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Now it's their turn -- But can ABC/ESPN turn this NASCAR TV ratings thing around?


   By Mike Mulhern

   The last time out, in Chicago a week ago last Saturday, NASCAR's TV ratings hit rock-bottom: a 3.0 rating for the Chicago 400.
   That was the final run of Turner's six-race package, and while the guys in the TV booth were good, and a refreshing change from what seems to be getting old hat upstairs with Fox, the six races provided less than memorable viewership.
   Perhaps that's partly because fans didn't know where to look.
   And they didn't know when to look.
   Starting times for NASCAR's Sprint Cup events have been all over the board. And that's been the topic of considerable complaint.
   TV guys point to NASCAR, with its push for that West Coast audience; NASCAR passes the buck back to TV.
   Now it's ABC-and-ESPN, and in the season's final 17 Cup events can this bunch turn things around?
   Well, the odds are stacked against ABC/ESPN, not the least because of the weak lead-in from Turner…and then comes the NFL TV monster in September.
    Typically fall NASCAR events draw smaller audiences than spring events, when there is less competition.
    However Fox' ratings for the year's first 13 events were down significantly.
   And all this comes after about an 18 percent drop in NASCAR's 2008 TV ratings.
   Some blame NASCAR's car-of-tomorrow, which has been difficult to drive at midsized tracks.
   Some blame NASCAR's marketing and promotion – too little, and in the wrong places, some complain; too much, and everywhere, others gripe.
   Some blame this Fox-versus-ESPN 'feud,' which over the spring was much too obvious, with the two key NASCAR TV partners all but refusing to promote, or even talk about, each other's half of the racing weekend.
   Throw in this Jeremy Mayfield mess, and Kyle Busch's juvenile antics and the possibility the tour's best driver might not make the championship playoff cut, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s continuing woes – amid overwhelming dominance of the stock car tour by Rick Hendrick's other team….
   Add a bunch of plain vanilla drivers and pretty much boring racing, except for the final 20 or 30 minutes, and continuing economic problems across the country, and still sky-high hotel rates and all those other travel indignities…and, well, the guys at ABC/ESPN have their work cut out.
   Hopefully Goodyear's new Indy tires make for good racing….even though this flat, square-shaped 2-1/2-mile track seldom has very exciting racing, and little passing, because the speeds are so high and the corners are so impossible.
    ESPN's Julie Sobieski, the head of programming and acquisitions, concedes "We certainly recognize the baton is being passed to us with ratings down.
   "While we certainly see, as you do, that there's room for improvement in a lot of areas, we're doing everything we can from a TV standpoint.
   "Many of you have written about different theories about why ratings are down. But it's not really my place to get into those areas we don't control.
   "At the end of the day, we're doing everything we can from a TV standpoint.
    "And we're really lucky to be able to kick off our Sprint Cup coverage with one heck of a race."
   Well, maybe one place to look for change would be this mid-summer event. Is the middle of July really the right time to play one of NASCAR's biggest events?
    And what about these wacky race starting times?   
    "There's definitely been a lot of dialogue about start times, and a lot has been written," Sobieski says.
    "With ratings down, there are lots of factors contributing. Can consistent start times make a difference? Certainly that's possible.
    "We'd be supportive of consistent start times with ESPN, and we know that's also been a priority for NASCAR to look at.
    "So if it's good for the fans, and we think it's going to benefit ratings, then certainly we're on-board with that concept.
    "It's ultimately NASCAR's call when it comes to the schedule of their races…and certainly the tracks as well.
    "All we can do is have open dialogue, and support where NASCAR and the tracks feel is best to serve the fans.
    "Nothing is set for next year; I think that dialogue is ongoing, and we'll see where that ends up.
    "NASCAR is going to need to make the decision they feel is best for all their constituents."


If my DirecTV was not on a 6

If my DirecTV was not on a 6 second delay, I would mute the TV and listen to MRN. Jerry Punch is not a lead announcer, and was only a decent pit reporter. ABC/ESPN needs to bring back Bob Jenkins to the mic or put Bestwick back where he was. Jarrett and Wallace are about as dull as watching qualifying, too, as color commentators. Next to Darrell Waltrip, though, they all appear that way. If the ratings improve while ABC/ESPN is showing the races, it will be only because the action is heating up on the track.

I'm always amused when I read

I'm always amused when I read that the race start times were shunted all over the map to increase viewership. During the boom years, Nascar races started at fairly uniform times. A fan could go to church or wash the car, turn on the TV (after determining what network was covering the race that weekend), watch the race, and know they would have plenty of time for dinner afterwards. Now that Nascar and the networks have changed all that, ratings are down. So, what worked for years and increased ratings was changed to make things better? for whom? Makes me wonder.

I have a question regarding

I have a question regarding the Mayfield saga...Were all the drivers required to take a drug test at the beginning of the season? If so..and taking into account the levels of meth in Mayfield's tests..(i.e. he would be dead or an extreme methhead)..and with the introduction of Mayfield's "stepmom's" testimony..are we to believe that at the beginning of the season Mayfield could pass a drug test? So if that is the case the man could cease taking the drug long enough to pass a test at the beginning of the season..but now..with his life and profession in jeopardy..he can't set it aside long enough to pass one??? Sounds alittle odd to me...???

If the Busch Series coverage

If the Busch Series coverage is any indicator of how ESPN/ABC will be covering the Cup races, then they too will have double digit losses in the ratings.

Your comment about the NFL

Your comment about the NFL starting in September made me think -- hmmm, start times for NFL games are consistent over the season aren't they? I pretty much know I can tune in at 1 pm, 4 pm and whenever the night game is on -- that's the only one I can't really remember the start time.

Plus, I agree, Jerry Punch is just not the PXP guy - he was an excellent pit reporter, but is just terrible at this job. Also, we are at the peak of the summer season, the racing isn't exciting until, as you said, the last 20 - 30 minutes, well, I don't need to spend 4 hours of my day, plus however many hours of pre-race drivel there is on when the weather is nice. In 2001, I seldom missed watching a race, now, the DVR can catch it and I'll fastforward through the boring stuff and the commercials -- gee, do I really need to see another cialis or extenze commercial. Ugh!

Dont hold your breath with

Dont hold your breath with action heating up on the track. What with drivers racing for points to get into the Chase(puke). Except for Kyle Busch..that cat gives me the impression he'd banzai no matter the situation--too bad hes a crybaby woussy. Anyhow,good luck ESPN with your ratings,you'll need it!!!! (for the record Indy is one of the 3 most boring tracks going--so no need to watch it anymore for me now that the novelty has worn off)

I dunno...with the new double

I dunno...with the new double file restart this year, maybe a caution every nine laps would be an improvement over some of the snoozefests so far...

Of course EESPN is above

Of course EESPN is above criticism since they invented sports broadcasting and are all-knowing - just ask them. No one gets a pass from you media types like the Evil Empire does. Besides the economy, maybe a big part of the Cup ratings decline is the mediocre job EESPN did last fall. Apparently the most closely guarded secret in America is how much the ratings have fallen for the EESPN broadcasts of the Nationwide series since you never see anyone in the media mention that when ratings are the topic.

NASCAR won't get any ratings

NASCAR won't get any ratings boost until Talladega, and by then it might be too late anyway. The racing for the win has to heat up a lot before the ratings begin going back up; the two-abreast restarts are helping, but it has to escalate even more.

I mute the TV and turn up the radio call, 6-second delay or no - heck, whenever I watch the Patriots the radio call is always five seconds ahead and that got me in a little trouble last year when I was at a sports restaurant and yelled "TOUCHDOWN" on Cassel's first score and the others in the bar down the hall didn't know it because they were watching the TV.

If ESPN is serious about start times, then they need to tell NASCAR to forget about 6 PM finishes - start races between 12 and 12:30 PM local time.

The fact that they can't keep

The fact that they can't keep the time consistant has irritated me to no end. I hate having to chase around the tv to find out when I should be able to see it, or if it is too late in the afternoon, I forget.

Keep the times consistent and help us figure out which station is showing the race. thank you.

I don't understand the big

I don't understand the big whine about "consistent start times"... almost all the races this season have started at 2:20... well some West Coast races have odd starting times, but those tracks (Fontana, Snorenoma, etc) are boring to me, so not worth watching... but the East Coast stuff (unless it's a night race of course) has almost ALL started at 2:20 Eastern time... and what's with the whines about "pre-race" being too long... WHY are you watching it when the race doesn't start till 2:20??... I turn it on around 2 and get all I need...

as for Indy, it's just a "showpiece" deal for NASCAR.. "oooh look at us... we race where the "Big Boys" race".... no longer holds up now that IRL is dying on the vine and nobody cares... it never has been any good for stock car racing... it's too flat... just a bigger Martinsville and that place is LAME... with speeds approaching 100 mph!!... oooh I'm sooo scared.... any track with less than 24 degrees of banking should be eliminated... put em on some banking where they can let them babies ROLL!!!!

and FYI I have been a NASCAR fan since 1959 and have seen several races at every track on the schedule except Snorenoma & Fontana, but I HAVE been to MIS and it's same as Fontana... BORING!!

No ESPN won't do any better... the racing needs to be better and that means changing the points deal to eliminate the "riding" that passes for racing these days... Kyle Bush is the ONLY driver out there going for that lead EVERY LAP... I'd say we need 42 more like him, but that would mean nobody but the winner to talk to after the race!!! COUNT CULO

Ontario Motor

Ontario Motor Speedway.

Anonymous, Ontario Motor Speedway had some very good races, and did so with nine degrees of banking and a layout exactly the same as Indianapolis except wider.

We need to kill the "we need 24 degrees of banking instead of flat tracks" myth. Not all of these tracks need 24 degrees of banking. Heck, Chicago saw some good dicing up front thanks to two-abreast restarts, and it isn't that highly banked.

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