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Don't blame TV for racing's drop in popularity

by Brian Mackey
Thursday, October 21, 2010

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I find it interesting that when NASCAR’s current decline in popularity is reported, including the recent announcement of the Daytona 500 Experience closure, it is reported as due to the economy or other element. The television coverage is not often included among the rationale despite a current ratings downdraft. The content of a NASCAR televised event is subject to the debate, but not the television distribution capability itself.

The reason is rather obvious; NASCAR has essentially a strong television package foundation. It is particularly strong when compared to other motorsport series. Yet when describing Indy Cars decline, the Versus television package is nearly always mentioned as a major, if not primary reason, for Indy Cars current malaise. As I have often written in various articles including Autoracing1.com, Indy Cars television package is not the primary reason for their predicament. It is merely the symptom of a much larger problem.

Here again is my basic premise. Television coverage does not “create” fans sufficiently economically to warrant spending the necessary funding to broadcast Indy Cars on major network television on a regular basis (see CART), whether the broadcast funding comes from the network or the sanctioning body. If Indy Car were to be broadcast on network television today, it would continue to battle low ratings, albeit larger than can be achieved by Versus alone, but not on par with other sporting alternatives. The fact remains that Indy Cars popularity among race fans has declined. This regrettable situation appears to broaden to include the number of race fans in general, as they also appear to be in a similar downward spiral and the real crisis facing racing series today.

Television “merely” broadcasts events. Like any television programming, it relies on its ability to attract viewers to justify the investment to broadcast. Popular programming is profitable. Unpopular ones are not. The audience must have an interest in watching. Regardless of what network the races are broadcast, no level of technological and sophisticated broadcast wizardry will ever succeed until there is a willing audience of fans to watch it.

That is the reason why I believe the various race series should focus their energies on creating new fans, primarily from the events themselves, in order to carve out a sizable and passionate base of race fans. They in turn will watch the events on television. No fans. No ratings. No future; whether on Versus, Speed, ABC or anywhere else. To paraphrase, it’s the fans stupid.

The Versus television agreement with Indy Car is a realistic and appropriate level of television coverage for Indy Cars current level of popularity. The story line shows it is growing and increasingly gaining viewers. Until it reaches a plateau where regular major commercial television coverage is warranted, it is precisely the kind of programming we should expect and bottom line, support.

Mackey Marketing Website: www.mackeymarketing.com

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