The autumn season has arrived. Here in North Carolina the weather is outstanding. Often we are greeted with warm, sunny days, low humidity and a touch of color in the leaves. It is a very pleasant and comfortable scene.
However inside many houses, lurking within the confines of a few square feet of modern electronics, there wages a battle every Sunday afternoon. A box in a living room energizes to life and an annual ten-week long tussle commences. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series challenges the National Football League.
Stock car’s top division has been televised opposite the NFL for many years. A majority of the broadcasts during the early years were on cable, but real race fans knew they were there and that is how the sport grew. Networks carried football while racers were tuned to TNN, ESPN, or TBS and not missing a lap.
Individual speedways negotiated their own broadcast deal for the races that they held. That ended at the conclusion of the 2000 season when NASCAR sold the Cup and Nationwide Series rights as a package to the major networks. Nothing had really changed as far as competing with football, but now fans just dialed to a new channel.
But ratings that were phenomenal, seam-busting numbers on cable outlets were now held to a new standard. FOX and NBC paid very large sums of money to air NASCAR’s premiere tour and the audience delivered. Millions of new viewers were exposed to the Cup series that had never seen it before. The races were there all along but many eyes just never looked. Here was the chance to put the plate right on a viewer’s place mat without them even turning their head.
Now we are back to the fall once more and here comes the sports juggernaut of the United States, the NFL. NASCAR is not alone in looking for attention during the football season. Every sport faces this challenge from major league baseball’s playoffs to opening nights of the NHL and NBA.
The networks that are not televising the NFL need some kind of programming to air opposite that time slot. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series puts up as good a fight as anything else that can be aired, whether that is a sport, infomercial, or an old movie.
NASCAR’s Chase was designed to assist that competition. Pointing to Matt Kenseth’s early 2003 championship clinching and single victory year as the Chase catalyst is a stretch. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt is a pair of early championship clinching drivers and Benny Parsons had a lone race win in his 1973 title drive.
NASCAR does see the value of an exciting point slugfest with the championship being decided at the season’s final race. But make no mistake; it is not a coincidence that the Chase starts as the NFL season kicks off. NASCAR will be racing against professional football no matter what. The offices in Daytona Beach might as well have a system to give it their best shot.
Racing’s ratings have been down for the previous few years but a fact that often gets brushed aside is that all ratings for television across the board are down. That includes American Idol and Survivor too. Sprint Cup racing’s ratings are statistical analysis, which from my experience in life can be turned to form whatever percentage will favor your point to make.
Uniform start times are a factor that helps football and the lack of one hurts the stock car crowd. One and four p.m. eastern times are the football doubleheader times every Sunday. Bank on it. NFL fans do not have to put in any effort week-to-week to gather this information. And that fan will adjust to whatever time zone he or she happens to live in
A diehard football fan is not an audience NASCAR is shooting to acquire. Neither is the diehard-racing fan. Both groups are religiously committed to their sport. We all know what their TV is tuned to on Sundays. The target both governing bodies are trying to attract is the general sports fan, one that will watch an exciting event. Millions of people make up this demographic.
Race fans have to research each week when the green flag is thrown. The time has varied all year. Starting off with a one-hour pre race show when the opening round of football games are kicking off is a weak challenge on NASCAR’s part. Throwing the green flag partway through the second quarter of said football game is missing out on attracting that general sports fan. They are already involved with the gridiron contest.
I keep tabs on football and do enjoy the sport. Although I don’t start watching regularly until after racing season has concluded.
By and large NASCAR is a worthy challenger to the NFL. I offer criticism because I love racing and the more fans that we can attract the healthier the sport becomes for all of us. I don’t believe any other sport could go head to head with the NFL on a weekly basis and show the strength the Sprint Cup Series does. As a matter of fact no other sport even bothers to try.