Thursday, January 14, 2010

ESPN pulls ahead of ABC Sports with NASCAR programs

Here's some good news from ESPN, which is clearly in the fast lane. I wrote this for today's paper but I guess they ran out of space. Look for it to appear soon.

BRISTOL -- A programming shift from ABC Sports to ESPN will have NASCAR fans changing the channel this year.

ESPN will air 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this year, the company announced Wednesday, more than doubling the number it aired for the past three years.

The popular car races are changing lanes to ESPN from ABC Sports, which will air three prime time, Saturday night NASCAR races instead of the 11 that ABC had in the past. The races on ESPN will include nine of the 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The change is good for Bristol-based ESPN, only serving to strengthen the sports media giant’s grip on racing fans.

“NASCAR is one of the highest rated sports on television,” said ESPN Vice President Mike Soltys.

Only NFL games outpace NASCAR for the number of viewers in the regular season, Soltys said.

“ESPN has a very long history with NASCAR that has been very successful for ESPN and NASCAR fans. We’re excited to build on that.”

About three years ago, Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC Sports, folded the production team of ABC Sports into ESPN.

“ESPN has been established as the sports franchise under Disney, but we continue to program ABC,” said Soltys.

So although the sporting event may be aired on broadcast television on ABC Sports, the program production is done by ESPN.

“Broadcast prime time is a very valuable outlet for exposure,” said Soltys.

But for NASCAR, more viewers are watching on ESPN, Soltys said.

Last year, car races on ESPN drew slightly more than 4 million viewers, while on ABC Sports, they attracted just under 4 million sets of eyes.

Soltys said the line between ESPN and ABC Sports “has narrowed every year and now it’s next to nothing,” said Soltys. “ESPN is the home for sports TV.”

Later this year, ESPN will produce 16 weeks straight of Saturday night prime time programming for ABC Sports, said Soltys.

Those months will include 12 weeks of college football, three NASCAR Sprint Cup races and the Little League World Series, which is moving to prime time.

The programming changes won’t impact jobs at ESPN, said Soltys, as the production reshuffling has already been done.

ESPN is Bristol’s largest taxpayer and employer.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently there were too many obituaries and that is what bumped the ESPN story.