Wednesday, April 22, 2009
TV Ratings Continue To Deliver A Message
There is a wake-up call being delivered by NASCAR fans nationwide. The only question is, will it result in change?
Here are the latest NASCAR TV ratings from Jayski.com:
NASCAR on Fox posted a record-low 3.3/6 Saturday night for racing from Phoenix. Saturday's 3.3/8 is an -18% drop compared to last year's 4.0/7. FOX's rating at the green flag was just a 3.1/6, down -18% compared to last year's 3.8/7 when a long-running Yankees-Red Sox game drove some viewers straight into the first lap of the race. For the season-to-date, NASCAR On FOX is averaging a 4.9/10 in the metered markets, down -14% compared to last year's 5.7/11.(4-20-2009)
There was a time when the NASCAR on Fox franchise was the face of the sport. That network basically revived NASCAR at a time when the sport was in need of a steady TV partner.
The original development of the Hollywood Hotel and the introduction of the admittedly "West Coast kind of guy" Chris Myers added a new wrinkle to the sport. Myers antics on the air were an interesting contrast to the homespun Darrell Waltrip and the rodeo riding Jeff Hammond.
Topping off the team was the professionalism of Mike Joy and the intensity of Larry McReynolds. With a long history in the sport, Joy has a racing resume that is hard to top. For many fans, Joy is the voice of NASCAR on TV.
Fox is loaded with all the technical toys, a top-notch TV crew and a veteran production team. So, what's the problem?
If Phoenix is any indication, the coverage has shifted from the original priority of showing the racing to the new priority of paying the bills. The Saturday night race telecast was drowned in an embarrassing level of sponsor plugs and commercial elements that were forced into the telecast.
From the Subway sandwiches in the pre-race show through the Monster Moment toward the end, the NASCAR on Fox announcers never had a fighting chance to make this race interesting for the TV viewers. The announcers had been firmly handcuffed by the most powerful group in sports TV, the Ad Sales Department.
Over the years, the cast of the NASCAR on Fox team have become characters unto themselves. None of them are bigger than Waltrip. "Ole DW" has expanded his personal franchise, but it has come at a cost.
Waltrip steps back and forth between Fox and SPEED during these racing weekends, sometimes offering great commentary on the sport. Sometimes, however, he appears as nothing more than a shill for causes like Digger merchandise or the Toyota brand. Working both sides of the street may have finally caught up with him.
While some may try to point to the COT as a big problem where TV is concerned, the issue is deeper. Listening to the races on the radio and following the action on Trackpass offers a very different perspective. While the Fox TV coverage is driven by who is leading the race and the location of the high profile drivers, what is actually happening on the track may be much different. Sometimes, very different.
There are only five races remaining in the Fox portion of the Sprint Cup Series TV package this season. After the news of the continued decline in ratings, it should be interesting to see if the Fox team shakes things up for the remaining events.
Looking for the best racing on the track vs. following the leaders is a fundamental issue that TV has wrestled with for a long time. While the new dynamic of the COT and the rather different style of racing has been mastered by the teams, it certainly has not translated into substantive changes in the way racing is shown on TV by Fox. There has been a lot of the same old thing and it is not working.
This weekend at Talladega, Friday brings an ARCA race on SPEED. Saturday brings a Nationwide Series race on ABC and then a Camping World Truck Series race on SPEED from Kansas. Many fans will have seen three events by Sunday afternoon.
Incredibly, once again this season SPEED and Fox will actually overlap live on the air for thirty minutes as both Fox-owned networks air pre-race shows. NASCAR fans will be forced to choose between two NASCAR TV networks both trying to interview the same drivers live from the same track. Perhaps, not the best way to start the NASCAR on Fox coverage.
Talladega does offer the opportunity to change the momentum of this TV season and get things back on track. Clusters of cars and long caution laps should make the commercial elements a lot less painful than the Phoenix debacle. Great HD pictures and fantastic audio should keep viewers interested.
The only thing missing from this scenario of success is the Fox commitment to stay with the stories of the race and keep viewers updated on the non-superteams. Interview all the drivers who fall out of the race. Show us the rookies, the independents and the teams working to stay in the top 35.
The build-up to the TV coverage of the Talladega Sprint Cup race is going to be huge once again this season. Looking at the TV ratings, however, one thing is very clear. Fans do not and will not take the time to watch the same old coverage. The challenge of pulling fans from the DVR's and TiVo's to get them to watch the race live can only be met by one group. The NASCAR on Fox team.
Live coverage begins Sunday at 1PM on Fox with the green flag waving at 2:19PM ET.
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