Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Thoughts on Why Nascar TV Viewership is Down

Nascar race TV viewership is down for the whole year. A brief review of Nascar history shows that the Chase was created to generate more TV viewership, more at track attendance and to generate excitement for the sport. Brian France instituted the Chase after Matt Kenseth won the Championship with a runaway points lead.

This year it does not appear to be working. In theory, home viewership should be up: with the economy the way it is, at track attendance should be down as more people stay home to watch the races.

So why are the numbers falling? There are several reasons, some which Nascar cannot fix, but others that could be tweaked to gain back viewers.

Things Nascar Can Fix:

1. Overhype of the Chase. Starting with the Daytona 500, all we hear about is the Chase. The NFL does not hype the Super Bowl this way throughout the year, MLB doesn't hype the World Series this way, and neither should Nascar. We all know it is coming. And we all know that it is too early to talk about in the first couple races. Knock it off. In fact, it should not be hyped until we are within 3 races of the Chase's start, and then only sparingly. Save the PR until we have a field set.

2. Overhype during the Chase. Watching the first race in the Chase, the announcers act like every lap is vitally important in the Chase. "If Gordon doesn't pass Stewart soon, he'll drop all the way to third in the Chase." And it's lap #3! When something catastrophic happens, then let us know how it impacts the Chase.

3. Ignoring Non-Chase drivers. While the drivers having the best year are in the Chase and are likely to be up front, there still are 30 other guys out there. Talk about them, and not just when they (nearly) crash into a Chaser.

4. Tweak the Rules to get into the Chase. I'm fine with an arbitrary number of drivers, but let's look at the line. Change the rule to top 12 plus any race winning drivers within 100 points of #12. Some years this may be no one, and others it may be a couple guys. But if a team pulled it together enough to be within 100 points of the top 12 AND won a race, let them in.

5. Uniform Start times: I applaud Nascar for deciding on uniform start times. I think they may actually listen to the fans once in a while.

6. Fix the schedule: We have too many races. Trim a few by adding a rotation of tracks - instead of 2 races per year, Track #1 gets one race plus one race in odd years. Track #2 gets the other race in even numbered years. The Chase races should include a bigger variety of tracks. Why not Sonoma? Bristol? Richmond?

Things Nascar Can't Fix:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s past few seasons have not gone well. Despite the high hopes after his signing at Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Jr. has failed to deliver consistent finishes and wins. That hurts viewership when your most popular driver isn't in the Championship. Do you think Michael Jordan would have been as legendary if he had never played in the Championship games? The same applies here.

2. Jimmie Johnson's domination. Johnson has schooled the field each of the past three years. Before that, he was in contention up until the last race. Frankly, many long time fans I know are bored with the Chase because they expect Johnson to win it all. They are not excited about the Chase. Maybe when Johnson retires they will be back.

3. Football: Probably the biggest thief of viewers is football. College and NFL games lure away marginal & dedicated fans.

Nascar needs to look at its product and make a few changes. Otherwise, the decline of viewers will lead to a decrease in revenue as the TV package will not be worth as much as it did a few years ago.