Fox network’s run of NASCAR Cup broadcasting ended following the Charlotte 600. Some fans hung their heads while others pumped their fists. Regardless of how anyone felt about the quality of the coverage, the telecasts have changed for the remainder of the season.
The rest of 2010 will feature only three more Cup races sent out over a major network. ABC will carry three Saturday night races, Bristol, Richmond, and Charlotte. The rest will all be shown on cable outlets. Right now we are already halfway through TNT’s section of the tour. ESPN picks up starting with the Indianapolis race and through the balance of the season.
This is the most races on cable network since 2000, the final year of speedways negotiating their own television packages. NASCAR assumed broadcast negotiations for the 2001 season and forward. And since then a majority of Cup events have been over broadcast television.
In different versions, Fox had the rights to the first part of the schedule. NBC shared the second half with TNT during the initial contract. Then ABC/ESPN joined in when that contract expired. ABC did air a large portion of the races until this season.
The actual product of the broadcast during the second half of the Cup schedule is the same; the only difference is the channel the racing is aired on. To me, that is a huge difference.
Cup racing prior to 2001 had been on television weekly but with a majority on cable. CBS, ABC, NBC, TBS, TNN, and ESPN shared the races in 2000. The new contract provided less varying outlets. The big caveat was the move to a large percentage on network television. Fox shared the schedule first with NBC and then ABC. Many new fans were created since the 2001 move.
The steady viewership ratings and attendance increased through the early 2000s. The Cup circuit had grown every single year and warranted the move to network television.
In recent years rating and attendance decline have been a battle that NASCAR and the speedways have vigorously fought. The Sunday afternoon autumn Cup programs on ABC have not held up to what the network needed. Many that have been on in the past will now be on ESPN.
I believe this is a step backwards for the sport. It is deserved, but something we need to be concerned with.
ESPN and NASCAR grew together during the 1980s and 1990s and the cable channel helped build stock car racing into a national sport. But the truly major sporting events get network airtime.
MLB, NFL, and the NBA have their champions crowned in prime time on network television. Any sport that doesn’t has to feel at least a tier below those major American leagues.
Come Homestead’s race in November, the 2010 NASCAR Cup champion will be crowned on cable television.
I had some solid defense ammunition when I would get into a debate with one of my many stick-and-ball friends who ‘don’t get’ auto racing. Now that leg to stand on in the argument of how major Cup racing is has vanished.
According to ratings, which set advertising budgets that pay for the race broadcast, this business model did not work for ABC. The majority of the races will now be on ESPN. If this works for the company business-wise I applaud them. But my ‘motorsports pride’ is slightly bruised.
Respected racing journalist Pete Pistone remarked on his Sirius morning radio show that he felt it was not that big a deal anymore to be on cable versus network. In my own opinion I respectfully disagree.
I feel it is a big deal. Not as big as 20, even 10 years ago, but yes there is a difference and still a sizeable one. When the NFL grabs hold of the sports world in September Sunday afternoons, the channels not carrying football games need to counter with the strongest programming they have. I was proud that for many years NASCAR was up to the challenge.
The Florida-based stock car sanctioning body will not be in that position this year. They will have a winning, strong broadcast. It will just be off center stage.
The tremendous growth has stalled and NASCAR faces a pattern that every single other sport has gone through, ebbs and flows in popularity. As passionate people that love motorsports, that is something we all need to be working towards to correct.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts “Motorweek Live” Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunion.com )