By admin | July 28, 2008
By Richard Allen
ESPN was probably looking forward to having their turn at broadcasting the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008. During the time the races were covered by Fox and TNT the ratings for the most part had experienced a modest rise over last season. No doubt, ESPN/ABC with their massive sports promotional machine counted on being able to continue and even improve upon those ratings.
Then, the AllState 400 at The Brickyard happened. By any and all accounts the race was a disaster.
Even the on air personalities, who would be expected to attempt to put a positive spin on even the worst of situations, could not hold back their disappointment at the way the event played out.
“It’s disappointing,” said studio host Brad Daugherty at one point. “We wanted to see a great race but this segmented racing isn’t fun to watch.”
When the ratings come out they may show an increase over last year’s race, but the interesting part will be deeper inside the numbers. What the network, the advertisers and NASCAR should pay the greatest attention to would be how many people were watching at the end of the race as compared to the beginning. There surely were many fans who turned away.
And obviously, where a situation like the one to take place on Sunday will really hurt will be in future broadcasts. Many potential viewers may be swayed to look elsewhere for sports entertainment, not wanting to take the chance of there being more “segmented racing”.
This tire and track surface fiasco at Indianapolis could not have happened at a worse time for NASCAR and ESPN. The stretch drive in baseball is beginning and football season is just around the corner. A look at or listen to any recent newspaper, talk radio broadcast or television sports report will show what is getting the bulk of national sports attention. Brett Favre, Yankees-Red Sox and college football previews are moving to the front and center.
NASCAR needed a great race to keep the spotlight shining on their sport for as long as possible. Instead, they got an event that will get them attention for a short time, but it will be the kind of attention that will reaffirm in the minds of many sports fans that NASCAR will not be their first option.
Unfortunately, the core fans of NASCAR have been alienated to the point that many were not even watching Sunday’s race to begin with. Core fans are the ones to be counted on to stick with a sport even when things do not go as well as they should.
Baseball’s core fans have hung on through strikes and steroid scandals. Football’s core fans stuck with their game through strikes and player arrest scandals.
NASCAR does not have as many core fans to pull them through messes like this because so many have become disenchanted.
Now, NASCAR is left to scrap for fans with baseball and football. And when it comes to luring those casual viewers, NASCAR will lose out more often than not, especially after such an embarrassing race.
Sorry, ESPN. You got NASCAR when it appeared things were on the upswing, only to be dealt a bad hand right from the start.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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