By admin | March 11, 2014
By Richard Allen
In case you hadn’t noticed, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is off to a great start in 2014. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the Daytona 500, ran a solid 2nd the next week in Phoenix then had his car sputter as it ran out of gas while leading with the checkered flag virtually in sight last weekend in Las Vegas.
With the sport’s unquestioned most popular driver off to such a stellar beginning to the season, it would seem logical to expect NASCAR’s TV ratings to be trending upward. Perhaps some of the less-than-faithful members of the so-called ‘Junior Nation’ who had drifted away from NASCAR as their favorite struggled in recent years would be pulled back in to their living rooms on Sunday afternoons upon hearing of Earnhardt’s early successes. Or, his recognizable name might even draw newcomers into the sport out of curiosity.
However, that has not been the case at all. A look at the TV ratings page on the popular NASCAR-related website Jayski.com reveals a harsh truth.
“The 2014 Sprint Cup season has not gotten off to a great start on FOX. Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas drew a 4.1 overnight rating on FOX, down 11% from last year (4.6), down 23% from 2012 (5.3), and tied with 2010 as the lowest overnight ever for the race since it moved to FOX in 2001. Overnights have declined for the first three Sprint Cup telecasts this season. The numbers have not just declined, but in fact have hit historic lows. Final ratings for the Daytona 500 were the lowest ever, and the final rating for Phoenix was the lowest for the second race of the season since FOX acquired rights. Keep in mind that Sunday’s final rating could still end up surpassing the FOX low of 4.4 set in 2010. Despite the lower numbers, the race earned the highest overnight of the weekend for a sporting event on broadcast.(Sports Media Watch via Sports Business Daily)(3-11-2014)”
When the question of why TV ratings were not doing better in a time in which such a fan favorite has been in contention in every race was posed to the followers of @RacingWithRich on Twitter, several noteworthy responses came back.
@TheReal_HZ declared that “I think long time fans (like myself) are not happy with the constant rule changes & don’t even recognize the sport anymore.”
@uforb2000 said, “Junior fans already watch. But boring cookie cutter tracks lose lots of fans on TV, especially in good weather.”
@Revvinforseven48 got to the point with, “Three words: TOO MANY GIMMICKS”
@BKCMsport offered multiple reasons for the drop off by saying,Gimmicks, talking about certain drivers too much, Cup in Nationwide & Trucks, etc, etc. ”
@cale_fan insisted, “For me, nascar has sucked out every bit of enjoyment I’ve had for over 30 yrs. Rule changes, penalties, announcers, favoritism”
And finally on the negative side, @DirtCast said, “because unfortunately the racing is boring!”
But there was some positivity. @1967ChevyC10Guy said, “yea i love the how hard they are running and the drivers in the chase taking gambles and driving their ass off is awesome”
To me, the bottom line seems to be that NASCAR has a significant perception problem. All of the issues mentioned above are believed to be the truth by many fans, whether they actually are true or not.
NASCAR has indeed made numerous rule changes over the past decade. With that being the case, it would be hard to avoid the sentiment expressed above regarding gimmicks. And quite honestly, the changes made to the cars over the past off season have not helped competition on the track in the first two “down force” races at Phoenix and Las Vegas. Both of those races featured little passing only to be rescued in the end by dramatic finishes.
There is no doubt that it is good for NASCAR when the sport’s most popular driver is doing well. However, it seems as if the sanctioning body may have squandered an opportunity by continually changing its rules and points system.
Any potential ‘Junior Effect’ on TV ratings may have been lost.
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