By admin | June 2, 2009
By Richard Allen
On Wednesday night race fans will have the opportunity to purchase a pay-per-view event and watch their favorite NASCAR stars race on the dirt of Eldora Speedway. The cost for the â€˜Prelude to the Dreamâ€™ is $24.95 and the proceeds go to charitable causes. In my opinion, it is money well spent but in difficult economic times each fan has to decide for that themselves.
Now, with the above unsolicited promo out of the way, here is a bigger question. How much would you be willing to pay to watch NASCAR events on television or listen to those events on the radio? Or for that matter, are you willing to pay to watch or listen to NASCAR at all?
NASCAR is in the process of laying groundwork for that very thing. The current media contracts for television, radio and internet media rights run out in the year 2014. The sanctioning body is putting the pieces in place so that they will be ready in that year to fully capitalize on any and all media opportunities.
According to a published report in Sports Business Journal, NASCAR is about to open a new $45 million state-of-the-art media center in downtown Charlotte adjacent to the soon to be completed NASCAR Hall of Fame.
They are not going to all this expense and trouble to create more two minute video and audio clips for NASCAR.com. Obviously, there is a plan and even the biggest of NASCAR critics has to admit that no one is more skilled at laying the groundwork to make more money than this organization.
When those contracts expire in 2014, NASCAR will be able to go to any and all interested media partners with what they believe will be a strong hand to play. â€œEither give us what we want or we will go out on our ownâ€ will be the message delivered to such companies as Fox, ABC/ESPN and Sirius.
No doubt, NASCAR has looked around at the changing landscape of sports media. In recent years the powerful National Football League has taken a similar step.
The NFL Network has begun broadcasting live events as well as replays of games and other special programming. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and even the Big 10 Conference have taken similar steps, just not with the same clout as the NFL.
A NASCAR network would probably start out slowly, like the NFL Network, then build over time. Broadcasting such live events as qualifying and practice as well as producing on location programming as a support vehicle for the races themselves would be the type thing the new network would likely offer in the beginning.
Foxâ€™s SpeedTV does much of that type programming already. If NASCAR is determined to go in this direction they may consider buying SpeedTV to open a door into the approximately 75 million households that network already reaches. Or, they could attempt the same type of strong arm tactics the NFL has tried with the various cable and satellite providers.
If NASCAR starts its own television network they would have to broadcast some actual live race events for said network to gain full credibility. Perhaps this summer stretch of races currently about to be aired on TNT would be the place to start.
It would be hard to imagine big races such as the Daytona 500 and a few select others being broadcast on a start up cable only network. However, races at Pocono or Sonoma might work just as well on that type of medium. As a matter of fact, the major networks might rather work out a deal that would not saddle them with the less prestigious events.
Before NASCAR moves much further along on any media plans, they should take time to consider one very important thing. That is, the product they offer is quickly losing its value. The strong hand they think they have to play may not be so strong after all.
Thus far in 2009, television ratings have been down by as much as 15% as compared to last year. Those numbers make for a particularly poor showing when it is considered that last year was not such a great year.
Granted, on most weekends NASCAR broadcasts are still the top rated sports events, which is a powerful bargaining chip with advertisers. However, continued declines in ratings will eventually hurt, no matter what the overall ranking may be.
NASCAR should consider improving their product before they look at ways to better broadcast their product. There are fewer lead changes, more laps run under caution and less side by side racing than there ever has been in the sport.
The most polished broadcast in the world is not worth much when the product on the screen or coming from the speakers is sub-standard.
If NASCAR wants to go in the direction of forming its own television and radio networks, and they obviously do, they had better consider something far more important than latest HDTV cameras and new office buildings. They better improve the quality of that which they intend to broadcast or no one will be watching or listening.
One thing is almost certain, the days of a full schedule of NASCAR racing being broadcast on free network television and free radio are numbered. Either on a pay-per-view basis or additional cost on cable and satellite bills, watching and listening to NASCAR is going to cost more in the future.
Now, with all that said, check out the â€˜Prelude to the Dreamâ€™ on Wednesday night and consider how much watching NASCAR on a weekly basis is worth to you.
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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