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Is bad coverage causing low ratings or are low ratings causing bad coverage?

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.

Topics: Articles |

13 Responses to “Is bad coverage causing low ratings or are low ratings causing bad coverage?”

  1. Gene Says:
    October 6th, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    So that’s why ESPN continues to use Marty Reid…. to save expenses. I wonder how much he pays them to do the play by play?

  2. Bill Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Dunno about the ratings, but I do know that FOX is the only broadcast I can stand. TNT is unwatchable, and ESPN isn’t much better… they both feel like some low-quality European broadcast.

  3. david Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 7:32 am

    I only got to see commercials when flipping between the race, Phillies game and the Eagles/Redskins. Everytime I switched back to the race a commercial was on.

  4. Rob Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I still really enjoy Fox’s broadcast. TNT is really good, but only for the Coke Zero 400 with the wide open coverage. I wish they used that every race rather than making it seem like such a special thing. ESPN is the worst. The broadcast team is stale, way too many commercials, and too much emphasis on Danica when she is at the track. But what really iritates me about ESPN is they have the technology to do the side-by-side coverage and they chose not to. Instead they throw commercials down our throat every 10 laps. I feel that ESPN is trying to kill this sport with their coverage. I will always watch on TV, but that does not mean I will enjoy it.

  5. gary Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I refuse to buy cable. I cannot watch Nascar. Put it on over the air T.V. or watch your market share suffer even more.

  6. Steve Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    If ESPN is trying to cut costs, how bout cutting some of the 12 members of their race broadcast. Dougherty, Rusty, and Brewer could all go as far as I’m concerned. The broadcast will be better for it. Better yet, only use 3 guys in the booth and the pit reporters. That’s all you need. You would also save money by not having to haul that moving studio all over the country.

    The day the networks start going back to keeping the broadcasts simple will be the day that watching a race on tv will be enjoyable again.

  7. Charles Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I know its not perfect by all means, but to me Fox has the best of the Nascar Broadcast!

    I personally liked the ‘old Espn back in the ninties and late eighties with Bob Jenkins! I think they were the best of all time!

    This crew on ESPN has gone too many Dale Carnagie Courses to be calling a Nascar Event! They seem to stiff and almost like calling a golf match!

  8. oldnascar Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    One of the problems is the poor coverage of the race. Each week they give the same thing ,explaining what push and loose mean, we need clean air for the cars to handle ,etc.
    TOO much useless talk in the booth. Not enough coverage with the rest of the field, there ar more than 10/12 on the track. Maybe if they give more coverage to these other teams and mention the cars sponsors this would help teams keep and get sponsorship

    Maybe give a little profile a driver or a crew member might be nice.
    they need to do more of the split screen coverage the race

  9. Lou Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    it’s bad everything in nascar that is hurting the sport , the thing that really ticks me off is a caution being thrown for a piece of paper and they lose 10 laps because of this , not only would the race go faster but people go and tune into races TO WATCH THE CARS GO FAST , not to follow a pace car going 55 mph , THE GARBAGE rules , the tinkering with rules, and now maybe another some tweek with the chase , wtf , and they worry about the start and parkers PLEASE , and I have been watching and attending races since the late 70s , and this is the first year I havent attended a race since 1986 and I had major surgery that year , and you know what ? I didnt even miss it . at my peak I would go to atleast 12 a year

  10. zhills fan Says:
    October 8th, 2010 at 5:39 am

    IROC didn’t work and neither does COT, got back to real cars with bumpers and different looking and then you will have real racing and some of the crowd will come back. TV is not the problem, the product is!!

  11. Jesse Says:
    October 8th, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Steve says it the best, and in the old days you didn’t have to hear about two rounds in the rear a wedge adjustment and all that junk that they throw out about the race car. I sick of hearing how Kyle Busch is the greatest, when he drove for Hendrick did he not have the best equiipment, did he set the world on fire, no but give him and the other Gibbs guys the billion dollar Toyota engine and that makes them great drivers.

  12. Dar Says:
    October 16th, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    I personally also like Fox coverage. Its way better then the other two. I live in Canada and we barely get any of the races because they are on ESPN and the channel that covers sports in Canada rarely covers the race. That can’t help the ratings any. I think this past race at Charlotte was the first race we seen all chase and before that. I think they should take it off ESPN so maybe the Canadian fans can watch NASCAR.

  13. Bernie Says:
    November 20th, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Agree entirely with Dar, above. Am also in Canada. 2010…
    I haven’t seen so few NASCAR races as this year, because of NASCAR’s deal with ESPN.
    TSN’s what I’m stuck with: Have the full over-priced cable package, too. For now.
    Homestead’s tomorrow. TSN’s showing…Football.