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It’s not the network that matters, it’s the product they are showing

By admin | January 13, 2010

By Richard Allen

When NASCAR signed a new television deal in 2001 part of the allure was that the vast majority of Sprint Cup races would be carried on major network television. NASCAR had an exciting product and had some very marketable personalities. The sport was even able to withstand the loss of its most recognizable name, Dale Earnhardt, at the very beginning of the new television contract.

Fox and NBC aired most races and, for a while, with great success. Then, when the TV deal was renewed NBC was dropped and ABC/ESPN joined the fray.

At about the time of the renewal, television ratings began to drop. The reason for the drop may have to some degree been linked to the networks but the real fault lay with the sanctioning body itself. For whatever reason, NASCAR decided to take a new direction. Races were moved from venerable old venues to more glamorous places that had no real connection with the sport. And, major changes were made in the type of car being used and the way in which the yearly champion was determined.

Although NASCAR’s leadership remained in a state of denial for quite sometime, it was fairly apparent that the changes made in the mid to late 2000s were driving fans away.

Since 2004, television ratings have been in a state of decline. Also, empty seats, once almost unheard of at NASCAR Sprint Cup events, began to appear with greater and greater frequency.

On Wednesday, ABC and ESPN announced that the majority of the races those networks cover would be shown on cable outlet ESPN rather than the major network of ABC. Nine of the ten Chase for the Championship races will air on cable as opposed to ABC, which has previously shown those playoff type events.

Much will no doubt be made of the fact that the races designed to decide the Sprint Cup champion have been demoted by the television industry.

I contend that this is not the real issue. The real issue is that the leadership of the sanctioning body have presided over this decline and are now reaping what they have sown. Had NASCAR not made the poor decisions they made leading to this point the networks would not be changing.

If this demotion along with the sagging ticket sales and loss of numerous sponsors serves to fully get the attention of those in Daytona Beach who make the decisions this may actually be a good thing.

This sport needs real fixes, not stop-gap measures and short term hype.

NASCAR needs to get away from places where they are not wanted. They need to package their product in such a way as to fit the modern landscape but not completely turn their backs on their own past. They need to allow brand identity in the car they use and then keep their legislative hands off of it so teams can do what they need to in order to make it work. And perhaps most of all, they need to return to a legitimate system of determining a champion which will also cause drivers and teams to abandon ‘points racing’ and make winning individual races the most important thing.

NASCAR has very recently shown that they are paying attention. Decisions to use double file restarts, the likelihood of minor changes being made to the car, and the elimination of the over legislated on-track rules to have been implemented in the near past show that Daytona Beach is getting the message.

However, keep in mind those in power are not yet fully aware of reality. An example of this came last year in Talladega when announcers criticized what was an awful race. NASCAR officials opted to shoot the messenger rather than own up to their own blunders.

There is still much more to be done as is evidenced by the extensive list I mentioned above. Maybe the demotion of having their playoff events on cable may serve as yet another wake up call. It is not the network covering the sport that matters. It is the product they are airing that will ultimately decide whether this sport continues as a viable sports entity or fades into the oblivion of apathy.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

20 Responses to “It’s not the network that matters, it’s the product they are showing”

  1. Tex Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 6:49 am

    NASCAR is “listening” instead of dictating, and attempting to implement “positive changes”.

    Uh huh.

    NASCAR is continuing its exercise in futility.


    Everything will work out and things will become blissfully perfect again, as racing regains its sports “mega-status” and reenergizes its financial boom.

    Not bloody likely.

    Things will only get worse for the Directing Daytona Cave Men.

    The patient is terminal and its health will continue to decline.

    Hindsight can be a real ……female dog.

  2. Kurt Smith Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 8:23 am

    NASCAR is suffering from a glaring lack of leadership. After Brian France said a couple of years ago that the sport had had all the change it could stand, the sport is now changing almost hourly with every change in the wind direction. They are clearly lost and don’t know what to do, when what needs to be done is to reverse some of the decisions that got them here. You’re 100% right Rich.

  3. Jon Medek Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Two Things: if races need to move from places that don’t want them, based on the attendance problems Charlotte should be on that list. The huge amount of empty seats show that just because teams live there, that doesn’t mean the fans of the area are willing to pay to go to the races anymore. It is always assumed that the places that need to lose races are all newer and mostly out west. Also, broadcast TV is not superior in this day and age, Cable is the better product and broadcast/free TV is on the way out, probably in the next 5 years. You can only move forward, living in the past hurts NASCAR.

  4. bobby dee Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    So now my TV challenged friends can not watch the Chase races on ABC. That does not make for more viewers, NASCAR.

  5. yankeegranny Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I agree with everything you wrote except for the chase being a big part of the reason for the decline of the sport. I don’t want to see a sport where the champion is decided way before the end of the season.

    I see the decline of the sport being caused by the sanitizing of the product. I get so sick of PC drivers, crewchierfs, and announcers. Show a little personality for Heaven’s sake.

    I am sick of boring races(California, Pocono) and drivers who can’t climb out of the car without thanking every sponser in one breath, and phony cautions that last for ever. If you have to take 5 to 10 laps to pick up a piece of junk off the track, only count one of them. If you want to shorten the race, go for it, but don’t count the caution laps in the total laps.

    Maybe it is me, but it seems to only be the race journalists who want to shorten the races, not the guy who has shelled out several hundred dollars to go to the race, sit in the stands, and cheer for his driver.

    Get rid of some of those cookiecutter tracks. Keep those interesting short tracks and build some more.

    Switch the schedule so that we only visit the “chase tracks” once in the season.

    Oh and finally, figure out a way for Jr to winn 5 or 6 races this year, Now that would be really interesting.

    keep writing Rich.

  6. HildaBeachfront Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Rich, a very awesome article. Lest you say it as it is!!!
    Yes, the so called leader of nascrap doesn’t really care what we see,cost of tickets, to get to a race, lots of other things in racing, only things that brings him in dollar bills.It doesn’t matter that nascrap steals sponsors from teams, just so that there are dollar bills in their grubby paws.

    I don’t mind the ‘boggity,boggity boggity boys, let’s go racing…it’s that critter that they show being crammed down our throats. The favoritism of certian teams, there wasn’t supposed to be start and parks, but we have them…
    They should do a lot more for the sport to be like it was, but the greed of dollar bills will always be there, for their sakes, so there will only be small changes.
    Yes, they accuse a good innocent driver of drugs….and who do we see that got caught driving drunk and drugs in the car…a family member…but all his trash gets put under the rug…while Jeremy suffers from nascraps lies.

    You can see that people aren’t stupid as nascrap thinks as more people speak out about the greedy stuipd things nascrap does to ruin the sport.
    Very good article Rich,again….we aren’t as stupid as nascrap thinks we are.

  7. zhills fan Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 10:48 am

    As long as they keep running IROC (only the names on the cars are different) cars, nothing will change. But yes, I do believe which networks carry the races do make a difference. Fox is the only network that acts like they know what they are doing. The announcers on espn/abc stink!!

  8. Gina Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 11:42 am

    IROC cars, bad management and even worse producing of the races has led to this. When the first tv contract came out, I never missed a minute of the races being shown. Now, I skip all the pre-race drivel, watch 10 laps, go find something else to do with my day until 20 to go and come back (maybe) to see the end. I don’t like the chase — it was a knee jerk reaction to Kenseth’s championship. Instead we have something that produces a bogus trophy winner and on the same tracks every season. No wonder a smart guy like Knaus has it figured out.

    Plus, it has produced points racing beyond all bearing AND ESPN only focuses on the chase, not the race from the time they take over.

    I’m sure that Martinsville will lose one of its races when Kentucky or Kansas gets their casino. That will mean that NASCAR will lose the $ from the 3 tickets I buy for both of the races at Martinsville. I know it’s not a huge market, but its a great fun track and one of the few short tracks still in NASCAR. Plus if they take that out of the chase for another mile and a half track, well, geez, just don’t bother to waste everyone’s time or money, just hand the trophy to the 48 team each year and be done with it. I won’t need to buy tickets to any of the last 10 races or waste my vacation time.

  9. Ken Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    There is not really anything wrong with the champion being decided early. Once the champion is decided, the drivers can race for wins rather than racing for points. It makes the late races more like a nonpoints allstar race.

    I’m so sick of follow the leader and not take a chance riding around the track, I could puke.

  10. Richard in N.C. Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    If you go back and check I think you will find that NASCAR ratings began to decline shortly after NBC’s dumb move to replace Allen Bestwick with Bill Weber as the play-by-play announcer. Of course almost no one in the media will dare criticize EESPN for the ratings decline due to their mediocre handling of the races. The fans I talk with who attend the races find them much more exciting than what EESPN flings up on the screen.

  11. Joe in Pittsburgh Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I didnt realize ABC had announced this switch to ESPN. Perhaps this is one of those reasons NASCAR is listening and willing to reverse/alter their previous hard line stances. I always felt that when the TV contract was up and they stood to lose big time revenue,that was when they would be willing to undo all of these awful changes implemented since 04. The thing is,will fans that left the sport or (greatly reduced watching it) come back? I personally need more than what is being “considered” before I spend all my summer Sundays glued to the races like I used to. Hint: chse go away,gimme stock sheet metal,no lucky dogs and ffs,make qualifying MEAN something again!

  12. Darci Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    You hit it right on the head with your comments on the Chase and the car. No brand identity has caused fan apathy. You used to be known as a Ford guy or a Chevy or Dodge guy, but no more.

    And to whomever said the Chase and the subsequent points racing is OK, you need to think again. If Nascar came up with a sane points system, one that rewards wins rather than racking up points, you’d have a lot more interest in the sport. A lot of the top drivers including the likes of Montoya and Jeff Gordon have fully admitted to just tooling around the track and not getting into trouble so they can get their points and make the stupid Chase. No one wants to see guys just riding around in a straight line playing follow the leader.

  13. Bill B Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Once again a great article Rich and right on the mark.

    And just to counter point someone above, I think the chase is huge part of the problem (in addition to all the other issues you listed). The chase still doesn’t keep the championship from being decided before the final race and it brings other negatives into the equation; chase hype that doesn’t live up to his potential, only the chase guys get followed by the press, non-chase guys are afraid of racing hard against the chase guys, those ten races matter more than the other 26 and points racing matters more than ever. From what I have seen the season peaks at Richmond and then the chase is melodramatic.
    The easy answer is reset the rules back to 2003 (or 1999 or pick any year after 1990 and prior to BF) and find some way to ease back into less IROC like cars.

  14. Bill B Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Oh yeah, and put the Southern 500 back at Darlington on Labor Day weekend where it belongs!!!!

    That should be a no-brainer.

  15. We Hate Brain Fran¢e Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Yes Ken, you said the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. No COT, No Cha$e, NO BRAINLESS FRANCE. Implement these three core changes and most problems will be solved. At least with the old points system it was way more difficult to win the title. There was NEVER the chance for a four peat for sure. What a joke. The Cha$e is an attempt at creating excitement that clearly has failed miserably. Trying to force excitement is fake and seriously degrades the product, hence nobody watching or buying. People are not stupid. They liked the product how it was before (all the numbers prove this) and hate it now. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. (You should have listened to you Dad Brian, now you’re sinking the ship you idiot)The people running NA$CAR are perhaps the stupidest people in the world. Greed will destroy almost everything. In your face NA$CAR and all the YES men who support everything they do or say (teams, drivers, media etc.) You are all a bunch of ******* with your heads buried deep in the sand

  16. Marybeth Says:
    January 14th, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Unless they remove the Chase and Jimmie wins again nothing is going to stave off the exodus from Nascar.

  17. Bob Says:
    January 15th, 2010 at 8:23 am

    I think everyone has missed the larger picture. Brain has stated a couple of things over the years.

    1. He wants to save the fans money.
    By making the decisions that he has less people go to races which saves them at least a thousand bucks per race this equals five thousand dollars per year for my family.

    2. He wants to help local tracks grow.
    Well with the extra money from not going to cup races we went to several semi local tracks that we would not have gone to. thus helping the local economy, the local tracks and drivers.

    So is this Brain’s plan?

    NAH! It is just working out that way Really he is just a guy that has inherited a money machine and never had to hustle a dollar like his father and grandfather did. This makes him so out of touch with real fans that he doesn’t have a clue what we like to see! But he knows he likes big piles of money so that is what he goes for.

  18. Chase Says:
    January 16th, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    A lot of very good comments on this. that’s for sure!

  19. mkrcr Says:
    January 18th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    If watching this weekends NFL playoffs on Fox is any indication, we’re in for a long, long, commercial filled season again. I’m surprised those football players could even maintain any concentration while standing around for the TV timeouts. If they do it to the NFL, I can only imagine what Fox has planned for NA$CAR. Just can’t wait for Digger. You know he’ll be there ’cause Fox just luvs ole DW and the DW store.

  20. riffraff Says:
    March 12th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Nascar was just fine until FOX got involved! Only uneducated, and ignorant trailer trash think that the world revolves around FOX!