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NASCAR says TV strategy, marketing to core fans is working
NASCAR’s desire to strengthen its hold on the sport’s most avid fans showed progress in certain Southern markets, but the numbers from Fox’s broadcasts from February through May showed sharp declines in the younger audience.

Overall, NASCAR’s viewership on Fox dropped 7.1 percent from 2009 and the numbers are down 16.5 percent from 2008 for the races that were not affected by weather. Turner broadcasts six races, while ESPN has the final 17 of the season.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup races still averaged 7.897 million viewers for 11 races that weren’t affected by weather, but the male 18- to 34-year-old demographic showed a 29 percent decline. That’s in addition to a 21 percent decline in that demo for all 36 Sprint Cup races on network and cable last year.

Even with the drop-off in younger viewers, NASCAR says the TV numbers show that its strategy is working.

“Our core fan is older,” said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston. “That’s a fact. Our strategy and focus the last couple of years has been to target our core fan base. If we’re making strides with that fan base, it shows that our strategy is working.”

NASCAR also pointed out that the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30 outperformed the Indianapolis 500 with 13 percent more viewers, making the race the most-watched sporting event of the weekend on network TV.

Competition from the Winter Olympics during the first three weeks of the season and the now-infamous pothole delay at Daytona negatively affected ratings. NASCAR on Fox was down 15 percent after the first three weeks, he said, then stabilized the rest of the season.

There was also an attempt by NASCAR to please its hard-core fans by standardizing its start times. Races in the Eastern and Central time zones started at 1 p.m. ET, while races in the Pacific time zone started at 3 p.m. ET. Night races started at 7:30 p.m. ET.

NASCAR Chief Executive Brian France said last year, when the announcement was made that the core fans wanted earlier start times, that the move was “a little counterintuitive to most television programming.” At the same time, France was preaching a return to wilder action on the track and less restrictive rules from the sanctioning body to improve the racing.

The more consistent start times took NASCAR back to the days when families came home from church, flipped on the TV and watched the race. That happened in some traditionally strong Southern markets, like Charlotte, Greensboro, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, where ratings were at least flat and in some cases were sharply up.

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