By admin | February 21, 2013
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.
“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.
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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