Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Did Commercials Hinder NBC NASCAR Coverage?

After a busy holiday weekend covering Sahlen’s Six Hours at the Glen, IMSA’s latest big event, I was pretty worn out this Fourth of July weekend.

Incredibly, you all seem just as worn out with NBC NASCAR coverage this season – or lack thereof – after just one race.

NBC’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut this season, covering the Coke Zero 400, left fans with zero love for commercial breaks. After reading the laundry list of complaints on Twitter I figured that I needed to 1) Do the research and calculate how much time under green was spent in breaks and 2) Explain just what the deuce was going on.

Note that timing breaks is nothing new for me. When I watch races, I have my notebook in hand, along with the iPhone stopwatch to help me in writing the weekly critique, so I always have a pretty decent idea as to how much time is spent in commercial during each race.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)
Did you think you saw more commercials than this Saturday night?  You didn’t, but NBC had a good number of breaks. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

I should state for the record that I could not watch this race live due to my other race coverage obligations.  However, I have certainly watched the entire event since, flag-to-flag, and that should not affect my opinions here.  I cannot do any job that has to do with factual information by making stuff up; that’s easily refutable and incredibly unprofessional.  But while I can’t write about a broadcast without seeing it, I can see reactions to broadcasts before I watch them.  That is the beauty of Twitter, and that is what happened Saturday night.

The coverage of the Tony Stewart‘s crash was the most highly detested from what I saw.  Reading the tweets and comments made me originally think that NBC was in a full-screen commercial when the wreck occurred and did not break out of it when it happened.  That was not the case; in reality, the crash occurred during what was likely going to be the final NASCAR NonStop (meaning side-by-side) commercial break of the race.  At least on my recording, you could see the wreck go down in real time; there was no local break, which is commercial time managed by the network affiliates or a full-screen set to break free from.

At issue here appears to be a statement that Rick Allen made multiple times during the race prior to commercials.  While this is not word for word what he said, it was something along the lines of, “If they wreck, we’ll break out and bring you back to the race live.”

It’s a good policy to have. However, it appears that network philosophy only applied to the full-screen commercial breaks.  The last of those commercials ended on lap 125.  NBC could have prevented a lot of ill will by clarifying that the breakout policy would come into play only with the full-screen breaks, figuring NASCAR Nonstop was OK for fans because they could still see all the action unfolding live, albeit on a smaller portion of the screen.  I guess NBC assumed viewers would get it if Allen said it only before the breaks in which the rule would apply.  You can’t always count on that.

In the future, if NBC is going to do this “if they wreck, we’ll bring you back,” which I genuinely hope they do, then it needs to clarify when it’s going to do it.  In the broadcasters’ eyes, they feel that they didn’t do anything wrong, but in the eyes of fans, they’re screw-up artists.

The overall number of commercials during green-flag racing was a little above average.  However, that may have been skewed slightly for two reasons.  One, there was a lot of green-flag competition, especially early on, as the race had its fewest number of cautions since 2004.  In those circumstances, networks often bank extra airtime by bunching the commercials together so that the breaks are minimal toward the end of the race.  The bunching itself is the second reason fans are so upset.  Quite a few times NBC came out of breaks, covered a couple of laps, then went back to commercial.  To that, all I can say is yes, it’s frustrating.

In all, I came up with 37 minutes of commercials during green-flag action, including the NonStop breaks, which sounds worse than it actually is.  I’ve seen numbers like that before in Sprint Cup races, and that total is not the highest this year.  By comparison, the Coca-Cola 600 had more than an hour of green-flag racing in commercial breaks.  If the total here was around 45 minutes, with the same number of laps under yellow, then I would be more concerned.

Unfortunately, perception is everything. Due to the bunching of commercials it seemed like for fans the race struggled to find its rhythm. It felt like every couple of minutes they were being sent back to the fridge for no reason. So 37 minutes, not that bad in the grand scheme of things, appears to be a disaster for NBC’s angry viewing audience based on how those breaks were planned out.

Post-race coverage was very brief because the event ended after 11 p.m. ET, another complaint of the fan base.  Viewers only saw an interview with Brad Keselowski, along with the points and final results.  That’s a real downer.  I wanted more on NBC and viewers had to tune to NBC Sports Network for that, unfortunately. How many would be willing to make the switch when you’re already hitting 11 p.m. at night on the East Coast?

Despite the issues with commercials, I enjoyed watching the broadcast.  It’s a pleasant change of pace from what FOX has been doing and generally worked very well.  The booth of Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte is clicking as a group, and there’s plenty of enthusiasm to go around.  After four-and-a-half months of one style of broadcasting, it’s a nice change to switch over to NBC.

I didn’t really see anything blatantly detestable in the network’s presentation Saturday night, either.  However, it desperately needs to clarify its breakout policy, if for nothing more than to prevent people from ranting about a wreck that they could actually see.  There were no technical issues on the broadcast, unlike Friday night (I arrived at my hotel from Watkins Glen to discover the broadcast being forced to commercial due to issues).


Next weekend looks pretty busy.  All three of NASCAR’s national series will take on the newly-repaved and reconfigured Kentucky Speedway.  Meanwhile, Formula1= 1 returns to Silverstone, site of the first race in the modern World Championship in 1950 while IMSA travels to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.  Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab above.

I will provide critiques of all three races from Kentucky for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Annex in Thursday’s Newsletter, I will cover the Subway Firecracker 250 from Friday night.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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I have a question ? I keep hearing that the race had a lot of green flag laps that it didn’t allow for NBC to have cautions for the grouping of commercials but the first commercial break happened 7 laps into the race and the onslaught was on from there. What I don’t understand is if needs cautions to show commercials then I am sure they do a Larry Mac and get an idea of the average amount cautions they think k the race will have. So if that is the case would not the back half of the race have more and longer commercial breaks because of less cautions. It just seems to me that the green flag excuse is used but the first break was at lap 7 so it seems like the network is psychic an knew it would be a caution free race. Also if the network does expect a caution free race and starts getting the breaks in early then if the second half of the race is caution filled then we should see more of the race because of trying to get all the commercials in, but we still get commercials. I understand that there needs to be commercials but not an avalanche of them. It will become like the chicken and the egg the more commercials the more it will drive viewers away so the ratings will go down and so will the add rates thus meaning more adds to cover the costs and just continuing the circle.
As far as the broadcast it was a C- at best. I just wish that the guys in the booth knew their roles. Jeff Burton answer driver questions and Steve Letarte crew chief questions but if you listen Jeff does crew chief and Steve driver stuff. Also why is every Nascar broadcast the same, always talking to the I ever like it is the first race we have ever watched always dumbing everything done. Watch an NFL broadcast and they don’t talk down to the watcher. Not push and loose for the millionth time and the yellow line is out of bounds and of course 4 Goodyear tires and a full tank of Sunoco fuel.

Robert McIntire

This is why we don’t watch anymore when NBC takes over


Too many commercials I agree but FOX showed them how they can get away with it and at this point the genie is out of the bottle. Kind of like how they airlines learned they can provide horrible service and charge for baggage but people keep flying. Anyway I can sum up my feelings about the NBC portion of the season like this: I am really happy I don’t have to suffer through the stupid W brothers and their pablum like schtick every week. Secondly, as my wife walked by the TV while I was watching the race, she actually said “Hey,did they get new announcers? Those guys actually sound intelligent!”. To bad Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy didn’t end up at NBC


Frankly, I would rather have ‘grouped commercials’ than have to listen to DW any longer this season. It was nice not having to mute the TV to avoid the dreaded “boogity’ phrase. And not having Mikey in his near hysterical ‘I’m being paid by the word’ commentary is a blessing. I find the NBC crawler much easier to read, and find they give useful information during the race…speeds, intervals, etc. I know we will never be rid of the gratuitous mentions of the sponsors (Sunoco and Goodyear), but can’t understand how people can be angry over seeing Tony crash (in a larger screen than Fox uses), and claim they didn’t. Grow up people!


Phil, If you still have your DVR recording saved maybe you can prove or disprove my theory. The ratings for Saturday night were 3.4, not bad for NASCAR in 2016. Those ratings spiked for the final half hour of the race from 10:30 to 11:00…the end of the race at 3.9. I suppose some folks figured out the plate races aren’t decided until the last segment of the race anyway and others were busy with other holiday weekend plans earlier. So how much of that final half hour of the race was spent in commercial (whether it be conventional or side by side)? That probably defined most people’s opinion of the coverage since that’s when most folks were watching. I’ll go out on a limb and say it was probably around 50/50 race coverage to ads for that final segment.


I’m sorry but paint the commerical issue as rosy as you want, but split screen or no split screen, 3 long commercial breaks in the last 20 laps (even at Daytona) is unacceptable. Its not shocking the ratings are up in the last half hour. Between Nascar manipulation and all the commercials, its not worth it to invest 3 hours in a race anymore.

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