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Voice of Vito: NASCAR Ratings Revelation – Current System Isn’t Cutting It
Ratings continue to be wreck week in and week out this season, though attendance is improving.

Voice of Vito: NASCAR Ratings Revelation – Current System Isn’t Cutting It

Television ratings for the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono were released on Tuesday, and the picture painted is a familiar one for 2014 – and it resembles Edvard Munch’s The Scream: a final rating of 2.8, a 13% decrease from 2012. Given the relatively low ratings, a decrease of 13% may sound harmless, but a deeper delve into the numbers will show it is indeed significant.

The last few years of declining ratings were prefaced with, “Well, Junior isn’t winning, so fans aren’t tuning in.” Here we are smack dab in the middle of the DaleYeah Renaissance returning to a track where he won two months ago and just completed the improbable sweep of the Tricky Triangle. While it did indeed look like rain would derail the day with the start of the race moved up 13 minutes (…because apparently it takes 13 minutes to run 200 miles to halfway…), the crowd was decent given the threatening skies, but that should not affect those in TV Land.

So where did all of our loyal viewers watch from as judged ratings-wise?

 

  1. Greenville, SC: 9.9                                6. Norfolk, VA: 6.1
  2. Greensboro, NC: 9.0                            7. Knoxville, TN: 6.0
  3. Birmingham, AL: 7.7                           8. Raleigh- Durham, NC: 5.7
  4. Indianapolis, IN: 7.5                            9. Nashville, TN: 5.6
  5. Richmond, VA: 6.5                             10. Charlotte, NC: 5.6

 

For those who mourn the glory days of the sport and its distinctly Southern flair, take heart. Only one market north of the Mason-Dixon line, and no major coastal markets outside of Navy-town Norfolk.

Yes, the sets were turned on in Grand Rapids, Michigan but that didn’t register but a blip – nor did the headquarters of the sport itself, with Charlotte barley cracking the Top 10 nationally, albeit double the final 2.8 rating overall. While the reasons behind this are no different than we’ve heard in years past – Pocono is boring, it always rains, people are outside in the summer, blah blah blah – fair enough.

What I believe what we are seeing is further evidence of how The Chase has conspired to reduce the value of the first 26 weeks of the season (Daytona 500 excluded), particularly with the Win-and-In scenario now in place.

Take a look who’s locked into The Chase or at least in safely for now – Junior, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kurt & Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, and Matt Kenseth. Even Kasey Kahne and his garbage luck are in at the moment, and he hasn’t been at a loss for speed lately, which further bodes well for his chances. The only driver of record who hasn’t qualified yet is Stewart and he’s a legit threat to win at any time now that he’s healed and has a couple of sprint car wins under his belt.

With nobody outside of this group as a real threat to win….what exactly is the point right now as far as the championship is concerned? For all we’ve heard about going for broke and teams taking wild chances to win races, all that usually amounts to is a blown tire on the 48, or Harvick suffering another late race miscue or parts failure.

In NASCAR’s quest to become similar to stick-and-ball sports, it has inadvertently become the stick-and-ball sport for late summer: Baseball.

Nobody really pays much attention this time of year to our national past time, as the pennant races haven’t quite shaped up yet, the trade deadline just passed, and there’s still over six weeks of constant games before people really start taking notice, beyond regional interest.

Or in the case of Tampa Bay and you just cut loose your most valuable player to my Tigers and then the stands get really empty.

Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

If this guy winning with regularity isn’t moving the needle, then everybody had better take notice and act, post-haste. Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

 

 

For all the effort made with The Chase to try to go head to head with football – both college and the NFL – there is a decade’s worth of data at this point that proves it just doesn’t work. What’s worse, it’s killing three months of racing where there is only one off-weekend, hamstrung by handpicked tracks that don’t necessarily produce the most interesting racing to bear the burden of satisfying agitated fans, while trying to convince the casual fan that this is as good as it gets.

To compound matters and to further ensure that the direction remains unchanged, Brian France confirmed recently that the schedule will not see any major revisions for 2015.

And some wonder aloud “why, oh, why did the RTA come to be?”

If the Race Team Alliance would consider taking me on as a consultant, I would present my five point plan to fix these sagging ratings and smooth out the attendance spikes:

1. Reduce the Number of Races From 36 to 31. If nobody’s watching, why bother racing? It just costs a lot of money and saturates the market. JuCo ECO101 here kids: scarcity of product increases demand. Less labor costs, less sponsorship dollars required, more potential new teams, and more interest. It would also help the sanity of the competitors to have a couple of extra weeks off during the summer, as well as the smaller teams to rebuild and reload for the coming weeks. Tracks that would get one date: Loudon, Dover, Phoenix, Kansas, Texas. Tracks that go away: Chicago and Kentucky. Why? Because they look the same and nobody shows up.

2. Fix the Stupid Schedule. This is said often and more eloquently, however I am talking about changes that run a bit deeper than the often referenced first few weeks of the season, that sees teams driving back and forth across the country like some dysfunctional third installment of the Cannonball Run. Move Talladega back to its previous date in July (yeah, it’s hot, but it’ll give the fellas in the infield extra reason to celebrate), run the July Daytona race on Saturday morning at 11:00am as was always the formula pre-1998 (and proved to work this year, albeit on a Sunday) and save the lights for a rain delay and qualifying, since knockout qualifying is basically pack racing now for plate tracks. Darlington and Atlanta should also swap dates – there is no reason NOT to have the Southern 500 back there on Labor Day, and why this continues to go unchecked makes little sense. And enough night races during the summer…it’s not 1992, and not every race is going to be The Winston: One Hot Night – Part Deux.

3. Old School Rules. There’s been talk of horsepower reduction for 2015 citing increased costs and racing suffering due to the IndyCar entry speeds and 3400lbs sleds on 10.5” x 15” tires. The new front end ride height was supposed to reduce the dreaded aero-push and make for better racing. It hasn’t; if anything (as predicted by many a crew chief), it has made it worse. Whatever the aero/horsepower formula was from 1992-97, use that as your benchmark. Lowering engine compressions, instituting heavier valve-train pieces and further gear ratio reductions can all reduce power without forcing teams to scrap years of engine development, as well as increase reliability and lower costs attributed to blown motors. If they’ll live all day at 9500rpm, 8500rpm should be that much better, right? Besides, how many engine builders are there today in the Cup Series? Four? No need to reinvent the wheel…particularly with tried and true pushrod V8 engines.

The dive into Turn One at Road America has become one of the more iconic images in NASCAR, and a saving grace for the Nationwide Series -- and for good reason. Why aren't Cup cars running here as well?

The dive into Turn One at Road America has become one of the more iconic images in NASCAR, plus a saving grace for the Nationwide Series — and for good reason. Why aren’t Cup cars running here as well? Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

4. Chase – Gone. Sorry, it doesn’t work. We’ve tried it five different ways, and you still get the same result: indifference. It was a fun idea in 2004-2006 but after that….eh. Having tried my damndest as a media member to breathe life into it, it just doesn’t resonate. Ever. A season-long points battle makes every race more valuable and a must-see, allowing them to stand on their own merits as the season winds down.

And before somebody starts pining for the past, sorry folks, North Wilkesboro isn’t coming back, neither is Rockingham, and quit with the dreams of a dirt track in The Chase. The only other series that runs on dirt at the highest level is World Rally Championship, but they do jumps and you can stand on the track.

Unless everyone wants to pitch in and pull weeds at Wilkesboro, repave it and remove everything that can cause tetanus, its just not going to happen – as much as I miss it. That said, what a perfect project and place for the Truck Series, Nationwide, Southern Super Series, and other regional races if somebody worth BILLIONS would invest a few bucks into it…

5. Add Two Road Courses. “Oh these are stockcars, this ain’t Formula One, NASCAR isn’t about road racing….”, whatever, shut up. What race saves the Nationwide Series from being a perpetual Kyle Busch/Brad Keselowski retirement fund benefit? Road America. Which one used to? Montreal. Guess where we’re going? That’s right, north of the border! And before you start complaining about not being in the States and having to travel too far, people aren’t exactly showing up in droves to the ones that ARE here at most tracks, so why not throw a bone to those who actually DO show up? I know, it’d be really weird and a total think-outside-the-box maneuver to provide a product to people who clamor for it…

About Vito Pugliese

Vito Pugliese
Promoted to Editor in 2012, Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (Thursdays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars, and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

22 comments

  1. One more thing. NASCAR need to hire a panel to help direct the sport. Former drivers and those who will think about the Fans. I would take Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Bobby Allison and Petty over the talking heads any day!

  2. I agree with 90% of the ideas. I was at the KY race, and there were 80’000 there. Not bad at all. Still, 1 race at the tracks named is fine by me. I agree with adding 2 road courses, as long as you get rid of Sonoma (YAWN). The finale should be alternated between the tracks with good October weather.The 5 tracks with the worst attendance average should be made to race on Wednesday nights. Iowa should be added to the schedule. Rockingham should get another shot too. Bring more racing back to the East, where its more popular. Quit trying to take on the NFL. Lower costs for the teams. I admit Im partial, but a dirt exhibition would do well. Alternate the All Star race. Just my 2 cents

  3. I’m interested to see, if Nascar continues with the status quo, what there will be of a fan base when Gordon, Jr,, Stewart and a few other popular drivers retire? I have heard many people say that once their driver retires, they are done with Nascar. Brian France could be in for a rude awakening if there is a mass exodus of fans after these drivers retire.

    • Personally, I think big changes are coming in a couple of years. If Aric Almirola wins the title, maybe sooner than that!

  4. Nascar had to cave in and agree with Kyle Busch that the COT sucked. And if they want to survive they will swallow their bloated pride and dump the chase.

    Now if they would just give us their lawyer’s phone number, we could call and tell them. Frankly, I think Nascar will have to be blown up for racing to rise again. And that’s a damn shame.

  5. Nobody loves talking about the things that Nascar does wrong more than me. And I smile every week that the ratings are down. However, they estimate that they will earn between 600-650 million dollars this year, so they aren’t going anywhere. The Chase like the old Latford system only matters to the real hard core fans. Guess its kinda like the “hot stove league” in baseball something for people to talk about. But in the end, none of this stuff affects whether I watch a race or not.

    • I agree 100%. My feelings too. I just love racing. I really dont hate any driver. I root against a few, but I just like watching racing in general. Its been in my blood for 34 years. Gimmicks dont sway me at all.

  6. I love the changes you have suggested. If only someone at Nascar were listening. The only thing they hear are the $$$. They don’t care what the fans think or too much about the product they put on the track. When Bill France ran Nascar he knew a good product would bring the fans to the track. He called the shots, not TV or sponsors.

    First off Brian France should never be allowed to talk into a microphone. His Dad and Grandfather must roll over in their graves when he speaks. He wants to leave his mark on Nascar like his Dad and Grandfather. Well, he will, they created Nascar and he will be the one to destroy it.

    Second, Nascar has let the TV broadcast ruin the product. All the gimmicks and cute camera angles make me not want to watch. And for that matter when I do watch I watch with the sound off. DW needs to be put out to pasture. His big mouth and always right opinions are killing Nascar. Oh how I long for the days when we had, Bob, Bennie, and Ned. They knew that the race was the show, not them. Maybe Fox should try an new format for the race. One without announcers. Silence is Golden. The Chase and Knock Out Qualifying are made for TV, not for us fans, and they need to go. How much money are the TV stations saving because qualifying takes less time?

    Get the cars up off the track. The drivers have complained that some tracks are very bumpy. Well when you don’t use the shocks or the springs in your set up that’s going to happen. Back in the day the cars were four or five inches off of the ground. They were harder to drive. The way the cars suck down on the track now a days my Grandmother could drive one.

  7. NA$CAR has engorged itself with a myriad of VP’s and Directors who are entertainment oriented.
    It goes with out saying that racing is not designed to fit into the music and movie realm and can’t be patterned after any other sports. It’s just racing and what the fans want to see. The TV producers have totally killed the presentations with the “watch our bells and whistles” gadgets and over
    hyped announcers. Can the Chase, can BZF, and go back to the old style product & presentation.

  8. The schedule needs to be changed. I get tired of hearing every year that they are looking at changes and we get the same schedule. Anytime there is serious talk, I’m sure Brian gets an earful from his sister and Bruton Smith. Here are some changes I would make: take a race from Kansas and Texas and give them to Iowa and (Road America, Circuit of the Americas or Road Atlanta), take Chicago and shorten it to a 1 mile (Rockingham style) oval, and develop a system to rotate tracks in and out of the Chase every so often. I would even consider taking a Dover race and send it to another road course or short track. ISC and SMI are like medieval kingdoms were each track president is a lord and no one will sacrifice for the greater good.

    I would love to see the Chase scrapped, but I wonder if one team hadn’t won the 6 of the 10 titles under the system if it would be so disliked.

    • I can’t speak for everyone but, Yes! I’d hate the chase regardless of who won. I started hating it long before the 48 team made it redundant.

  9. Another problem with the schedule is that, in the summer when most people take vacations and kids are not in school, the tracks that hold races are some of the least exciting tracks on the schedule. I’m not impressed with ‘new track records’ when it means the cars end up 2 laps after the green flag strung out like Christmas lights. Bristol didn’t used to sell out for years because cars were going fast, or because there were multiple grooves. Crunch 43 cars together on a groove and a half track then watch what happens. Well, until ‘the chase’ happened. Then everyone got real polite so as not to ‘interfere’ with the drivers in the chase.

  10. Go back to the scoring system before the Chase started, and add 20 bonus points for the race winner. It would increase the chances of having to score a very high finish in the last race in order to lock up the Cup. This would have given Ryan Newman another 160 points in 2003, when he won 8 races. He still would not have won the Cup, because he also had a large number of bad finishes that year and Kenseth had 25 top ten runs, but it may have kept up the interest if a driver could bet on making up more than 50 points by winning the last two races of the year. It wouldn’t have taken much tweaking to fix whatever might have been wrong with the sport in 2003. But Brian France has always been about TV dollars and TV wanted a formula that had worked for them in all the stick and ball sports up until then.

  11. Bill B.,
    Amen to that other than the Jeff Gordon part which is not why I watch. Glad he is having a better season though.
    It’s funny this past two weeks on a variety of sites and comment sections I have seen/read more references to New Coke than I have in the 25+ years since it was abolished by Coca Cola as a failure. In reality this is likely one of the most prefect examples or antithesis of what is wrong with NASCAR. Coca Cola did something to change their core product, backlash and sales failure followed by the customer base, Coca Cola went back and marketed Coke Classic as a remedy for the error and phased out New Coke over the course of a couple years and Coke Classic became Coke again during this time. Coke a multi billion dollar corporation recognized the mistake, took action and fixed the problem and sales ultimately did not suffer long term.
    NASCAR a multi billion dollar company, made changes, got a mild luke warm reception of said changes, tweaked the rules, lost customers, tweaked again lost more customers, and now are a laughing stock of failed leadership. Unlike, Coke NASCAR leadership chose not to respond to customer input and “fix” the mistake. Now 10+ years later ratings are half of what they were 10 – 15 years ago, attendance at the tracks seem to be down 30 -40% from 10-15 years ago. Long time fans are now either not fans or have been turned into the casual fan NASCAR so desperately wanted to convert 10 years ago. I am one of these. I watched NASCAR almost religiously for almost 30 years. Now about the last 7 years or so, I watch when or if I choose and if I miss a race I check on the results, view the video highlights as provided by a sports website or Jayski linked site and go on with my life. I rarely watch an entire race when televised anymore and other than the 500 do not seem to care as much. I have not personally purchased but NASCAR licensed product for myself in years. I receive gifts but even those are becoming less in quantity as NASCAR interest for me has waned.

    • Now imagine that the CEO who introduced New Coke is an egotistical idiot who absolutely refuses to do away with New Coke and bring back Classic Coke. Instead, he just keeps on producing more and more New Coke. Sales continue to plummet. What do you think the Board of Directors would do to the CEO?

    • Brian, yes, the Coca Cola example is a prime example of something that didn’t work and a good corporate response to keep their customers by fixing the problem.

      NASCAR, on the other hand, prefers to think that all of the fans are just too stupid to get “it” whatever “it” is that they are trying to sell us. They seem to think if they keep saying the same things over and over, they will get a different result — isn’t that the definition of insanity?

  12. While I agree with just about everything you cited, the glaring omission in your piece is that FOX absolutely, positively RUINED the way NASCAR is presented to the public. And just as I predicted years ago, the other networks have followed FOX’s lead. Manufactured drama + gimmicks = CRAP. Face it. Only a small percentage of us could possibly attend a race in person more than a couple of times a year. That leaves most of our ability to be involved in the sport to TV. FOX destroyed that. Take a look back at races on TV in the 80′s and you will see the difference….and that was WITHOUT most of the camera technology we have today. They were exciting without FAKE DRAMA, cameras in the grass and irritating shills masquerading as sportscasters! I have been moaning about this for 6 years but the media types kept dismissing my rants and opine that the FOX style of broadcast is a necessary evil. I disagree and apparently so do a lot of other people that have stopped tuning in. Racing used to be about cars and engines and speed. Brian and FOX fixed all of that.

    • Joe, Yes, yes, yes. To me announcers are usually just white noise. The Fox crew however is so annoying that they actually hinder my ability to enjoy the race. If not for the Mute button and the DVR I would be long gone. It also can’t help that it almost seems that the commercials are interrupted now and then for a few laps of racing. I dread the return of Fox as they are every bit as fan deaf as NASCAR.

  13. While I may quibble with some of your solutions I applaud you for acknowledging that NASCAR has serious problems. The problem is the product. People in denial can always concoct reasons to justify their denial. Many of your peers sound increasingly irrelevant and silly spouting party line excuses. Any fan knows intuitively that if the economy was killing NASCAR it would at least be hurting the NFL a little too. Since you seem to be looking at this with your eyes wide open I have a few questions for you. Will NASCAR wait until it is too late to try to fix this? Or are they so stupid or arrogant that they will never even acknowledge that problems exist. Fans have overwhelmingly made it clear that they have no interest in watching Cup drivers make sure a race never breaks out in either NW or the Cup World Toyota Series. I believe that the truck series is hurt bad enough that it will not recover and that Nationwide is very close to the tipping point. If FranceCar is for whatever reasons, willing to sacrifice the minor series is there any hope for the Cup?

    • I think the economy has hurt the other sports, including the NFL. I remember 10 years ago you would almost never an empty seat at Yankee Stadium, now you see plenty. Even the Green Bay Packers had trouble selling out a playoff game last season and there are more stories of blackouts around the NFL. They still remain a ratings giant, but even the mighty NFL is having trouble convincing people to go the stadium to get pillaged.

  14. Only one of Vito’s suggestions – adding road courses – would likely increase ratings.

    The problem is that watching racing just isn’t that exciting, not at the track and not at home. What difference does it make if you cut 5 races if you’re still left with 31 races that just aren’t that exciting? What difference does it make if you get rid of the Chase if the races themselves aren’t that much fun to watch?

    Right now, watching soccer is more exciting that NASCAR. There may not be a lot of scoring, but there’s always the element that something exciting could happen any moment. That isn’t the case with NASCAR. Way too many races involve way too many laps where a fan at the track can leave to go get something to eat without worrying that he’s going to miss something big. The same holds true for the fan watching at home. With DVRs, it is too easy to watch the race on a delayed basis, skipping through the hundreds of laps in which absolutely nothing exciting happens.

    NASCAR needs to make the races more exciting and the fans will come (back).

    So let’s define exciting: (1) the anticipation that a crash can happen at any moment. (2) the anticipation that a car will break down at almost any moment. (3) the anticipation that comes from watching to see if Driver A decides to get even with Driver B at almost any moment. (4) the anticipation that comes from watching to see if your favorite driver can hold on for the win. (5) and for fans at home or listening on scanner, the anticipation that a given driver is going to go bats**t crazy on the radio.

    And let’s define what isn’t exciting, at least from the perspective of all but the most hard core NASCAR fan: (1) watching lots of cars go by in what’s described as a conveyor belt for hours at a time. (2) interviews with drivers where they spend more time thanking their sponsors than complaining about how someone or something had done them wrong. (3) announcers who get all excited even though there’s nothing exciting happening on the track.

    So, if NASCAR really wanted to bring back the fans, the move isn’t to do as Vito says, but rather to make the changes that (1) make the cars and tires less reliable so there’s more likelihood of something going wrong (keep the safety elements so the drivers don’t get hurt). (2) change the aero of the cars so that the leader doesn’t have a built in advantage over a car trying to pass. (3) change the scoring to build in incentives for drivers to pass other cars during the race rather than being content to merely hold position for the first 380 laps of a 400 lap race. (4) give each driver a ‘drop’, basically a free race that would allow them to take more chances for a win (or to settle a score with another driver) without screwing their season.

  15. When dumb@$$ France put the chase in people gave it a chance for a couple of years and then ratings started falling. Since then he’s tried making all kind of changes and ratings have continued to fall. The only thing he is unwilling to try is getting rid of the chase altogether and putting it back the way it was. I can only attribute that to his arrogance. “New Coke” anyone.

    Brian continues to take the attitude that he is going to force the customer to eat what he serves us and the customer continues to say “no we’re not”. Ratings and attendance keep dropping every year yet he won’t realize the customer is king. And so the war between NASCAR and it’s fan base continues. What a putz.

    My loyalty to my driver is the only reason I continue to watch. I look forward to the day (and it won’t be long) that Gordon retires, when I will be free from this burden and can finally cut the albatross NASCAR has become from around my neck.

    In closing, ef you very much Brian.