Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ESPN Throws Numbers At NASCAR Critics

As we continue to look back at the TV issues of the 2010 season, we have been aided by a recent press release from ESPN. After some media members and NASCAR pundits blamed cable TV for the fading ratings of The Chase, ESPN has fired back.

Before we review the ESPN document, let's go back to the issue. This was the first season that the vast majority of the Chase races had been moved to ESPN. When the first TV contract was done after the Chase, there was an emphasis on the fact that the final ten races would be seen on "free over-the-air TV."

Unfortunately the reality of rain, red flags and long delays under caution made the Chase races a mess for broadcast TV. Trying to serve four timezones was almost impossible and the stories of ABC local affiliates either not carrying the pre-race show or leaving at the checkered flag for local news came in on a regular basis.

So, the subsequent shift to ESPN brought pro's and cons. The flexibility of cable TV meant a designated pre-race show, complete coverage and an extended post-race show for every Chase race. The cons were that once the NFL began the pre-race show was on ESPN2.

One other drawback frequently mentioned was that those without cable TV service would not be able to see the final ten races. Of course the Camping World trucks were on SPEED and the Nationwide Series raced on ESPN2, so those same fans would not have seen any of those races. In addition, the summer Cup races were on TNT so the same fans would have also taken the summer off.

The thrust of the argument for free TV was that the rough economy had caused many households to drop cable TV service. Some had been rumored to be "cord cutting," which became the new buzzword. That means dropping cable TV service and using the Internet for video streaming instead.

In October, ESPN had a series of meetings with NASCAR. The topic on the table was the cause for the substantially lower ratings. Certainly, the elephant in the room was the NFL and the incredible ratings success of the 1PM ET games on Sundays.

The other big topic fed by some media members was the shift from ABC to ESPN and the loss of those households that had dropped cable TV service. The new ESPN survey helps to address just what is happening with cable and Internet homes in the marketplace.

Click here to read the data released by ESPN. While not exactly spoken in plain English, what the survey says is the erosion of homes is very small.

Here are a couple of key sentences:

The study found that just 0.28 percent of homes in the Nielsen sample dropped multichannel service but kept their broadband Internet connections.The study also showed that the number of multichannel homes adding a broadband connection was nearly five times as large as the "cord cutter" group.

ESPN and ESPN2 are now over the 100 million home mark in the US. This means the penetration of these networks is almost equal to over-the-air TV distributed by local stations. Coupled with the information that few existing cable customers dropped television service, it gives ESPN a strong case that distribution was not the big issue with the Chase problems.

If we can close that door now once and for all perhaps attention can be turned to the reality of the Chase and the many problems of providing television coverage of a race within a race.

TV Problems With The Chase Easy To Understand was a column focusing on the issues faced by ESPN as they navigate through the tangled web of racing scenarios. Click on the title to read the column and the comments.

Those Footsteps Might Sound Familiar was originally published in August as a preview of the trouble that the NFL might bring to NASCAR yet again. Click on the title to read the column.

On January 21, Brian France will be speaking to the media during a test at the Daytona International Speedway. After the TV struggles of NASCAR's top series down the stretch, France will be announcing his decision on what changes will be made for 2011.

With NFL football continuing to dominate the ratings and ESPN proving there is no distribution problem, the focus is going to be on the sanctioning body to deal with two issues. The Chase format and poorly produced TV coverage are now the remaining cards on the table.

How NASCAR chooses to play this hand may serve to determine who walks away with the TV jackpot and who walks away empty-handed.

We welcome your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thanks for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.


saltsburgtrojanfan said...

You know what JD, NASCAR and ESPN are cousins of the same cloth. They are to the hardcore fan money hungry clowns. NASCAR had a points system from 1975-2003 that was popular with fans and you know what it was an honest one, the best driver all year long. NASCAR was not broken and then along came king Brian came along and introduced the chase. NASCAR is now broken. and finally ESPN is not going to change the way they broadcast events. They are owned by Disney and they are all about entertainment. I can repeat what i say until i am blue in the face but until they do make changes the fans truly want the ratings and attendance of races will continue to go downhill.


Anonymous said...

It all falls back to the Chase. The fan base is at least equally divided over the Chase (depending on the poll, it can stretch up to 80%). Fans of drivers outside the Chase will not suddenly end their loyalty towards their driver. Some fans are not happy that the entire season is decided in 10 races. Some fans have other reasons to oppose the chase. All this, and Brian France was shocked to learn there was at least 1 individual that hated the Chase.

The Chase is also a problem for ESPN. For years, it has been documented here how difficult it is for ESPN to cover 2 important storylines: the race and The Chase. Marty Reid was tounge-tied and the coverage became a disjointed mess trying to cover both.

This playoff system will not work in motorsports. Teams that fail to make the Chase continue to show up and race. Whatever the system may be, it needs to let the race take the spotlight and the championship stand in the background.

PammH said...

USA Today had results that TOTALLY negated those figures as posted to Jeff Gluck on Facebook by Greg Engle. And guess what, USAT does NOT have an interest in this dog, unlike BSPN. jmo, of course. The TV folks are shaking in their boots for 2011 & they SHOULD be! Wake up TV folks, because my sport is in trouble!

Anonymous said...

In conclusion, the product is driving the customers away.

Darcie said...

Despite the fact that the hard numbers on viewership point to huge declines, Nascar continues to stick their heads in the sand and seem to want to sing their happy tune with regards to the real numbers. According to an article Monday in The Sporting News, the numbers for the races were down in 26 of this season's races. That's not good news. And even though this season's race for the Chase was extolled to be a great one, the ratings for the final Chase race were down 8%. And according to the Sporting News, the coveted younger demographic, which Brian France and ESPN seem to covet more than anything, just isn't there.

Tweaking the races is not the answer, and the things that will work are things that France is not willing to do. Of course, the main boondoggle is the NFL, so unless Nascar cuts the number of races in a season, which we all know they will not do, the NFL will continue to be a problem. So, is there a way to mitigate that particular problem? Maybe, IF Nascar is willing to change the way things are done. How about the Chase races on Friday or Saturday nights? Yes, they will coincide with some college games, but at least it's not the NFL. Neither Sunday night nor Monday night races will work either, unless the NFL games on those nights are dogs. So, what to do....

We've been talking about what's needed in Nascar non-stop. But again, Brian France refuses to believe what the fans have been saying. But to reiterate what could be done to make things better, you start with dumping the Chase and then you go from there. Stop the Nascar welfare system of Top 35, wave arounds and Lucky Dog. Shorten the races with the exception of the Daytona, Talladega and the Coke 600 races. Make winning the ONLY important thing and stop all this insane, and boring points racing. And finally, make big changes to the COT, make that car more brand identifiable and allow teams to tweak the cars to make them more competitive. While implementing these things might not bring back the totally disenfranchised fan, it might keep the fans that are still hanging on.

starrcade76 said...

NASCAR needs to figure out which of these 3 things they want to be.

1. A content provider to TV, radio, etc... that is mostly concerned with the number of eyeballs they get. In this case the races should start at the most beneficial times for TV.

2. A live event promoter that is putting on the best show possible for the people sitting in the grandstands. In this scenario the placating of the ticket-buyer takes top priority.

3. A sanctioning body, that is most concerned with what happens on the track. Quality of races, consistent rulings, etc... are its chief motive.

NASCAR has tried to do a bit of each of these. But often giving to one of them has meant taking away from another area.

I would think one major topic that NASCAR and ESPN must have in the back of their mind is a possible NFL Lockout next year.

Dot said...

Where to start. I don't think BSPN nor nascar* ever thought when they started their TV package, viewers would be anywhere but in front of the TV. Who knew then what technology would be available now? Not to mention as you did JD, people cutting back their cable channels.

The biggest mistake BSPN makes is treating race fans like after thoughts. Channel roulette for the races, delays due to some 40-3 college fball game in overtime. OK, I'm exaggerating here. We've been over this before. Their lack of respect towards race fans is appalling. I won't even bring up the scripted coverage. ABC is no better. No pre race to show Hannah Montana instead. No post race so AFHV could start on time. This would never happen to the NFL.

I'd like to know how brian france* is going to tweak the chase*. If viewers aren't watching the prior 26 races, is he really thinking they'll tune in during the last 10? Who is he kidding? Arrogance personified. You're either a fan the whole season, or your not.

*lower case by design

Matt TSB said...

This Sunday, take a few minutes to click around to NBC, ABC, ESPN, and Fox/CBS when they don't have a game on. Check out the offerings. That is Cup racing's peer group in the fall as far as television content goes. The solution to September - November ratings? Accept them or get out of the way of the NFL.

Three drivers with a chance to win on the last day wasn't a solution. Junior getting hot again wouldn't be a solution. Showing somebody cruising around in 32nd place because "They have fans too, and their sponsor paid too!" = not the solution. A Ford Fusion that looks like the one in my drive way? Not the solution. Switching from one arbitrary points system back to the old arbitrary points system, or some other arbitrary points system? Not the solution. Sometimes you just have to accept a steamroller for what it is.

Regarding the decline in viewership for earlier races? I'm not so sure, but inclined to think it is a return to normal levels.

Unfortunately with the explosion of platforms and channels looking at ratings from 20 years ago and comparing them today is inexact at best, but I think it is possible that a lot of people affiliated with the sport need to say "That was fun while it lasted, back to reality for a while."

Sally said...

As long as ESPN and BZF think they can 'manufacture excitement', they have a problem. Yes, competing with the NFL is an issue, but races have been up against football for years...even as ratings weere climbing, so I'm not sure you can blame football for the slump. Unless BZF is willing to admit that manipulating races and points to pretend he has a 'playoff scenario' just isn't working, I believe that nothing will help. How many race fans were created when they watched or attended races with their parents, inheriting their love of the sports from them? If you alienate the 'hard core', you also alienate the fans they would create...mostly that 18-34 year old male fans that everyone covets so much. Nascar used to be a dangerous sport, with the participants being rather rough, with innovative ('cheating'?) shade tree mechanics putting it all on the line to win a race. Not any more. As long as Nascar and the TV coverage think that fans are more comcerned with who wins the championship instead of who wins the race, the coverage and focus of the season will continue to turn viewrs and fans away. I guess they just won't get it.

Unknown said...

The racing is great. The competition is close. The points racing is close. Perhaps instead of constantly changing or 'tweaking' the points and how things are done, just leave it alone. Let people get used to it. As far as TV ratings go, quit with the gimmiks. Make the show about the race, don't make the show about the show in which a race happens to be occuring. Watch a replay of a race from the late '90's. The tracker across the screen & the announcers talking about the action on the track. I don't need to see the reporter telling me whats happening on pit lane. I want to see the pit stop, and I sure don't need to go to the 'tech garage' to see some has been show me how to put bearer bond on the car once every single race. Its tape, I'm pretty sure there isn't a person watching that doesn't understand.

OSBORNK said...

The problem with the Chase is not so much as how it changes the championship but that it has dramatically skewed how the races are covered. Coverage has always concentrated on a limited number of cars. However, prior to the Chase, the concentration was on the cars that were running the best in THAT RACE and on a couple that were underperforming or overperforming that day. The championship chase was not important to the enjoyment of racing. Many of our favorite drivers were never in contention for the championship and we didn't care. We simply wanted to watch a good race THAT DAY.

The fabricated "drama" of the championship chase ruined the coverage for many of us and we are leaving in droves. Each race needs to be presented as a stand alone event and not as another segment of a year long soap opera.

GinaV24 said...

It's sad that neither NASCAR nor ESPN seems interested in addressing the real problem. That would be the loss of interest by many race fans becasue it's the RACING and the chase that a large # of fans hate. I've seen polls that say 80% of the fans don't like the chase, but NASCAR and ESPN keep beating the same drum (or dead horse)as though the fans are still into it.

ESPN doesn't want to give the fans a real race broadcast either and that is a major part of the problem. I tune in to see the race, not a scripted show. I can tune in to a sitcom if that's what I want.

I have a couple of renewal forms in hand right now for tickets for OCTOBER 2011. Considering the "product" I've seen over the past 3-4 years, both in person and on TV, it makes me hesitate to renew my tickets. Quite honestly I want to know what NASCAR is going to do with the Chase garbage and the COT before I spend more $ on the racer-tainment since its no longer a sport in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the Nascar Fan Council, started beginning of this season.
Most weekends, they send you a survey asking 1-how much of each of the 2/3 races you watched. Then they ask you 2-how did the tv coverage make you feel. Then 3-how did the race make you feel. There's another one in there that is similarly ridiculous. Then there's a comment box, then you are done. I use the comment box a lot. Bottom line, BF is a self named 'marketing guru' and talks all that corporate mumbo jumbo, trying to 'create game 7 events', talks about 'product' not 'racing'. You don't create them, you put in place a system that can allow them to happen. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won't. I really think as long as he's at the helm, ratings will continue to tank and seats will remain empty.

As for espn, it's just so fake. Marty Reid sounds so phony, I just can't take a whole race of him! Suits and ties, phony announcers, ridiculous 'sideline' reporters that know nothing about nascar. Keep it up, ratings are not done dropping.

Smiff_99 said...

Hey JD, I know it's kid of off-topic, but you're the only person I could think of to ask.

Is SPEED (or anybody for that matter) offering coverage of the upcoming tire test at Daytona?

R Storie said...

I agree with all posted. One thing we all have in common is King Brian will not listen to anything we have to say.

Unknown said...

Right or wrong it needs to be said. The driver who accounts for 40% of all merchandise sales and has won 8 Consecutive Most Popular Driver Awards had nothing to race for after Richmond. I think that has more of an impact than what ESPN vs ABC does. It's sad, but it's true. All parties need him to be good as long as the popularity continues.

MRM4 said...

The cord cutting group isn't as big as what's being portrayed. There are numbers out there to back it up.

NASCAR made a big mistake when they decided to take on the NFL head-to-head. The only thing that is going to topple the NFL is the NFL itself. With rumors of an 18-game schedule and a possible work stoppage, greed will kick their own tail. The sport is too popular for an outside force to slow it down.

Making yet another change to the Chase is not the answer. Too much emphasis has been placed on winning a championships instead of winning races. The final 10 races on NBC and now ESPN has shown this.

My solution all along has been to dump the Chase, shorten the season to say 30 races, and shorten the races. Sadly, NASCAR races have become too much like NBA games - go through the motions until the end when your move for victory is made. A couple of the best races I saw this year where the 100-lap CWTS races at Pocono and at Michigan. There was no riding around.

The Chase and Jimmie Johnson winning 5 straight titles have made their championship a joke. If they go back to the old system and a driver wraps it up with a race or two left, then so be it. If the season ended late October, it wouldn't matter if it ended early.

NASCAR needs to own up to the fact the NFL is kicking their tail and there's nothing they can do about it. If they do own up to that, then they can make sensible changes instead of trying to artificially create excitement.

r squire said...

Race-tainment, drivers no longer available to fans.drivers who are pc-pitchmen not good racers. nascar loosing all respect as a sanctioning body munipulating races like a WWE event.former race attender and long time x-fan, 2011 good give a crap less about.

r squire said...

Nascar sanctioning body has took on a WWE feel munipulating races. drivers no longer are fan accessible like other events. in the 70's-thru early 90's events seemed more like that could be anybody next doors kid racing. now it seems like it's a rich mans prodigy racing you can't dream that you might one day be there. Earnhardt, junior johnson and the like worked hard and lived the american dream. Jimmy Johnson 5 time champ would be really special if for 2-3 years b-4 landing @ hendrick he would have start & parked or drove for MWR or RPM.

Anonymous said...

Maybe nothing really is wrong, and the answer is NASCAR just isn't that popular anymore. It has gone out like a passing fad. Even with perfect TV coverage, and action on the track, the overall popularity would not reach the peak.

This is just a sport that never will be on par with the NFL.

The Mad Man said...

BZF, NA$CAR, and BSPN seem to be missing the obvious. First is that the fans dislike the artificial excitement and hype of the play-off system. Second, they treat the fans like they're morons and talk down to them. Third, they're all out of touch with reality. And lastly, fans want to see racing, not a show about marketing, hype, shilling, cheerleading, and BS that's manipulated in the finest manner of professional wrestling to achieve those "Game 7 moments".

Statistics can be used to prove any side of an argument, like the loop data. TV ratings on the other hand seem to be a good indicator that all is not well. The empty grandstands are also another good indicator that all is not well. Those are more tangible indicators than statistics and loop data.

The next 2 seasons will really determine just where NA$CAR is going with the rise of IndyCar and the changes they've made to improve racing because they listened to their fans and how BZF, NA$CAR, BSPN, and Fox continue to ignore them and treat them like so much rubbish.

So BZF, BSPN, and NA$CAR can try to act like the 800 lb gorilla they believe they are and beat their chests all they want to when in fact they're little more than a 5 lb spider monkey picking fleas and nits off of it's kin.

Vince said...

As a former computer programmer I know how easy it is to manipulate numbers. And being that it is ESPN that is producing these numbers, I flat don't believe their numbers at all. Of course they are going to provide numbers saying how great they are doing. The same way Nascar does with their numbers. It's all smoke and mirrors. Google Enron scandal if you want to see more info on creative accounting with the books.

It is a fact that more people are cutting the cord every day. And others are dropping from an higher cable tier which has ESPN to a lower tier which does not. And as far as OTA viewers. It's all a guessing game. Nobody knows for sure how many people have never had cable and are viewing OTA.

So ESPN and Nascar can throw all the figures they want at me. I don't believe them. They have a vested interest in making themselves and their numbers look good. It's about money and sponsorship. The more viewsers, the more sponsorship dollars. It's all about money and ESPN and Nascar aren't going to let the truth get in the way of that.

Anonymous said...

to smiff 99

Eli Gold said last night on Nascar Live that MRN Radios web site will be doing a live video stream of the Daytona testing next week.

Shawn Morgan said...

All thse comments are so weird to me. I thought last season was one heck of a season. I have never seen drivers be so aggressive that late in the season if not ever. And by aggressive I mean pushing their cars as hard as they can every lap Even after they spin in the grass or speed on pit road. Tell you what, I really like the Chase I don't think it should ne changed at all. And guess what my driver hasn't even made it in in the last few years. Who cares?! It was still exciting races and I still really enjoyed them. I guess that just means I'm a racing fan. I'm not watching for stats or how much better it is than the NFL. It's because I LIKE to watch it. How about we tell all the bandwagoner NFL rejects to stop watching so NASCAR can stop trying to cater to them. I think the problem is you! Stop whining if you like stick and ball sports watch em. If you like NASCAR watch it. if you don't, dont! Meanwhile I will be watching the best racing in decades. Have a nice day!
Sorry for any typos I'm typing on my cellphone

Shayne said...

ESPN needs to look no further than the broadcast booth. I'm sick of the selfless pandering and promotion of certain products. It's a conflict of interest and grossly unprofessional.

Anonymous said...

Could someone adress the use of DVR's and its affect on the ratings?

Pretty Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pieman said...

Funny how now that the house of cards is falling,ESPN and Nascar are pointing fingers at each other when in reality,they should easily be pointing them at themselves. Both have a dog in this fight of bad ratings. Nascar has done everything short of sending out flyers telling us longtime fans that they dont need us with all the dumbest changes ever seen to the sport (Chase,lucky dogs,top 35,labor day racing anywhere BUT Darlington,etc.). And ESPN has determined that they were going to ignore anyone not in the Chase and shove commercial breaks down our throats ad nauseam and ignoring lesser drivers even if they are leading! So now here they are blaming each other. Ultimately ESPN could leave and never look back at this mess but Nascar has serious issues. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have 1 and it seems BZF hasnt done that yet so this long time fan will continue to ignore the sport and help contribute to the ratings and attendance decline.

51 yr. fan said...

The spirit of competition is inherent in all human beings. When
NA$CAR chose to take it out of our sport and turn it into entertainment the demise began.
The chase has made the first 26
races a farce. There is no real racing, only riding around to safely gain points for the "reset" or Brians "game 7". I bet the
Beach Bums will be complaining
about the competition from MLB spring training in March.

Southern Conservative said...

AS I have said before on this blog, the coverage by ESPN and others has been HORRID for all fans. The commercial breaks during live racing should not be acceptable to NASCAR. Give us some portion of the screen for live racing. We have seen the same commercials all year and have missed a great portion of the excitement on the track.

A change would be welcome. While the network commentary for all is mediocre at best, the commercials kill the sport. Give longer commercials during caution flags and shorter commercials during live racing with some view of live racing.

You will find your fans once again with a better product. Thank God for MRN & the other radio networks who I listen to each week along with viewing. I also attend 3-5 races per year so not watching from the sofa on all.


Anonymous said...

I dvr the show and watch parts of it but use the fast forward button a lot.

Kevin Harvick was my season champion although JJ was the shootout winner. There was probably a lot of action in the shows but we never got to see it or hear about it as it was a season long build up to the show they call the finale and a presentation of $$$$$$ and bows to a driver who has had it handed to him since he entered cup.

AncientRacer said...

All this is interesting though I think the ESPN release vis a vis NASCAR is a false equivalency. Both the advertising and entertainment trades have been full of cable cutter talk for awhile regarding all cable.

And the comments today have been good, but we have been plowing this field forever it seems.

So let us go right to it: We are a star driven society and NASCAR has no Star

Doubt me? Call Central Casting [818.562.2700] and ask them to send you someone who looks and acts like the audience would say a champion caliber stock car racer should look and act. Dollars to donuts the person you would expect to show up at your door would look an awful lot like Dale Sr. no matter who your personal favorite active real life driver is.

Still doubtful? OK, try this: "Gone With the Wind" starring Humphrey Bogart as Rhett Butler, or more contemporarily, "Pirates of the Carribean" starring George Clooney as Capt. Jack Sparrow.

Or maybe as Rutledge Wood put it on a recent Top Gear, "the difference between an Aston Martin 8 cylinder and an Aston Martin 12 cylinder is the difference between Angelina Jolie and Angelina Jolie in thigh hight boots ... with a riding crop."

Its an public imagination/image thing.

Gosh it is cold here today.

Anonymous said...

I personally know a lot of people who have ditched cable,and I never bought cable. I was very disappointed to see that their would be so few races available OTA.
It doesn't make sense that the problem with broadcast TV should come down to overlapping with other shows. Everyone is digital now even OTA. We get sub channels.If the race runs overtime switch it from 6.1 to 6.2. not a big deal unless you are DVRing the show. The broadcasters don't like DVRs anyway. True the chase format is contrived but it is the lack of availability that I'm contending with. I've got to see the races before I can worry about the chase format.

Tom said...

In looking at the ratings, I noticed one disturbing plunge that got my attention...
The race at Las Vegas, normally a huge draw, lost more than four million homes between 2009 and this year's race.
Then I remembered a major reason why. That day, the U.S. and Canada played in the Olympic hockey gold medal game at Vancouver.
I'm sure that's not the only reason for the plunge, but it's definitely something worth noting.

Anonymous said...

It's only going to get worse. nascar will not acknowledge their problem - everything I've seen says they are still making their money and does brian really care about anything else? fox and espn, for whatever reason, just refuses to change their race broadcasting style. After everything that has been said on this blog for the entire year, why state again the obvious? It is only going to get worse. MC

Anonymous said...

Here's what I consider a valid analogy.
Many years ago The Ford Motor Company, a highly respected global brand and dominator of the US market, decided to "mess" with thier successful model, and introduced a radically different product. One that was "safer, state of the art, better looking and advanced technologically"
It was resoundingly rejected by Ford consumers. It was the EDSEL. Just having a big name and a slogan doesn't make a crappy product attractive. If loyal consumers don't like it, its dead.
So, substitue the name NASCAR for FORD and CHASE for EDSEL and you'll see what I mean

Scott said...


You said, "The Chase format and poorly produced TV coverage are now the remaining cards on the table"

Here's another card to consider that's beyond the TV issue and goes toward the overall appeal of the product to race fans in general: During the 10 weeks of the chase, while TV ratingssaw challenges, the number of times that local race track profiles viewed in RacingIn's track directory were up 250% over the same period last year.

NASCAR is and will continue to be a powerful marketing platform... but it seems people are also finding local racing for their 'speed-fix' as well!

I see that as INCREDIBLE for all levels of racing... without the lower levels of racing across the United States, there would be no 'ladder' to climb... and for many who race, NASCAR is the pinnacle to strive for.

Ultimately, Fans of Fast will find great racing and it's up to the various series', sanctioners, tracks, etc... to figure out exactly how to make those fans happiest and the most excited about their product.