Tuesday, October 13, 2009
TV Troubles With Chase Easy To Understand
NASCAR has always prided itself on the ability to change to meet any situation. Rules are constantly updated, procedures are constantly changed and conversations about what can be done to make the sport better go on endlessly.
In the meantime, the sport is feeling the ill effects that The Chase is having on TV for the third straight season. What started as new and fresh is simply now stale and boring. No matter who tries to spin the reality, the results are clear in the TV ratings and ESPN's coverage.
Last week, we published "The Island of Brian France" to bring the genesis of the Chase format into perspective. The initial efforts of this new format to get attention away from the NFL, Major League Baseball and college football were clear and made sense at the time.
As we wrote last week, there was one big problem that remained:
There is one fundamental truth that France and ESPN have overlooked. NASCAR fans do not change their allegiance simply because their driver did not make the Chase. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth fans do not put on Jeff Gordon t-shirts and pull for the #24.
The focused coverage and media hype on the Chase drivers forces fans of non-Chasers to abandon their NASCAR TV viewing and wait once again for the Daytona 500. The fundamental problem with the Chase is there are more drivers outside of it than in it.
This season, we have been trying to convince ESPN that by putting the race first and the Chase second they could attract the fans that left NASCAR after the "regular season." This has not gone over well with some in the NASCAR media.
Click here for the recent article by Jeff Gluck from the scenedaily.com website. Gluck contends that the Chase drivers deserve the lion's share of TV coverage. Here is a quote:
The bottom line is that if you want your favorite non-Chase drivers to get more coverage, he’s going to have to do something to deserve it. In the meantime, the focus is where it should be: on the drivers running up front and competing for a championship.
The problem with Gluck's argument is the same one that France and ESPN seemingly cannot understand. Regardless of a driver's position in or out of the Chase, the fans are still focused on the same team they have pulled for all season long.
Putting the national TV spotlight endlessly on the chosen 12 eliminates the remaining fan base from watching the races. The position of the cars on the track makes absolutely no difference to fans of drivers like Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton or Michael Waltrip. They want a race story told to them that is all-inclusive, not purposefully selective.
During the Kansas race, ESPN rarely even reset the field after the caution periods. Stories that involved non-Chasers were routinely allowed to fade. The forced emphasis on the chosen few never allowed updates on fan favorites who were having a non-Chase season.
Once again in Kansas, listening to the radio coverage painted a completely different race picture than TV viewers were experiencing. The inclusive nature of radio continues to shame the TV coverage where the lonely scrolling ticker is often the only source of information on favorite drivers.
Certainly, the Chase drivers deserve emphasis at this time of the year. However, choosing to eliminate the other teams, drivers and sponsors from national TV exposure is once again teaching NASCAR and ESPN a valuable and rather expensive lesson.
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