By admin | October 6, 2010
By Richard Allen
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What relevance does that question have for a NASCAR column? Well, it would be difficult to find very many fans who have been pleased with the network television coverage of NASCAR racing in 2010. And the ratings indicate that fans are staying away from televised races in droves.
So, is it bad coverage that is causing the low ratings or is it low ratings causing the bad coverage? In other words, have people turned away because they are so dissatisfied with the broadcasts that they cannot watch no matter how much they may enjoy racing? Or, have the networks realized they have bought into a dying sport and have simply thrown in the towel on racing coverage by trying to minimize the damage as they get through the current contract period?
I wrote a piece earlier this year in which I stated my opinion that the coverage of NASCAR by Fox has grown stale. The network has made virtually no changes since coming to the sport in 2001. That has resulted in telecast after telecast filled with the same stories, the same explanations and the same jokes that have been told for nine years.
The ABC/ESPN group has tried a very different approach. They first began their coverage by trying to give NASCAR ‘credibility’ by using pre-race hosts better known for covering other sports. They have since changed up the pre-race team as well as offering up a number of different booth personalities.
ABC/ESPN even went so far as to change the channel altogether this season by moving most of the races they show from ABC to ESPN. The result has been some of the most dismal ratings NASCAR has seen since the inception of the massive network TV contract in 2001.
ESPN has been criticized for seemingly over commercializing their broadcasts. This has been so much of an issue that last week NASCAR writer Dustin Long offered twitter updates throughout the race in Kansas telling how long the network was spending in its race coverage versus its commercial time.
My opinion of the coverage NASCAR is getting is that the television networks are not doing the sport any favors. Whether it be the stale offerings of Fox or the inconsistent and heavily commercialized showings of ESPN, neither is the showing racing in the best light.
At the same time, however, I believe the networks have seen the writing on the wall and can‘t be totaled blamed for what is happening. The empty grandstands indicate there is a growing lack of interest in NASCAR and they are trying to get out of the bad deals they made with as few loses as possible. Fox seems to have chosen keeping costs low by making very few changes while ESPN seems to be trying to bring in as much revenue as they can by selling every possible minute of air time.
In the end, the poor coverage is causing low ratings and the low ratings in turn are causing bad coverage. Ultimately, my guess is that NASCAR can expect a far less lucrative contract the next time they negotiate with the networks.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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