Friday, January 23, 2009
France Talks Everything But TV In Thursday Remarks
Thursday afternoon at 1pm ET brought the annual "state of the sport" address from NASCAR Chairman Brian France. The location of the press conference was the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, NC.
This media opportunity usually provides France an outlet to address topics of his choice and those that are important for the new season. After a recorded introduction that featured TV veteran Ken Squier, NASCAR VP Jim Hunter started the festivities.
Diversity was on the agenda, but once again this topic is one that has not translated very well to the TV side of the sport. Max Siegel did not speak, but his future participation where the diversity agenda is concerned was mentioned prominently.
MRN Radio veteran Winston Kelly was up next to talk about the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He mentioned that the NASCAR Media Group is moving into HD TV studios in downtown Charlotte that include a brand new newsroom. This media area also includes a radio studio. It should be interesting to find out what use the newsroom and TV studios will be filling.
"It's been an interesting and challenging off-season," said France as he began his remarks. His prepared statement talked about the points that NASCAR wanted to emphasize. While he addressed the "tough times" affecting the sport and the nation, he mentioned that working with NASCAR's media partners was a high priority.
During the open comments section, France talked about the manufacturers continued participation in the sport. He said the sport is zeroed-in on helping the manufacturers, but said the larger issue was the jobs of the employees in the automotive industry.
It was Robin Pemberton who addressed the Camping World Truck Series issues by saying he was still discussing potential changes in the rules for this season. That certainly seemed strange with the first race only weeks away. Nothing was mentioned that directly referenced SPEED and the issues that network may experience should the series decline dramatically in the number of teams after Daytona.
Jay Abraham was on-hand to represent The NASCAR Media Group as VP Robbie Weiss had experienced medical problems and NMG President Paul Brooks was with him. We will update the condition of Weiss when it becomes available. Abraham reinforced the NMG mandate that connecting directly with the fans through TV was his primary mission.
There was a lot of talk about a new business model for the sport, but ultimately both the tracks and the teams are independent operators and have to fend for themselves. Speakers like NASCAR President Mike Helton were consistently assuring the assembled media that NASCAR had the best interests of the teams at heart.
As the media asked questions, it was clear that TV was going to take a backseat to the economy and the potential issues with team counts in each of the three national series. Ticket prices, fan attendance and even the satellite teams were topics on the agenda, but TV was not.
Also not mentioned was the new design of the NASCAR.com website, which is the official online location of the sport. Radio was also not in the mix, despite the fact that the press conference was carried live on Sirius. That radio network has been the linchpin for the fans during the off-season.
The voice of reason as usual was Mike Helton. He spoke clearly about the challenges for the upcoming season and gave the media lots of good content. Look for his remarks to be all over the Internet by Thursday evening.
While this event was disappointing from a TV perspective, it was clear that NASCAR was in the same unsteady boat as many American sports and the focus was actually on survival. There is currently only one new NASCAR-themed TV show that has been announced for 2009 and that show is on TLC.
Darrell Waltrip will be co-hosting Preseason Thunder on SPEED Thursday night at 7:30PM ET. Perhaps, it will be up to DW to finally step-out of the politically correct TV bubble and tell fans how NASCAR will look in 2009 and where he thinks it will be going.
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