IMSA will join forces with NBC Sports next season as part of a new six-year television agreement. The switch from FOX and its FOX Sports 1/FOX Sports 2 cable channels is the first for the NASCAR-owned sports car organization.
With the acquisition of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship broadcasts, NBC Sports has assembled North America’s strongest roster of headlining motorsports properties. Along with the Verizon IndyCar Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, IMSA’s new home for endurance racing consolidates the three premier circuit racing organizations in a single outlet.
“The resonance and gravity of this new partnership with NBC Sports Group for IMSA fans and our stakeholders cannot be overstated,” said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. “This agreement is the culmination of a comprehensive process to align ourselves with a media rights partner that will capitalize on the tremendous momentum the WeatherTech Championship and IMSA is currently enjoying, and will help our sport reach new heights.
“Without question, NBC Sports Group ‘gets’ motorsports and our unique premium product. We could not be prouder to call NBC Sports our future partner.”
Bennett told RACER the agreement offers stability in a constantly evolving media environment.
“It’s the next generation,” IMSA CEO Ed Bennett said. “It’s an exciting time going into IMSA’s 50th anniversary year in 2019, and we’re hoping for continued growth with the positive momentum that IMSA has at present. In our contract with NBC Sports, we elected to do a deal six years in length that will go from 2019 to 2024.
“This is a move, even in a changing media landscape, where we’re trying to communicate stability. Where we can, whether it’s decisions with key suppliers, tire partners, racetracks, or our title partnership with WeatherTech, we believe more in longer-term partnerships, particularly if it’s with the right group, because it demonstrates stability for IMSA.”
The majority of IMSA’s WeatherTech Championship events, and its second-tier Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series, will be carried on NBCSN. The new contract also calls for the WeatherTech Championship to be featured on the big NBC network. The NBC Sports App, which is accessible through mobile and desktop platforms, will serve as the full-time streaming solution for all IMSA content aired by NBC Sports.
“From a distribution standpoint, this is going to give us a lot of expansion with the NBC Sports Group as a partner,” Bennett told RACER. “We should have nine hours on the NBC network, and the goal is to spread that across three WeatherTech Championship races. With NBCSN, it will be 45 hours, and there may be a need for a low single-digit use of CNBC hours to bridge some gaps particularly when you get into some of the challenges with the very long endurance races.”
Of the complaints registered by North American sports car racing fans over the last decade, the frequent switching between network, cable, and streaming channels during many events has been atop the list. From Bennett’s perspective, the new deal with NBC Sports should solve a significant portion of the issue.
“Another big advantage is with the standard-length races, those will be able to stay on one channel,” he said. “As you get into the endurance races, the programming box can be more challenging, although I think this will be much simplified and improved from where it’s been in the past. But a difference on the digital side is regardless of the channel shifting that may occur for the long endurance race, the app will go flag to flag uninterrupted, which is great for everybody.”
Most of the details for 2019 and beyond have been sorted between IMSA and NBC Sports. With the NBC Sports partnership set to kick off at January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, both sides also have time to work on coverage plans for some of IMSA’s additional support series.
“When you break down the series platforms, the WeatherTech Championship will always be aired live,” Bennett explained. “The Continental Sports Car Challenge will be in the ongoing two-hour, cut down format as will the IMSA Prototype Challenge in a one-hour, cut down format. And there’s potential for single-make Porsche and Lamborghini platforms to be a part of the deal. But, in full transparency, we have to have the discussion with them, so [NBC Sports] can decide if it’s a platform they want to be a part of. We think they’ll be excited about it, but that’s something that we’re doing right now to make them aware of what the opportunity is.”
With the upcoming end to a relationship that dates back to the early 2000s with the former Grand-Am Rolex Series, Bennett thanked the FOX Sports team for its longstanding coverage of its endurance racing products.
“They’ve been great partners, and they’ve got a lot of programming on their platform,” he said. “We couldn’t be more appreciative for all that they did for Grand-Am, and they were there for the first year of the new combined IMSA championship when no one even knew what it was and didn’t know how it would turn out. We couldn’t be more appreciative and think that they deserve a lot of credit for supporting IMSA and getting us to where we are today.”