Fox maneuvers for NASCAR net

FOX is aiming to partner with NASCAR to create a cable network dedicated solely to all things auto racing, according to several cable-industry sources.

Executives at the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing stated their intent to launch a NASCAR channel when its television racing rights were snapped up by FOX, TBS and NBC last November.

But, in light of the difficulties of launching a cable network from scratch, NASCAR was soon talking partnerships.

"Fox has been vying with Turner to do the deal," says John Mansell, sports analyst with Paul Kagan Associates.

A Turner spokesman flatly stated that Turner was not involved in talks with NASCAR about creating a channel and referred Broadcasting & Cable to FOX. A FOX spokesman initially confirmed that a NASCAR partnership was being pursued, then later refused further comment.

Sources close to the wheeling and dealing say FOX wants to convert Speedvision into the NASCAR channel. FOX owns a stake in Speedvision, an auto- and motorcycle-racing network that will end the year with around 32 million subscribers and may be worth an estimated $600 million to $700 million based on the per-subscriber selling price of comparably sized networks.

FOX, along with Liberty Media, owns 30% of Speedvision. Cox, Comcast and MediaOne hold the rest. The partnership gives each party the first right to buy out a selling partner at fair market value, but FOX doesn't have that option until 2004. FOX is therefore contriving to trade some of its other cable interests for control of Speedvision, industry sources said.

"We've got proposals from various people, either to take over an existing channel or develop a new one," says Bray Cary, NASCAR vice president of broadcasting. "Fox is one of the parties we're talking to." A NASCAR network will emerge by the end of the summer, he says.

FOX would be the most attractive partner for NASCAR, because it has the biggest chunk of television rights for NASCAR's most popular races. Fox's deal goes out eight years, while NBC and TBS have six-year deals. Without a partnership with at least one of the rights holders, a NASCAR network would have to rely on race repeats and the type of peripheral race programming already available on ESPN2 and Speedvision.

Cary says, "We're still in negotiations on content, but lots of racing related content comes out of NASCAR. We think there's a market for that."