Race Weekend Central

Dollars & Sense: NASCAR Minor-League Confusion? The Danger of Over-saturation

During NASCAR’s peak in popularity at the dawn of the new millennium, the sanctioning body managed to negotiate monumental contracts to broadcast virtually every race on network television. Culminating with the current $4.8 billion TV contract that is about to expire, the networks have bundled the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races into NASCAR’s television package with the premier Sprint Cup Series.

This over-saturation of televised racing could have a negative effect on NASCAR.

When a casual sports fan is flipping channels on a Saturday afternoon and stops upon a Nationwide Series race, this potential fan can easily be confused. He is probably used to hearing the name Jimmie Johnson on SportsCenter, but no mention of the five-time Sprint Cup champion in this telecast. Yet Kyle Busch, another name that gets a lot of media attention, is racing in many of these Nationwide events as well.

A casual sports fan isn’t accustomed to seeing minor-league events on television and doesn’t know how to take a sport seriously, where some of the seasoned veterans will compete in a lower series the day before the main event. A

nd these fans aren’t likely to be waiting the next day in front of the TV to see the big show; if they are tuning in to the Sprint Cup race the next day, the difference between the series other than names of the competitors and the size of the crowd may be all that is evident to someone who is not familiar with the different series or differences between the cars that are competing.

When was the last time you watched a minor-league baseball game on television? How about the American Hockey League? Have you seen the National Basketball Association Developmental League on TV? No, the WNBA doesn’t count either.

Chances are that if you aren’t an absolute sports nut (like I was in the 1980s), you probably have never watched any minor-league sports on television – with the possible exception of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, since you are taking the time to read this column.

I have seen MiLB all-star games on cable while channel surfing, but have never watched them. I don’t recall ever personally seeing any form of professional baseball being televised, other than Major League Baseball and the previously mentioned minor league all-star games.

The National Football League did put a lot of money into NFL Europe and that was televised in the United States quite a bit, but chances are it didn’t catch your interest. That league is not operating any longer. Arena football leagues come and go and get some airtime on ESPN, but without having any connection to the athletes, the games aren’t very compelling.

And I won’t even get into discussing the Lingerie Football League that just announced they are going on hiatus.

Minor league hockey does have some games televised, but the National Hockey League doesn’t showcase the lower tiers in the manner that NASCAR does. The AHL’s Chicago Wolves are a rare exception in minor-league sports, as all of their games are televised on Comcast’s Xfinity cable service.

This was able to fill a void for Chicago hockey fans when the Chicago Blackhawks wouldn’t televise home games. All the Wolves games have been televised for years. But this is exclusive to one team, not an entire league.

The last time I watched a minor-league stick-and-ball sport on TV, it was the Rochester Flyers in the late ’80s, playing in the defunct Continental Basketball Association. The currently operating NBA D-League televises select games on NBATV. The old CBA also did have a television contract with BET, unlike any other minor-league sport at the time.

As a child and sports fanatic growing up in Minnesota, I watched it all. If NASCAR’s Nationwide Series would have been on TV as I was flipping channels back then, I would’ve watched those races too too. However, very few people are the type of sports fan that I was at the time.

Imagine you are a diehard Minnesota Twins fan (I realize this may be difficult for you). You always try to catch as many televised games as you can. In the midst of that daunting task, you are also an avid supporter of the popular Class-A Independent League Saint Paul Saints.

It is early summer and your spouse is growing tired of the baseball, and it’s not even halfway into the season yet. Can you imagine if you were going to make your weekend family plans around a Twins game televised on Sunday, but everyone also had to wait for you to finish watching the minor-league events on Friday night and Saturday afternoon first?

That just wouldn’t fly!

This hypothetical situation is much like what the coverage of NASCAR does to a household.

That being said, NASCAR’s over saturation is something that I appreciate very much. I look forward to watching every race. I enjoy watching the daily coverage on SPEED and ESPN2. I even like to watch the practice sessions and qualifying on television too. But who watches practice in other sports? Only the über fans!

No league’s third rung would ever be considered for a full-season television contract. But all of the NASCAR Camping World Truck races in the history of the series that began in 1995, have been slotted to be broadcast. “Every Truck Series race has been televised except one at Nashville that was scheduled to air, but delayed by weather,” Amanda Ellis of NCWTS public relations told Frontstretch.

By the time all of these practices, qualifying and opening acts have been televised, most households would be worn out from NASCAR being on TV and ready to do something else with their Sunday afternoon. The spouse of a football fan doesn’t even have to put up with that much coverage. Sure, the fanatics have all day Saturday to watch college games and Sunday for pro, but the football season is shorter than NASCAR.

Coverage of football-themed programs are also put together better because football has a larger viewing audience and brings in more money to the networks. The football news can be viewed just about any time during the season and you don’t really have to sit down at a specific time to watch it.

And due to the multitude of games being played on any given week during the season, a fan is conditioned to not have to watch every single game from beginning to end. Most often the entire game is watched only if it is the team they root for, or if it is a game of high importance in the season.

Unlike other sports, NASCAR doesn’t enforce any broadcast blackouts if the race isn’t sold out, meaning fans that live in the immediate area have no incentive to go to the track. All the races are televised in every part of the country during every race weekend. That is every week of the nine-month season, with the exception of two holiday weekends.

If the Sprint Cup events were televised without a fans racing attention being diluted by the previous day’s events, those within driving distance of the track would have more incentive to go to the companion races leading up to Sunday’s big event. As an added bonus to NASCAR, the thrill of being at the race when it is a comfortable atmosphere and not very crowded also leads to more impulse purchases of tickets for Sunday.

For those who wouldn‘t be going to any Friday night or Saturday afternoon races, but wished they could’ve caught them on TV, NASCAR could head to Sunday with some confidence that the viewers would be thirsting for some racing to watch on Sunday.

It is well documented that NASCAR is deep into a huge ratings and attendance slump. Fans just have too many choices of what race – or alternative programing – to watch. With all of the boring single file racing that has been an epidemic lately and tires that don’t wear out; fans are not glued to their seats any more.

They can even get a feel for what Sunday’s Cup event will be like by getting a glimpse of the Camping World Truck or Nationwide series. From an on-track racing standpoint, the action isn’t a whole lot different between the three levels of competition.

Because of all this, it would make sense for NASCAR to make televised racing more special and not all inclusive to each level of racing.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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