Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NASCAR TV Better With Danica?

Whenever the New York Times takes a moment to talk auto racing, it gets the attention of fans nationwide. Click here for the paper's most recent story.

In discussing how NASCAR can attract new TV viewers, the name of Danica Patrick usually surfaces sooner or later. The NYT story was written because Patrick is now in the final year of her IRL contract with Andretti Green Racing.

Fans of the NASCAR Now program on ESPN may remember Patrick making a brief appearance last season. She was asked about someday possibly moving over to NASCAR. Patrick turned the tables on the panel and asked them to name some reasons why she should leave a solid contract with a good team. They had none.

Now, some circumstances have changed and one of the biggest involves the TV coverage of the IRL. As TDP reported last year, ESPN basically washed its hands of the IRL in a bold power play. The media company only wanted the Indy 500 for ABC and a mere handful of races for ESPN. If the IRL said no to the new deal, they would lose the national broadcast TV for their biggest event of the season. Needless to say, they caved.

Enter the Comcast-owned Versus cable TV network. The former Outdoor Life Channel had some cash in the bank and was looking for a new sport to add to its line-up. The resulting deal with the IRL put lots of races on TV and added some quality support programming as well. For the IRL, it was a relief. For Patrick, it was a significant loss in the national exposure that helps her drive revenue away from the track.

When asked by the NYT recently about a potential move from the IRL, Patrick's tune had changed. "It’s interesting to me as well," she said. "Do I stay where I am? Do I try to change? It’s all about evaluating options, and I think that’s something any good businessperson does."

When Patrick looks at the Sprint Cup Series, she sees every race televised on Fox, TNT, ESPN or ABC. Every lap of practice and qualifying is shown on national TV and there are endless preview and review shows on both ESPN2 and SPEED. Where TV is concerned, NASCAR's exposure makes the IRL TV deal pale in comparison.

So, what would Danica bring to Sprint Cup land? Humpy Wheeler says her presence would have a huge impact on the sport. Marketing maven Max Muhleman describes her as a "ticket selling machine." It seems rather ironic that NASCAR is currently searching for new storylines and also needs to sell more tickets to the races.

We all remember the open-wheel set from the 2008 invasion. Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti is back in the IRL. Formula One veteran Jacque Villeneuve never really got his effort off the ground. Sam Hornish continues to soldier on and Scott Speed has already missed one race this season. He is 38th in points.

The big difference is that Patrick might not have to win, or even contend, to grab the NASCAR limelight and use it for her marketing and sponsor campaigns. The 5 foot 2 inch Patrick weighs in at 100 pounds and has not been shy in using her looks to her advantage. The fact that she was born in Wisconsin, raised in Illinois and has a feisty temper to boot might play well with the NASCAR crowd.

There is absolutely no doubt that the TV networks would take full advantage of as much of Patrick's time as she would give. Danica on NASCAR Now, Danica on RaceDay, Danica on Trackside. The list goes on and on. So does the media exposure.

So, take a deep breath because this topic is going to continue to be talked about until Patrick makes a decision. On one hand, maybe coming to NASCAR in 2010 for a high-profile team would be a marketing dream for all concerned. On the other hand, the lack of success of the recent open-wheel invaders should cause any driver to carefully consider how tough it is to make the transition to stock car racing.

What is your opinion? Would you be more inclined to watch Sprint Cup races live next season if Patrick was in the field? Do you think it would give both the sport and the TV coverage a spark if she took the gamble and made the move?

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below to add your opinion on this topic. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thanks for taking the time out of your day to stop by The Daly Planet.

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

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.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below and follow the easy instructions. The rules for posting are located on the right side of the main page. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.

A Brand New Bubba Is Coming To Talladega

The twists and turns of the 2009 NASCAR season continue to amaze. The former DEI #8 car is parked and Sprint Cup TV ratings are down over 15 percent.

Now, SiriusXM radio's Bubba the Love Sponge Clem has been named the Grand Marshal for the Aaron's 312 Nationwide Series race live on ABC from Talladega. Well, that should shake things up.

Mr. Clem, pictured above at the Adult Video News Awards, is sometimes called the second Howard Stern. Clem's long career in radio has walked a fine line between the raunchy humor of a shock jock and someone whose personal struggles seemed to manifest themselves on the airwaves. Despite his bravado, he sometimes appears to be a sympathetic character.

Click here for a link to the Tucker Carlson interview with Mr. Clem where he speaks about satellite radio and his belief in the Sirius brand. Scroll about halfway down the page, the link is on the left. Clem is well-spoken and on target with many of his comments. Clem and Carlson have since become friends, with Carlson regularly appearing on Clem's radio shows.

Contrast that by clicking here for the link to Mr. Clem's commercial website, which has some adult content even on the main page. Clem promises that paid admission to the site will allow access to material that is "uncensored by the government." Most of that content involves nudity, profanity and violence.

“We are thrilled that Bubba will be giving the command to start the Aaron’s 312,” stated Ken Butler, Chief Operating Officer of Aaron Rents, Inc. “Bubba’s love of racing is very apparent and I believe his ‘Bubba Army’ fan base is a perfect fit for Aaron’s and NASCAR.”

Clem's Grand Marshal duties will include greeting each of the drivers as they are announced on the driver introduction stage, addressing the Talladega crowd and issuing the most famous words in racing: “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

“I couldn’t be more honored or excited,” said Clem. He currently owns the 8-car race team, CRI (Clem Racing, Inc.). It consists of two dirt late models driven by Clem and renowned late model driver Keith Nosbich. Bubba’s 6-year-old son, Tyler Clem and 9-year-old Michael Atwell drive quarter midgets. The team competes across the US and has major corporate sponsorships. Tyler and Michael are also two of the youngest drivers to enjoy development deals with Stewart/Haas Racing, Tony Stewart’s new NASCAR racing team.

Click here for the official website of the radio program and all things Bubba. Media personalities that are selected to participate as Grand Marshal are usually carefully selected for specific purposes. Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond have taken their turns in support of the NASCAR on Fox brand, while comedian Kevin James was recently waving the green flag in support of his "Mall Cop" movie.

On one hand, Clem often refers to himself as "the most offensive person in the history of radio." On the other hand, he is certainly a racing fan and has personally involved himself and his family in the sport. One thing is for sure, NASCAR may never be the same after this Bubba strolls into Talladega later this month.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click 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.

Lots Of Commercial Junk In The NASCAR On Fox Trunk

It was apparent from the start of the NASCAR on Fox Phoenix broadcast that something was different. The shorter 312 lap race distance was going to result in some changes for the TV viewers.

Those changes wound-up causing this race to be overwhelmed by sponsored elements and extended commercial breaks. On this night, there was lots of sales junk in the NASCAR on Fox trunk.

Chris Myers led Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond through a 45 minute pre-race show that involved a lot of sponsorship involvement and very little NASCAR information. The stark contrast between the RaceDay show on SPEED and the Hollywood Hotel program was amazing.

Fox had a mission in this telecast and it involved getting as much commercial material and sponsor features in the race as possible. 312 laps apparently was not going to allow coverage of the actual racing, but it would allow the network to show Digger cartoons, three minute commercial breaks, endless sponsor billboards and in-program features that the announcers would read.

When it was time for Mike Joy and company to take a break from the questions and the Cheese-It whatever, it was Myers and Hammond's turn to offer more sponsor mentions during a Hollywood Hotel race break. The assault on the senses by this paid material was nothing short of brutal.

Some of the top NASCAR TV announcers work for Fox. On this Saturday night, they were barely able to get complete thoughts out of their mouths before the coverage went to commercial or Joy was forced to interrupt with a paid element.

Adding insult to injury, the Fox team added recorded "bumpers" leading into the commercials that extended the time away from the track. Kurt Busch trying to look tough is perhaps not the best use of twenty seconds while the track is under the green flag. Is there a single fan who does not know Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s face?

The meltdown of the Fox production team was evident on the continued attempts to force the infamous four video box coverage of caution flag pitstops into the tight and fast Phoenix pit road. By the third caution, the video boxes had the wrong cars, none of the timing clocks worked and the 50 plus cameras could not even find the race off pit road. The embarrassed announcers quickly went to yet another commercial.

Returning to the track after that extended break officially put the race into the chaos zone. The green flag came out as the network returned and fans watching on TV had absolutely no idea what had happened or who was where. It was eventually explained that Jimmie Johnson's team had trouble on pit road through a replay.

State Farm Safety reports took the place of race recaps from the pit reporters. Fox baseball promos and Digger popping-up took the place of finding and showing actual racing on the track. The best the TV production team could muster was following the leader and trying to offer some forced jokes between commercials.

By the time Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the field to the green flag at lap 172, it was all but hopeless for Fox. The veteran announcers like Joy and Waltrip just scrambled to try and explain who was where and how they got there to the TV viewers. To see these veterans put in this position was tough to watch.

As in the earlier races on Fox this season, there was no type of rundown given of cars not in the top ten. Nothing like the radio-style rundowns was ever offered and the ticker at the top of the Fox screen offered its normal amount of background information. None.

Ultimately, the race played-out with a popular winner. Who was behind him and how they got there was a mystery. The stories of this race were never told. The TV professionals were buried in commercials and "Monster Moments." But, there was also something else fans missed.

In both the pre-race and the race itself, Fox refused to promote the Nationwide Series race next week at Talladega. The Sprint Cup race was promoted, along with tickets for the race and the phone number to order them. The Nationwide race is on ABC and this seems to be an issue for the Fox executives.

The current feud between Fox and ESPN that has resulted in the lack of on-air race promotion for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races is disgusting. The decline in TV ratings across the board and the economic struggles of the sport apparently take second place to the Fox egos where actually promoting a race on another TV network is concerned.

No part of this coverage would keep a casual TV viewer interested who channel-surfed over to this event. NASCAR fans with better things to do also left. Many of them added a comment or emailed TDP to make their feelings known about the condition of this sport on TV after two bad race telecasts on the same weekend.

All we can do is ask for your opinion on this telecast and perhaps some suggestions.

TDP welcomes comments from readers. Just click on the comments button below and offer your TV-related opinion. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting.

Thank you for hanging in there this weekend and stopping by The Daly Planet.