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NASCAR's TV ratings from Kansas are down too...with the World Series coming up, and redhot NFL competition

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   More bum news for NASCAR from the TV front: Sunday's rip-roaring Kansas 400 drew a smaller television audience than last year's 400.
   ABC reports that this year's chase race in Kansas City, won by Tony Stewart in a late breakaway from Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon, in front of a nice crowd estimated at 100,000 at Kansas Speedway, drew only a 3.2 final national household rating.
   Last fall's Kansas 400 drew a 3.5.
   The overnight ratings for this Kansas 400 were a disappointing 2.6 (quick reports from the nation's biggest markets). But the pump-up from the smaller markets raised the final numbers.
   Neverthless NASCAR's push to hit it in the nation's biggest markets seems to be less than successful.
   ABC says that 5.2 million viewers watched Stewart beat Gordon and Biffle.
   On the NASCAR Nationwide side, ESPN2's live coverage from Kansas City earned a final national household rating of 1.2, down from the 1.3 rating for last year's race. ESPN says that means Saturday's telecast averaged 1,545,275 viewers. The Kansas race was the first Nationwide  event to be down in ratings after five consecutive races on ESPN2 up from last year's race, or corresponding weekend.

 The latest ratings news comes as NASCAR officials and TV executives announced they will be changing the starting times for many of the tour's 2010 events to 1 p.m. ET. The season opening Daytona 500 will start at 1; this year's 500 started at 3:30 p.m. ET, and it was rain-shortened.  Late TV starting times have been criticized by fans and some teams, and have played a role in rain-shortened event, which probably could have been run to the finish if not for late starting times.
  The Sprint Cup tour's West Coast day-time events are set for 3 p.m. ET starts; the night-time events (like Phoenix), at 7:30 p.m. ET
  Charlotte's May 600, however, will continue to start at 5:45 p.m. ET.

The ratings will continue to

The ratings will continue to slide until Talladega arrives Halloween weekend - that is the only Chase race that can compete with the NFL on television. This is why, despite everything, Fontana will at some point get more banking because the kind of racing we see at Talladega is what the sport needs to get out of its popularity funk.

The most-watched sporting

The most-watched sporting event this week was the Monday Night Football game. Accordin to media reports (here's one), almost 22 million people watched the game, and it was on cable. Why?
In part because ESPN heavily hyped this game as Favre vs. the Packers. Many of those 22 million viewers had little to no interest in football, but they wanted to see whether or not the hero-turned-villain (or villain-turned-hero if you live in MN) would stick it to his old team. ESPN hyped the star and the drama of the moment, not the game.
There's a lesson here for NASCAR. Let the stars be stars. Let them build a car they can race (and that casual fans can relate to). Let them be dramatic & emotional: angry, happy, frustrated etc. Let the network sell the stars the drama.
Granted "Hamlin vs. Kesolowski" or even "Biffle vs. Johnson" isn't the same as "Favre vs. Green Bay", but "Wallace vs. Earnhardt" and "Ford vs. Chevy" sure were.

Lead changes are more

Lead changes are more important than one-on-one matchups. In football it's one team vs. another, so selling a one-on-one matchup works - Favre vs. Green Bay; New England vs. Indianapolis; New York vs. Philly - they work as such because that's the nature of football. And while primarily a Patriots fan I am rooting hard for the Titans to beat the damned Colts and whoever else in in front of them.

In racing it's not about one-on-one. "Wallace vs. Earnhardt" was not the powerful rivalry some nostalgically think it was because racing is one vs. 42 others - heck, people forget that in 1994, one of the key Wallace-vs.-Earnhardt years, they were largely a sideshow to Ernie Irvan's title bid and subsequent near-fatal injury, and Geoff Bodine and Hoosier Tire's surge to the front; the year before it was Wallace-vs.-Earnhardt but in August they got usurped by Martin and Irvan. Even in the Petty-vs.-Pearson years they had to race Cale, the Allisons, Isaac, Baker, and Benny and later on had to race Darrell, Tim, Geoff, Bill, and Earnhardt.

The "lesson" for NASCAR is not that it must "let the stars be stars." Emotion is so overrated it isn't funny; the best stars are the ones who aren't emotional - Randy Moss' dismissive open-the-door gesture is superior to the flamboyance of others; the coolest stars are the ones who just nod when they score and then go back to the sidelines. NASCAR needs to crack down more on flamboyance and "emotion" - make these guys act like they've been here before.

And the COT's problem is not that teams can't "build a car they can race and that casual fans can relate to." It's that it's unraceable fundamentally. Creativity is the most overrated aspect of racing in existence because it always comes back to basics and leaves the sport with greater expense and absurdity of performance. Don't "let them build a car they can race," make them build a car that can race but which won't let them outspend anyone else; make them have to stick to the basics and outfight the field instead of outrunning it.

Well we seem to again avoid

Well we seem to again avoid any mention of the possibility that the declining ratings evidence disapproval of the way EESPN handles the broadcasts. The problem just might be EESPN, not NASCAR. In any event, I have yet to see anyone bashing NASCAR about ratings falling off go back several years to report how NASCAR ratings rose or fell when NFL season began.

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