ESPN has parted ways with the National Hot Rod Assn. in a move that ends 15 years of televising the sports organization’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Starting in 2016, those events will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
The NHRA is essentially buying out the last year of its contract with ESPN, which was slated to end in 2016. ESPN and NHRA last signed a deal in 2012, a move that was supposed to have extended their partnership for five years.
“The NHRA is an exciting form of racing with a very loyal fanbase,” said Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president, league sports programming, in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, we have had scheduling challenges with NHRA programming due to other commitments in the fall.” Fans of the NHRA races have complained about tape delays and rescheduling, as well as decisions to run the events on ESPN networks other than the one for which the telecasts were scheduled.
Starting in 2016, NHRA events will be televised by Fox Sports 1, with four races airing on the Fox broadcast network during each season of what the two entities called a “long-term agreement.” NHRA said the majority of its events would air live under the new pact.
“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,” said Peter Clifford, NHRA president, in a statement.
NHRA will sell advertising and sponsorship packages and assume responsibility for the production of the shows along with Fox Sports. This year Fox began televising a package of NASCAR events after Time Warner’s Turner opted not to continue a rights deal. Adding NHRA drag racing to its programming “solidifies Fox Sports as the leader in motor sports television,” said Jamie Horowitz, president of Fox Sports National Networks, in a statement.
In recent months ESPN has trimmed some of its employee base. The Disney-owned outlet has not renewed contracts with both Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons and earlier announced senior executives including Sean Bratches and David Preshlack would leave the company. A recent Wall Street Journal report suggested the company was trying to maintain its economic standing while suffering ratings drops along with rising costs for sports broadcast rights.