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Sprint Unlimited TV Ratings Show What Happens When Individuals Are Hyped Over Racing

By admin | February 21, 2013

 When a sport marries itself to personalities, it opens itself up to failures when those personalities aren’t involved.

By Richard Allen

The Sprint Unlimited held last Saturday night may very well have had all the elements of a good race. There was a big crash and a dramatic finish combined with strategy and unprecedented fan involvement. But even with all of that, not very people watched. As a matter of fact, Sports Business Daily reports that the event drew the lowest television rating in its history. Â

“The NASCAR Sprint Unlimited from Daytona earned a 3.3 overnight rating on FOX Saturday night, down 18% from last year (4.0), down 15% from 2011 (3.9), and easily the network’s lowest overnight ever for the event. The Sprint Unlimited finished well behind TNT’s NBA All-Star Saturday Night in the metered markets (4.3), though the gap should narrow when the final numbers are released. (Weekend numbers form Sports Business Daily)”

So why did an 18% drop happen?

Well, just consider how NASCAR now markets its product, or rather, its personalities. Since the beginning of the TV contracts that began in 2001, personalities have been the focus of the sport’s leadership and media partners. Racing has taken a back seat.

Evidence of that can be seen in the creation of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the Car of Tomorrow.

The Chase was devised in 2004 for no other reason than to assure that as many different drivers as possible would be in the hunt for a championship at the end of the season. In other words, the sport’s leadership and its media partners wanted all the drivers who were fan favorites in the running for the Sprint Cup right down to the last race.

Further evidence that this is true can be seen in the fact that when popular drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon missed the Chase at various times, the playoff was expanded to include twelve drivers rather than the original ten. Â

Prior to the Chase, winning a NASCAR championship was the equivalent of winning a marathon. But sometimes in a marathon, one runner separtes from the pack and wins by a large margin. NASCAR and its media partners don’t want that because some popular drivers may not be in contention late in the season. So the Chase keeps everyone conveniently close.

Besides the Chase, NASCAR brought in a very generic, non-descript car “in the name of safety” back in 2007. The result was no brand distinction and a car that provided bad racing, especially on the so called “cookie cutter” tracks.

Again, the purpose seemed to be an attempt to creat NFL-like parity that would assure everyone’s favorite driver being in contention every week. In reality, the car with its tight restrictions that were supposed to offer close competition really provided an advantage to the mega-teams with their extensive engineering budgets that allowed them to find minute advantages.

Prior to the CoT, teams were allowed a certain amount of leeway in preparation and innovation was rewarded with race wins. Now, innovation is penalized, sometimes harshly.

Getting back to the low ratings for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited. NASCAR and the TV networks’ desire to make personalities the primary focus of the sport backfired in a major way in that race. Consider that the most promoted personalities in NASCAR today are Danica Patrick, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Only one of those three was actually in the Sprint Unlimited.

The bottom line is this. NASCAR and the networks can’t promote personalities and then not deliver. If Danica, @keselowski and June Bug are going to be the centerpieces of the marketing strategy, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when a race that doesn’t feature two-thirds of that combination bombs.

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13 Responses to “Sprint Unlimited TV Ratings Show What Happens When Individuals Are Hyped Over Racing”

  1. Russ Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Viewers dropped by almost 2 million. Perhaps the new social media campaign, and the empathis on introducing Hispanics to the sport will pay off.
    However, perhaps The Auto extremist was correct when they wrote:
    ” You can only rationalize a downward spiral for so long, and the prevailing opinion is that NASCAR not only isn’t doing anything to stem the slide, the concern is that they’re incapable of coming up with meaningful ideas to fix it.”

    We shall see.

  2. Janet Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 11:12 am

    It is my opinion that ratings were influenced by NBA All-Star weekend. I admit that I lost interest after the seven cars crashed out. Yes, I am one of the few fans that does not watch for the wrecks.

  3. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I never missed a race on TV from the early 1980’s until about 2007. The racing in NA$CAR is boring, predictable, and sanitary. In 2013 I’ll watch the short-track, Superspeedway, and race course races on TV and then tune in for the last 20 or so laps on the cookie-cutter tracks just like I have for the past 6 years.

  4. Judy Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    It’s bad enuf that NASCAR can’t compete with the NFL & shoots itself in the tire every time it tries. If they’re now fighting for fans with the NBA (which I don’t agree that they are)…….

    In my opinion, NASCAR needs to look back before the institution of the (stupid) chase (lower case intended). That’s when the downward spiral seems to have started. The braintrust that decided to “win over” NFL fans & bring in new ones with a gimmick of a pseudo-playoff system that doesn’t fit in racing while alienating long-time fans should be taken to the woodshed.

    The biggest problem, however, is that the racing itself became boring. I’m hoping the Gen6 cars will fix at least some of the racing issues.

  5. RA Eckart Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I never heard about the race on TV or outside of the internet. Didn’t even know it switched from Budweiser to Sprint.

    I think this has more to do with Sprint’s lack of promotion for NASCAR. The difference between Sprint & Winston or even Sprint & Anheuser-Busch has been glaring & obvious for years.

    Winston & Anheuser-Busch know promotion and sports marketing better than most companies in America, so we got spoiled. Sprint is content to slap its name on the series and wait for good things to come. That’s not how Winston did it.

    The average sports fan used to know about NASCAR, thanks to Winston. That’s who’s missing. They’ve been slowly leaving for years.

  6. Scott Says:
    February 21st, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Maybe rating should be calculated to include those watching and participating in other media. I can be away from my TV, and keep up with the race on my phone or my computer. Then, I can watch the highlights on the NASCAR website and been able to enjoy a Saturday night with my friends or family involved in another activity. It’s a different world now, especially since NASCAR is going all in on alternate media. Ratings as we know them will be down even when total content viewership is at least steady if not up(IMHO).

  7. Ken Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Scott, If they calculate it differently to take alternative viewing into consideration, they should also consider the hugh number of TVs that are on but are not being watched. My TV is frequently on but I don’t watch it unless something happens and I back up the DVR to see it. I can watch follow the leader on the interstate.

  8. Jesse Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 9:27 am

    DVR the race, find out who won, if I like I watch, if I don’t like, thats anyone driving a jap car I erase. That is my right.

  9. Sue Rarick Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Nascar used to be about down home racing with ties, basically putting lipstick on a pig. It was basic and unpretentious and that is what I liked about it.

    I have had favorite drivers in all the eras but if something happened to him I always had the race itself. I watched to see if my least favorite driver got a racing whoopin.

    I don’t know of many people that like being manipulated and even those that are manipulated look for any excuse in the book to deny it. Yet today I feel that Nascar’s main objective is to manipulate me. What is possibly worse though is that most writers are in ignorant bliss about being a Nascar mouthpiece or they buy into the the belief that the average Nascar fan is so dumb they won’t notice they are being manipulated. Ya know us dumb Southern rednecks are all inbred idiots.

    The ratings are going down because people don’t like being manipulated and show it by not paying for a race weekend and not even bothering to watch it on TV.

    (Scott) If ratings for racing aren’t accurate for Nascar because of alternate media can’t the same thing be said for all sports?
    More people would be using alternative media to watch Football, Basketball, Hockey etc. Being proportionally similar the drop in viewers is still a valid benchmark.

  10. jerseygirl Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 9:37 am

    LOL, Ken, you are so right. Heck my daily commute is more “exciting” sometimes than watching a race is. Certainly it makes my heart “race”.

    Agree with Russ, too. Yes, NASCAR continues to rationalize the downward spiral. NASCAR first tried sanitizing everything, then they tried “have at it, boys”, now it’s trying to bring in Hispanics and females (there used to be a 40% female demographic anyway - before DP) instead of doing the simple thing. Deal with the real problems - OK, they’ve changed the car, but is it really any different or just a body change on top of the COT chassis? Too many 1.5 mile parades, too much hype and not enough being able to race side by side and the poor TV coverage — no, I’m not going to listen to multiple hours of pre-race where they talk about nothing or chastise the fans for their opinions (which may differ from NASCAR and the talking heads point of view - as demonstrated by the lower ratings and attendance). I am also not going to sit in front of my TV and listen to blathering by the booth monkeys when I would like to hear the play by play guy.

  11. k Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I agree here with everthing said especially Sue R. The media is catering to the casual fan, which in turn insults the heck out of real fans. Cookie cutter tracks ARE BORING. The constant in your face nonsense of “personalities” (think the current favorite in the Grinch Green suit) We have despised “The Chase” since its inception, can’t barely stand watching the season with the idiot announcers saying “The Chase” 10 billion times. Bias in the booth is a bad thing too. Rusty Wallace and DW are shameful in their personal favorites. Listening to DW concerning anything Danica is really disturbing. DW the whole world isn’t about Danica. Strange times. That’s just a short list, and the Kings at Daytona wonder what is happening to their kingdom.

  12. Tony Geinzer Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Why not have it be back to a 20 Lap Pole Sitter Racing.

  13. SB Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Nascar drivers USED to have personalities…now they just have the corporate party line. Drew chiefs used to be able to ‘innovate’ and try to out fox each other. Now they’re put in a small box. Each race used to be important in itself, not as a way to make it into a contrived ‘playoff’. One gimmick on top of another has sanitized the sport into something it shouldn’t be.