There was a time when NASCAR was arguably the No. 2 sport in the United States behind football. The NFL has been the 800-pound gorilla for the better part of 40 years, but in the 1990s and 2000s, NASCAR was able to dictate when and where it did its thing, and the broadcast partners bowed down to them in order to have the rights to broadcast their events and rake in the millions of dollars in advertising.
Fast forward 20 years, and the script has been completely flipped.
We have already seen the ridiculous scheduling of races at tracks without lights starting events at 3:30 in the afternoon. The slightest rain delay ends up in a scenario where the race is cut short or rescheduled until Monday, when it will air on an obscure cable channel that fewer than two million households receive. People who are longtime race fans cannot understand the logic of such a decision because they know that it actually rains in the afternoon on most days in the summer.
The television networks pay a ridiculous amount of money for the rights to broadcast the races. They certainly deserve some consideration when it comes to the schedule and when the events take place. That said, the sanctioning body should still be the ones who decide when and where the races take place and it is up to the broadcast partner to plan and budget accordingly to bring the events to the masses.
The Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, which is now known as the Coke Zero Sugar 400, used to be run on the Fourth of July. It always started at 11 a.m. Why did it start at 11? Because it rains in Florida every day in the summer after 3 p.m. Putting lights at Daytona was one of the dumbest ideas ever and it continues to prove that fact every single year when the races end up delayed because of rain.
We saw it again on July 18 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, when the race was started at 3:40 p.m. on a track with no lights. NASCAR tried to force the issue by starting the race in a drizzle and it ultimately cost some of the major contenders for victory a shot when the rain picked up and they crashed their cars in turn one very early in the event.
Common sense said to start that race at 1 p.m. or earlier. Instead, they started the race late and ultimately cut the race short by nine laps, which probably ensured a victory for Aric Almirola.
Follow that up with the foolishness that is shutting down the schedule for two weeks so that NBC can cover the Olympics and cannot spare the resources to cover NASCAR at the same time.
This just in: some people would rather watch racing than rhythmic gymnastics. There are certainly fans of the Olympics who are fans of NASCAR. However, since 90% of the coverage of the Games is on tape delay, it would not have hurt the network one iota to run the NASCAR races and still carried the video of men’s volleyball afterwards.
The bottom line here is that NASCAR is the sanctioning body and it needs to assert that fact with the broadcast partners. You don’t see the NFL rescheduling games because the broadcast partners have something else they want to cover. The sanctioning body makes the schedule and it is up to the broadcast partners to follow along or let someone else have the races that they cannot cover.
Broadcast rights are a multi-billion dollar enterprise and it is understandable that the people who put the events on TV want to have some kind of say in what they have to deal with in trying to bring the events to the masses.
However, in the end, the organization putting on the events has to do what is best for the sport. If that means that the broadcast partners have to deal with a scenario that is a less than ideal for their situation, so be it. In the end, the goal is to bring the best product to the masses, not the most convenient for the advertising partners and the TV companies.
There is no doubt that Big Bill France is turning over in his grave watching his beloved organization start at race at New Hampshire at a time when the slightest sprinkle puts the entire event in danger of being completed on time.
The time has come for NASCAR officials to step up and tell the broadcast partners that they are going to do what is best for the fans and the sport — forget about what is best for the petulant advertisers and executives who don’t give a damn about putting on the best race. The fans deserve better and NASCAR needs to step up and deliver it to the people who have stuck with the sport for years.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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