recently awarded their new TV contract to a consortium of NBC, FOX and
TBS, dumping longtime TV partner ESPN and ABC. We take a close look
at what it means to NASCAR and what it should mean to CART and the IRL
(Note - for the purposes of this article, NASCAR means Winston Cup cars
and CART means FedEx Champ Cars).
Many people attribute NASCAR's
meteoric rise to RJ Reynolds and ESPN. No one can doubt that the
Winston brand of tobacco products and NASCAR have made ideal business
partners. NASCAR provides RJ Reynolds a means by which it can expose
it's Winston brand to consumers on TV and at the race track, while RJ Reynolds
provides NASCAR with cash as well as a ton of advertising. However, even
more important to NASCAR has been its teaming with ESPN to televise a
large majority of its races.
Some twenty years ago, at a
time when very few NASCAR races were on TV, and when ESPN was looking to
fill time slots, NASCAR and ESPN signed an agreement for ESPN to televise
NASCAR Winston Cup racing. But it was more than just televising of
races. It was a commitment by ESPN to help grow NASCAR into the #1
form of motorsports in the USA. And who can doubt its success.
With so many hours of race, qualifying, pre-race, RPM2Night and even the
annual NASCAR Awards banquet on TV, the opportunity existed to saturate
the market with NASCAR and make that form of racing, and its drivers,
household names to millions of race fans. You would think that
NASCAR would have felt some loyalty to ESPN and ABC, but when it came time
award its new TV contract, they forgot all about loyalty and instead went
for the bigger money and more programming hours offered by FOX, NBC
Let's examine the planned CART
vs. NASCAR TV coverage for the first 6 months of the 2001 year so you will
understand just how much TV exposure NASCAR will get compared to
CART. You will then begin to understand why NASCAR and its drivers
are so well known in the USA while other race car drivers are not.
During the race season NASCAR has a race about every week, CART about
every other week. Hence, when computing the amount of TV coverage per
week, some CART numbers were divided by 2.
practice was never broadcast. Now it will be live on FOX
Sports Net (FSN).
Coverage for practice
qualifying was always shown live on ESPN or ESPN2 when the race that
week was to be broadcast on either ABC or ESPN. Now it will
always be live on FSN
of CART qualifying sessions will be broadcast, but most will be tape
delayed on ESPN2 and shown in the wee hours of the morning when most
people are asleep. There will be no coverage for non-USA races
(60/2 = 30 per week)
NASCAR Garage which airs on TNN, this show on FSN will give the
viewer 30 minutes of what a Cup car is all about. Every race
morning 10:00 to 10:30 AM. For the purposes of this story, we
will assume the NASCAR Garage show will be replaced by this show.
30-minute tech show for CART. What's funny is that Champ Cars
are far more high-tech than Cup cars and need this sort of show to
help the fans understand the cars better, yet it's NASCAR and it's
low-tech cars that get the TV air time.
MORNING on FSN will air 11:00 to 11:30 AM the morning of each race.
will air for 30 minutes, usually immediately before the race, on
ESPN2 (30/2 = 15 per week)
broadcasts will be shown on FOX or FOX FX
will be shown live on ABC or ESPN2. Most will fit in a 2-hour
window, a few in a 2.5 hour window (120/2 = 60 per week)
PRIMETIME - Live 60-minute studio program will be a wrap up of each
race on Sunday evenings 9:00 to 10:00PM
have no post race show.
Cup races will be rebroadcast on on FOX FX each Monday afternoon
12:00 to 3:00 PM
races will be rebroadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 one afternoon of the week
following the race (120/2 = 60 per week)
NASCAR on FSN. This show will be like RPM2Night.
However, whereby RPM2Night was 90% NASCAR and 10% everything else,
Totally NASCAR will be 100% NASCAR, M-F 6:00-6:30 PM. We
will assume that RPM2Night will now have 25% NASCAR coverage.
TNN's 60-minute weekly Raceday show was approx. 50% NASCAR
coverage. We assume it will remain the same. Then of
course there is the weekly 30-minute NASCAR Shop Talk show, Inside
Winston Cup Racing and Inside NASCAR.
shown 7 days per week, will continue to cover all forms of
motorsports. Whereas before it was 90% NASCAR, we will assume
it will be 25% NASCAR, 25% CART, 25% IRL and 25% others now that it
lost the NASCAR contact. We will assume that TNN's Raceday
will continue to give CART about 5 minutes of coverage per week.
can be seen from the above numbers, NASCAR will have over 4 times as
much TV coverage per week than CART. Part of that drives that ratio
is the fact that there are 39 Winston Cup races per year (Including The
Winston, the Bud Shootout and the 125-qualfying races), vs. only 22 for
CART. Because NASCAR races every week, and CART every other week,
the numbers are somewhat skewed. However, the fact remains that on
average NASCAR will be shown 920 minutes per week and CART 220 minutes per
week. This ratio was not significantly different in past years, as
ABC and ESPN gave NASCAR just about as much coverage as FOX will, perhaps
However, none of these numbers
take into account the number of minutes NASCAR sponsors promote the series
with TV ads that tout their product and NASCAR at the same time.
Just recently Honda again ran a full page ad in USA Today touting their
CART championship winning engines, yet again there was no mention of CART
nor the FedEx series. It was strictly a Honda ad. We have yet
to see a NASCAR sponsor run an ad on TV or in the print media that does
not make mention of NASCAR in one form or another. Why isn't someone
in CART looking after these lost marketing opportunities? The point
of course is that the 'devils in the details'; details NASCAR looks after
and CART doesn't.
And there's more.
According to the Eurosport website,
NASCAR and Eurosport have reached an agreement for all 2001 Winston Cup
races to be broadcast live on Eurosport. What this means is that
CART can't be shown live by Eurosport on any dates a Winston Cup race runs
in the same time slot. NASCAR has beaten CART to the Eurosport
contract and they don't even run a race in Europe, CART has two.
While CART is trying to negotiate a new TV contract for 2002 and beyond,
they have let NASCAR pull the rug right out from under them in Europe.
In addition Sky currently has a contract with the IRL to show their races
live in Europe alternating between Sky Sports 2 and 3. Rupert
Murdoch owns Sky Sports. Although the IRL has almost no following overseas,
CART's arch nemesis Bernie Eccelstone and Tony George (in bed together at
Indy) would like nothing better than to see CART's overseas TV coverage go
away, removing any threat to F1 (Some suggest CART is in a death fight
with the IRL and F1. All signs point to that, but we wonder if CART
So what does all this mean for
NASCAR and for CART. It will simply mean business as usual.
NASCAR will continue to dominate the US TV scene and, therefore, will
continue to get the majority of exposure; exposure that gains new fans,
while CART wonders why its TV ratings are falling.
While TV is not the only
reason why NASCAR is so successful, it certainly is a big part of
it. When a sport is getting 4 times the amount of TV coverage than
another, it has the opportunity to not only reach more people, but to also
provide a little something for everyone. NASCAR drivers will
continue to get the brunt of on-air interviews, helping to increase fan
It's quite evident from the
above analysis that CART needs the sort of TV partner that NASCAR has had,
and will continue to have. Whereas CART buys time from the TV
station and then sells the advertising, NASCAR does just the
opposite. The TV station is responsible for selling the advertising
and it pays NASCAR to air its races and news shows. Whereas in
CART's case the TV broadcaster cares very little about how successful CART
is (they get their money either way), with NASCAR they know that if they
help make NASCAR successful, they will be able to command more money for
their advertising. In other words with NASCAR they have some
incentive to want to make NASCAR prosper, whereas in CART it's an
afterthought, if that. Higher TV ratings command higher advertising
fees. NASCAR didn't have high TV ratings when it started with ESPN,
but together they grew them to a level where today they are, on average,
second only to football.
In CART's case how do they get
the sort of TV contract NASCAR has? It won't be easy. What
comes first, the chicken or the egg? With current TV ratings being
low and falling, what TV broadcaster is going to pick up their new
contract and will they be willing to take the sort of risk ESPN did with
NASCAR years ago and help grow the sport with CART? Will CART find
someone who is willing to pay them to broadcast their shows, rather than
be paid, or will CART first have to get higher TV ratings, i.e. the
chicken or the egg?
With the loss of the NASCAR
contract, one would think that ABC and ESPN would realize that if they are
to stay in the auto racing broadcast business, open wheel racing is one of
only a few games left in town (NHRA and ALMS being the others). One
would think that the RPM2Night studios would be moved to Indianapolis near
all the CART and IRL teams, and away from Charlotte, home of all the
NASCAR teams and drivers. Instead, RPM2Night will stay in Charlotte
and every night interview one NASCAR personality or another, helping to
keep the NASCAR drivers and team members in the public eye. This of
course will help their competitor (FOX and later NBC) with higher TV
ratings. As stupid as all this sounds (and yes it is just downright
poor business), that's exactly the way it's going to be (which must bring
smiles to the faces at FOX, NBC and TBS).
That is not the sort of TV
partner CART needs and either they structure a better deal with ABC and
ESPN when their contract ends after 2001 or, if ABC and ESPN are not
willing, find another partner who will. While it would be much
easier to stay with ABC and ESPN, they have not shown the willingness to
grow open wheel racing as they have NASCAR.
Perhaps it's time CART look at
a deal with CBS, TNN and Speedvision. Our sense is that this group
may be a little hungrier than ABC and ESPN and willing to start the sort
of relationship ESPN did with NASCAR years ago. While today TNN and
Speedvision do not reach nearly as many households as say ESPN or ESPN2,
that is quickly changing, and Speedvision, being a 24-hour sports channel
with a lot of hours to fill, could provide CART many more hours of
programming coverage for things like nightly news shows, weekly technical
shows, etc. We would recommend all the races be shown live on
network TV (CBS) and the practice, qualifying, pre-race, post-race and
news shows split between TNN and Speedvision.
While there is little doubt in
anyone's mind that CART's current TV arrangement is just plain wrong, with
the right TV deal, there is no reason why CART could not grow in
popularity. Whether it will ever reach the levels of NASCAR today
remains to be seen, but I remember some 30 years ago when open wheel
racing was more popular than NASCAR. Can the roles be reversed
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
to discuss this article