Fox and Fox Sports 1 to air drag racing starting in 2016.
To no one’s surprise, ESPN will no longer air National Hot Rod Association races after the 2015 season ends, with coverage moving to Fox and Fox Sports 1.
According to an announcement by the NHRA, they and ESPN “have mutually agreed” to part, even though there was a year left on the contract. The 2016 season was to be the final year of a five-year rights extension deal that took effect in 2012. The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has aired exclusively on ESPN networks since 2001, and is currently in its 15th season on ESPN.
“We thank ESPN for its many years of service to NHRA fans,” said Peter Clifford, NHRA president. “We look forward to finishing out this exciting 2015 season with ESPN showcasing the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs.”
“The NHRA is an exciting form of racing with a very loyal fanbase,” said Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president, league sports programming. “Unfortunately, we have had scheduling challenges with NHRA programming due to other commitments in the fall.
“We look forward to continuing our event coverage for the remainder of the 2015 season, and to serving fans with the stories of the NHRA on our news and information platforms for many years after that,” she said. “We have tremendous respect for the NHRA and its history and we wish them all the best in the future.”
Production goes in house
ESPN’s regional staffers have been handling NHRA production, but it was already known that NHRA is bringing the production in-house in 2016. It’s expected that some of the ESPN staff may continue, in front of or behind the cameras.
Newly minted NHRA President Clifford addressed the lack of enthusiasm NHRA fans have with ESPN2’s every-changing timeslots and other issues in a press conference. “We understand from a lot of our constituents that we need to address some of the issues facing television, and we have some exciting announcements to come on that in short order.”
Fox network to air four races a year
FS1 will air the balance of the races, with four events airing on the Fox national broadcast network during each season of the "long-term" agreement.
The agreement calls for FS1 to provide coverage of Friday and Saturday qualifying and Sunday eliminations for each NHRA Mello Yello Series event, with a minimum of 16 Sunday eliminations shows to be presented in a live coverage format, and the remainder shown either in weekend afternoon or primetime time slots. Four of those live elimination shows will air on the FOX national broadcast network.
“This really is a game-changer for NHRA regarding the presentation of our marquee product, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series,” said Peter Clifford, NHRA president. “FoX Sports promises to be just the right media partner we’ve been looking for to help give our professional series the stage it deserves and to provide our passionate fans the timely, quality coverage they are craving.”
The Sunday elimination shows will be three-hour programs and the Friday/Saturday qualifying shows will be two-hours of coverage. In addition, FS1 and FS2 will provide multiple re-airs for all of the events. FS1 also will provide coverage of select NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Sportsman Series events. In total, FoX national networks will feature more than 450 hours per year of NHRA programming.
The deal also includes NHRA racing on FoX Sports Racing in Canada and the Caribbean, as well as Fox Sports GO.
“Committing to 16 live events, including four on the FOX broadcast network, certainly demonstrates the commitment and excitement level we have for the National Hot Rod Association,” said Jamie Horowitz, President of FOX Sports National Networks. “As home to the strongest and most diverse collection of racing properties on television, adding NHRA drag racing to the weekly lineup absolutely solidifies FOX Sports as the leader in motor sports television.”