Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Can NASCAR and its drivers make 2009 a TV comeback season?


Fox sports boss David Hill (Photo: Fox Sports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   When it comes to 'happy TV,' and 'intriguing TV,' and, okay, 'goofy TV' too, you just can't beat Fox.
   I mean, American Idol, House, Fringe…
   And it's all worked for Fox to become, in many aspects, the most popular network in America.
   And now, again, NASCAR.
   Well, we're into Year Nine of NASCAR-on-Fox.
   And to be honest, things have been a little sluggish lately in this part of the TV world.
   Can NASCAR get back up to speed? Can NASCAR regain that lost momentum?
   If so, well, just how?
   That's not just a question for NASCAR CEO Brian France and all these desperate drivers and car owners and crewmen, but also for David Hill. He's the man who runs Fox Sports, the multi-talented great 'ponderer' who thinks great thoughts and comes up with grand ideas.
   And sometimes little ideas that take on a life of their own.
   Like Digger.
   The gopher cam.
   Well, yes. Defiantly so.
   "One thing we're trying to do is continually refresh the viewer base," Hill says. "And if 'Digger' helps, and lowers the average age (of NASCAR demographics), and attracts kids who then grow with the sport…."
   When it comes to tapping key demographics, Fox is king: 18-49….and the really hot 18-34 male.
   Numbers, numbers, numbers. Right now life in America is all about numbers. Bad numbers, good numbers, rising numbers, falling numbers.
   The key TV numbers for NASCAR: Saturday night's Bud Shootout just pulled a 4.9 rating, with 8.2 million viewers.
   The Gold Standard for TV sports, of course, is the Super Bowl, which was on NBC this year, with Nielsen saying that over 150 million people watched at least six minutes of the show. It was the most-watched Super Bowl ever, with about 98 million viewers on average….and 38 minutes of very high-priced commercials.
   So what to expect from NASCAR's Daytona 500?
   Here's the historic line:
   The 1979 Daytona 500, the first broadcast live wire-to-wire, hit an amazing 10.5 Nielsen rating (CBS).
   The next 'highs' were 7.9 ratings in 1992, 1994 and 1999 (CBS).
   In 2000, CBS' final season, the 500 pulled a 7.6.
   In 2001, the first year of NASCAR's new, broader television package, Fox pulled an 8.4.
   In 2002 NBC, playing the 500 during its Olympic coverage, hit a 10.9.
   In 2003 Fox, fighting rain, drew a 9.8.
   In 2004 NBC drew a 10.6.
   In 2005 Fox hit a 10.9.
   In 2006 NBC, again packaging the 500 with its Olympic coverage, hit the record – 11.3 (with an average audience of 19.3 million).
   In 2007 Fox pulled a 10.1.
   In 2008 Fox pulled a 10.2.
   But some of the TV numbers out right now aren't so pretty
   Rupert Murdoch's media empire, of which Fox is an anchor, just announced a loss of more than $6 billion for the last quarter, and cost-cutting is coming, Murdoch says, noting that operating earnings were down 42 percent.
   So one number to be watched here: TV ad revenue for this Daytona 500.
   In 2001 the number was $22 million; in 2002, $24 million; in 2003, $20 million; in 2004, $33 million; in 2005, $36 million; in 2006, $42 million. (All according to Nielsen.)
   Last year Fox pegged the price of its 30-second ads in the Daytona 500 at $550,000. How much it may make this time around, well, nobody is saying much, but it's probably much less.
   After all, some of NASCAR's key advertisers are hurting, like everybody else.
   So just which of these companies will be playing the TV game this season, and this Sunday, will be eagerly watched.
   The sport's top TV players have been Sprint, Ford, AT&T, Toyota, General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, Allstate, Shell, DirecTV, Claritin, AutoZone, Coke, Subway, Home Depot, State Farm, Procter&Gamble, Pepsi, FedEx, and Sears.
   Now it might be a stretch to say Fox is thriving while newspapers are dying, but newspaper coverage of NASCAR is drying up dramatically, while Fox is pounding away with its typically, unabashedly flamboyant coverage of this sport.
   And then again just how 'broadcast journalism' differs from traditional 'print journalism' in NASCAR coverage is ripe for debate, as always.
   But Hill, looking ahead to Fox' four-month NASCAR season that is opening here, says newspaper publishers could learn a lesson from TV networks like Fox.
   "One of the important things about network television, for a sport like NASCAR, is that it continually refreshes its fan-base…or you hope that it refreshes its fan-base," Hill says.
   "We have a multi-level platform with Fox, that out-promos with shows like American Idol. So what you're hoping is someone who's only heard about the sport but never watched it will tune in the show, driven by the promo.
   "I started as a copy boy when I was 17. After two years I walked out of the newsroom as a cadet journalist, and went to a TV newsroom. So my knowledge of newspapers goes way back.
   "In television we understand we have to change our product on a minute-by-minute basis….because society changes. The people who watch our shows, who consume our product, are different than they were 30 years ago.
   "The same thing happens with newspapers.
   "And it seems to me, that with except of the introduction of USAToday (1982), when you pick up a newspaper, it's exactly the same as it was 50, 60, 100 years ago.
   "Essentially newspapers haven't changed.
   "And, believe me, there is a spirited debate within News Corp about all forms of media -- we do have a lot of newspapers (including  The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post).
   "And my advice to my friends and former colleagues is newspapers have never really changed: That there have been cosmetic changes but not fundamental changes.
   "I don't think newspapers are ever going to die…though there is some kneejerk reaction in the proprietors' offices.
   "But where they should be working is changing how the newspaper looks...and how the newspaper is going to live with the web.
   "Should the newspaper have only seven or eight paragraphs and then you have to go to the web for the rest of the story?
   "The beauty of a newspaper is you can browse it. People always want to be informed and entertained. And your eyes are constantly going to stories you didn't know existed.
  "So if you try to tailor a newspaper just to yourself, you're going to miss out.
  "Newspapers, in my opinion, have to undergo a fundamental transformation -- in the way they're actually laid out and the interaction the newspaper has with the internet."


FOX undoubtedly would have

FOX undoubtedly would have better ratings if each year it didn't have to first win back the viewers driven away by TNT, in particular, and ESPN.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com