Fox, TV networks concerned about NASCAR’s loss of young, male viewers, ratings

David Hill worries about NASCAR losing young men.

Not on the track, but on sofas and bar stools. Hill, the top executive at Fox Sports, points to steep drops in young male viewers – the key audience for any major league sport – as a primary reason for NASCAR’s five-year ratings swoon since hitting historic highs in 2005.

“The biggest problem facing NASCAR is that the young males have left the sport," he says. “And if I was NASCAR, and I was an owner (of a race team), it would be something that I would be burning the midnight oil on a nightly basis, worrying where they’ve gone and how do I get them back."

With Fox closing out its 13-race portion of the NASCAR schedule on Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600, Hill sees cause for optimism, as well as caution flags.

Fox attracted an average of 8.3 million viewers per race in 2009, according to figures compiled by sister publication SportsBusiness Daily. This year, Fox will likely finish with an average hovering near 8 million viewers for each race, which, if it holds, would represent a slight decrease.

And, according to Fox, ratings among men 18-34 are down 29 percent from last year.

There are, as always, several caveats with the audience comparisons. The season-opening Daytona 500, the most popular race on the schedule, suffered this year because it faced direct competition from the Winter Olympics.

Races in Texas and Virginia were forced to run on Monday after rain delays.

Lower ratings mean lower ad rates and sales. That is simple math, Hill says.

Humpy Wheeler, a former speedway executive and current industry consultant, says the combination of falling attendance and TV ratings likely means NASCAR needs a shake-up.

Blaming the economy for NASCAR’s woes is a convenient but incomplete excuse, he says. Considering shorter races offers one possible solution, Wheeler says.

Hill agrees to a point – but also has concerns.

Shorter races could satisfy shortened attention spans in a world of 140-character messages, but condensed races would also leave less time for commercials, making it harder to justify the traditional hefty rights fees paid by the networks.

And yet, “The length of the race is something that we should definitely look at," Hill says. More at Scene Daily

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