By admin | August 29, 2011
By Richard Allen
College football season is set to begin this coming weekend as NASCARâ€™s Sprint Cup Series races in Atlanta. The next week, and just in time for the Chase for the Championship cutoff and the playoff run itself, the National Football League will kickoff its 2011 campaign. Needless to say, the beginning of football season is a matter of concern for NASCAR due to the fact that the sport will have a competitor for television sets that it has not had throughout the first 2/3 of its season.
It looked as if NASCAR might catch a break earlier in the year when a lockout of NFL players by their owners appeared to be a virtual certainty. However, that issue was resolved and the season will go off as planned. So, each Sunday afternoon there is about to be the possibility of casual fans turning away from, or not turning to at all, the weekâ€™s NASCAR offering.
In recent years, NASCAR has made drastic changes to keep its viewers in place. Adjustments to the Sprint Cup schedule have taken place on multiple occasions in an attempt to maneuver races away from areas in which the tracks would find themselves in direct competition with college or NFL teams for ticket sales. And, races have been juggled in an attempt to have the most appealing tracks running up against football games on television.
However, the most drastic change of all occurred in 2004 when NASCAR decided to do away with the points system that had been in place for three decades and replace it with a playoff system called the Chase for the Championship. In 2003, driver Matt Kenseth and his team removed all drama from the title issue by running so consistently, if not spectacularly, that they essentially had the trophy locked up with weeks remaining in the season.
NASCAR now artificially resets the points with ten races to go in an attempt to assure a down to the wire championship battle. It was hoped this system would keep the attention of the fans so that they would not abandon the sport for other forms of entertainment once the title was decided.
Trouble has been that one driver and team have made the new system almost as lacking in drama as the old. Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have clearly learned how to play the playoff game better than everyone else. The #48 crew has amassed an unprecedented five consecutive Sprint Cup championships.
That team and driver have done their work so well and so efficiently that they have perhaps caused more people to turn away during the latter stages of the season than any one-sided runaway under the old format ever did.
Maybe the best thing that could happen for NASCAR in 2011 in terms of on-site attendance and television ratings would be for Johnson to fall from contention early on in the Chase and assure that someone else was going to win. Otherwise, many will see the final ten races as simply more of the same and turn away, as they have in recent years.
People get tired of routine sameness, even sports fans. If the sport is to see the maintenance of attendance and ratings the Chase for the Championship was meant to deliver the playoff will likely have to deliver a new winner. And even then, it may still be too late in coming.
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