DETROIT (AP) — CBS Sports is not using the Superstar Racing Experience as a soft opening for more motorsports, and chairman Sean McManus ruled out IndyCar joining the network next year.
McManus told The Associated Press the CBS Sports calendar is too crowded with too many conflicts — the PGA Tour went head-to-head this year with the Indianapolis 500 — for the network to attempt to acquire IndyCar's television rights.
NBC Sports is in the final season of a three-year deal with IndyCar.
“I can tell you that we will not have IndyCar next year,” McManus told The Associated Press. "Our commitment right now is to SRX and our programming schedule really precludes us from picking up a series like the IndyCar Series. Even on Indianapolis 500 week, on race day, we've got commitments to golf.
“The PGA Tour is really important to us and those events can't be preempted. I'm an auto racing fan, I'd love to bring more auto racing to CBS and this is what we're focused on."
CBS Sports made a multi-year agreement with SRX before the made-for-TV all-star series had even announced its creation. The six-race series was developed by NASCAR Hall of Famers Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham and is backed by The Montag Group CEO Sandy Montag and Bruin Capital CEO George Pyne.
It debuts Saturday night from Stafford Speedway in Connecticut for the first of six consecutive weeks that CBS figured will fill an empty summer programming slot. CBS hired veteran motorsports producer Pam Miller to run the broadcasts and assembled a talent team that includes rotating driver analysts Danica Patrick, James Hinchcliffe and Dario Franchitti.
Some wondered if it was a test run toward a return of motorsports to CBS, the network that in 1960 was the first to air NASCAR races. CBS in 1979 presented the first flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500, a race that drew an incredible 15.1 million viewers in part because of a massive snowstorm that paralyzed much of the East Coast and fantastic racing that ended with a Richard Petty victory and Cale Yarborough fighting brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison on live television following their last-lap crash.
NASCAR's relationship with CBS lasted in some form until 2000, when NASCAR struck the first of several monster television deals that moved racing away from the network.
CBS gets back into the racing game the next six weeks with SRX, but McManus said there are no plans for other racing series at the network. He said there were initial discussions with IndyCar owner Roger Penske “but it became clear that from a programming standpoint, we just couldn't find the necessary slots for the races. It's exciting programming live, it feels big, but it just wasn't meant to be for CBS.”
For the same reason, McManus said CBS would not likely be a player in NASCAR negotiations when its current TV deals with Fox Sports and NBC expire at the end of the 2024 season.
“We've got college basketball in the first quarter, and in the fall we have college football and NFL football,” McManus said. “So I don't see how we could come up with the necessary network windows to accommodate NASCAR for the same reason as IndyCar.”
The Indy 500 last month hit a five-year television ratings high, averaging 5.581 million viewers for a 51% surge over 2020 — the least-watched Indy 500 ever.
Penske said Friday the strong Indy 500 ratings are helpful as he negotiates a new television deal. He has continued to give few details on where IndyCar could land.
“Success never hurts when you're about to negotiate something just in general business, so I would say that's a good omen for us,” Penske said. “But there's many things that go into where we're going and television for the future. Technology is changing fast.”
Fast enough that McManus was willing to take a shot at this imaginative SRX racing series that was presented to him in concept form: a two-hour race between a dozen of the most iconic names in modern-day motorsports in identically prepared cars at six of America’s classic short tracks.
McManus liked that CBS could get in at the ground level and participate in the designing of the race format while also presenting a unique product during a viewing window that struggles to attract eyeballs.
“We were able to customize the format, construct the cars, get the drivers and get access to the drivers in a way that probably hasn't been done for a long time in car racing,” McManus said. “I also think it's going to be a really great show.”
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