)