In a time long ago, that many modern fans do not remember, ESPN was the primary broadcast partner for NASCAR.
As the sport continued to boom and the decisions were being made to determine what was best for the fan base, the broadcast partner actually took a poll of the people who were watching the races. They wanted to find out what time of the day that fans would like to see the races start. In a move that would shock almost no one with a lick of sense, the fans wanted to see East Coast races start at 1 p.m. and West Coast races start at 3:30 p.m. ET
Night races were an exception, although there were only a handful of night events at the time.
Sadly, as the times have changed and the broadcast partners have been switched, the opinion and desires of the fans don’t amount to a hill of beans for the broadcast partners. The sanctioning body has abdicated all sense of intelligence and control, letting the people who look solely at ratings numbers make every decision about when the green flag will fly for the races.
The NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL do allow the broadcast partners to request events and starting times, but they also dictate a majority of their schedule to make sure that it makes sense and doesn’t put teams or fans in an unacceptable timeframe. It shouldn’t be that hard for a person who has watched NASCAR races for more than a couple years to realize that there are some pretty common occurrences which can be avoided by some very simple scheduling decisions.
For fans who think that night racing should be reserved for local short tracks and two special races during the season (All-Star race and Bristol Motor Speedway Night race), the choice for the remaining start times was already presented to the sanctioning body. While people might think it is driven by the desires of the fans on the East Coast, in reality it is dictated primarily by good ol’ fashioned common sense.
There are some very obvious events that have led to the intelligent request by the fans to have races start at 1 p.m. ET. For anyone who has spent any appreciable time outdoors in the spring and summer, one thing takes place on a quite regular basis.
That is afternoon rain showers.
Especially in Florida and the lower south, almost every afternoon has a rain storm. Way back when, they used to start the summer Daytona International Speedway NASCAR Cup Series race at 11 a.m. While some would say it was to try and avoid the highest temperatures of the day in the heat of the afternoon, it was simply to avoid the afternoon rain storms. If you have ever been in Florida in the summer, it rains every single day at roughly 3 p.m. If you start the race at 11 a.m. in Daytona, you are done by the time that daily shower unleashes its moisture on the track. Adding lights to Daytona was one of the dumbest moves in the history of racing.
Some folks may have noticed that recent addition of lights to Martinsville Speedway.
When that initially happened, the powers that be in southern Virginia assured everyone that it was purely a safety precaution against a possible weather event and they would NEVER start a race after dark at the paperclip.
Not one week after the announcement they put out a press release that the famous Late Model Stock Car race that is a crown jewel of local racing, would start at night. The talking heads from the track said they only meant that National Touring events would not start after dark. Fast forward to the not so recent past and they are now running the Cup race at night.
This just in: it is freaking COLD in Martinsville in April. It is simply rude that the sanctioning body, the broadcast partners and the race track expect the fans to sit outside and watch a race when they KNOW it is going to be frigidly cold. Odd weather occurrences are one thing. It is always cold in Martinsville in April at night.
To this point, the discussion has only been tracks that actually have lights. This past weekend, and numerous times in 2021, races were started at 3:30 p.m., on the East Coast, at tracks that do not have lights.
The simple fact is, any weather event that results in the facility losing the race track, is going to result in the race either being shortened, or postponed. People who like to look at statistics will say that it generally doesn’t happen and that starting the races that late will ensure the best rating numbers.
Unfortunately, when it does happen once, twice, or even three or more times during a season, it is a truly rough situation for the fans who spent their time and money to make it to the race. Many of them do not get to watch the postponed races on Monday, so they simply have thrown away their hard earned money and missed the race. The irony is that, when they run it on Monday, they start at NOON! The exact time of day that they should have started the race on Sunday to get it all in.
Ratings numbers are the almighty goal in the television broadcasting world. The bigger the numbers that can be achieved for an event, the higher the premiums that can be charged for advertising. For the broadcast partners who were dumb enough to be talked into paying the $8.2 billion for the NASCAR package in 2014, that is the only way they can come remotely close to getting their money back.
Unfortunately, it is a foolish exercise to try and start races so late in the afternoon, tempting mother nature. While it doesn’t happen every time, the two or three times a year it does happen are a huge inconvenience to the loyal fans who attend the races in person.
The time has come for NASCAR to regain control of the process.
They need to work with the TV partners and manage the schedule for race weekends so that the optimum start times get the partners quality ratings while affording the fans at the race the best opportunity to see a full race on the scheduled race day. ESPN may make some poor decisions from time-to-time, but the poll of the fans way back when was genius.
The current partners need to use some simple, common sense, and listen to the fans. Do the right thing and start the races earlier in the day so that the odds of the race running to completion on the scheduled day are as high as possible.
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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Keep in mind this also forces folks to take the Monday off if there is extended travel to and from the track. It sounds like Phelps and his gang have lost track of that.
Gary, NASCAR lost track of the fans a long time ago. Its all about the money and the fans be damned.
Watch the money drought. Can barely afford tarps to cover all them dang unused seats.
I get that the fans that attend the race are afterthoughts to those that make decisions at the networks. I get that ratings are important. What I don’t get is the willingness to gamble on maximizing ratings by starting late versus totally crapping out when it does rain. I’d like to know what the difference in viewership is when a races starts at 1:00 compared to 3:30. If there were, let’s say, 25% more viewers on average then I would kind of understand, but I find it hard to believe that a later start time produces that many more viewers.
This article is spot on. There is a belief that racing on TV is compelling enough to attract fans to the tracks. Its the opposite. The images you see on TV are only compelling if you have seen a race in person. If that weren’t the case, why would Nascar ever have left the southeast to pursue other regions? If you have to work on Monday, and a race starts at 330, the area from which you draw fans to the tracks gets much smaller. So this article is correct, fans in the stands are only appreciated during driver introductions and for a victory lane sound bite cheer. I do not go to a race to see a concert…a flyover…a tribute to our nation’s fallen heros…to see some jerk scream either the National Anthem or give the command….only to watch it rain out after 78 laps.
You can stick the ‘color and pagentry’ where the sun don’t shine if I don’t get to see the race I traveled to see and experience.
Fans are not made on TV, particularly with the childish antics that TV apparently believes I want to see, fans are made at the track.
Oops, one other thing…this weekend will test the meddle of Nascar fans as the 330 start falls right on top of the Formula 1 start time in Miami. This also pits the Nascar philosophy of ‘IROC cars’ vs the high tech, spend what you like, Formula 1 cars. Ratings numbers will be hard to come by next week, kind of like Adam Stern’s half-(hearted) numbers put out after Dover. Share and viewership shouldn’t need to be guarded when disappointing.
Finally, a dose of sanity and reality. Thanks, Mike.
NASCAR started losing when David Hill with Fox Sports slithered out from a sewer and started dictating times. The sport must decide whether fans in the stands or a made-for-tv event is what is required. It will not last long as made for TV. Improve on site attendance and you will solve the problems. Races need to start at 1 PM East Coast EXCEPT the World 600 (Coke 600) and the special events.
AS for Martinsville, I do believe NASCAR has a secret plan to remove them from the schedule, but people keep showing up. The next time for a race will more than likely be January.
This group of goobers running things, Phelps, O’Donnell, et al., would never be hired by an industry, not a monopoly, oversee tree growth. Incompetent would be a praise. They have the IQ of a turnip.
Keep it up Mike, we need more of this.
Pigs will fly before NA$CAR listens to anything but Ka-Ching!
Forget the possibility of rain…I don’t want to watch the start of a race at 3:30 and be eating dinner with my family while the race is going on! I would also like it to still be daylight when the race is over…because it is SUNDAY, and I have to start thinking about going back to work the next day.
Why doesn’t the NFL have this problem? On Sunday like clockwork at 1:00 PM the game starts. Why is there no concern for ratings with that?
I’m genuinely asking the question, I would like to know.
I dont watch the NFL but don’t they also have games that start at 4pm and go through the East Coast’s supper time?
Yes, except the NFL and networks usually show west coast games in the 4:00 pm time slot. East coast teams do play in 4:00 pm games, but usually only when they’re playing west coast teams. The late games also have a break at halftime, that falls around 5:30. Finally, football games are more regional in nature, so most fans attending live within a couple hours of the game. Races draw fans from farther distances.
NASCAR is a national TV broadcast. The NFL only does regional broadcasts for the early games & no national broadcasts at 1:00pm . Sunday Night Football, one of only three fully national NFL broadcasts (the others are Monday & Thursday night), is currently the highest rated weekly show in all of television most weeks.
when i attended races in person, i always took the monday after race weekend off so i could go if it was a washout on sunday. i’ve attended races at ams when there were torrential rains for 2 days; went to richmond once and a hurricane postponed friday on track activities; once in atlanta we had snow on race day. weather is a thing to factor. when i would attend races i’d watch weather 5 days out and see what extended forecast was. i’d start out freezing and by 2 pm be down to shirt and shorts, no need for fleece coat.
races are held OUTSIDE, so if you don’t want to be cold in late winter early spring, don’t go.
in the heat of summer, most places tend to get an afternoon thunderstorm, like around 3-5 pm. i knew when i saw, on tv, the sky at dover that they wouldn’t get it all in or at all. yes i’ve attended races at dover that were ran on monday yrs ago.
starting a race at 3:30 pm, most races are almost 4-5 hrs long. segment breaks add time to the race so tv can show their commericals. competition cautions add time to races. maybe a happy medium would be to start the race at 2 pm, not the pre-race show. honestly do we need the grid walk?! i remember, all those centuries ago, rushing home from church on sunday and flipping tv on at noon or 1 pm for the green flag.
here’s a suggestion, stop all the pre-show crap. show prayer, anthem and command. only have big deal pre-show at the daytona 500 (first race of the season) and season ending race. now grant it we did have better week day coverage of racing news and events on espn (rpm tonight, remember guys?). i rarely watch race hub.
Not everyone wants to rush home on Sunday, whether from church, lunch, or something else.
by the way, i used to be on the fan council. they never cared what we said. if you complained too much, you were mysteriously dropped from the council.
They didn’t care what “Citizen Journalists” said either. :-)
It used to be, when NASCAR ran in the afternoon, you could still do something else in the evening. Or for an evening race, you could do something else in the afternoon. Now, with the 3:00 to 3:30 scheduled start times, is that the average viewer doesn’t have enough time to do anything before the race, or afterward, so it screws up the whole day.
Great article. When Nascar and ESPN put the fans first Nascar became the shinning star. They went from being a nice racing series too a powerhouse series. Since caring only about money and ratings they aren’t so great anymore. And they wonder why ratings are down and they can’t sell out races anymore. They need to look back and see what made them great, and get back to doing it that way. Fans DO matter!
They priced out the working man chasing the customer who wanted the next shiny object the same way they need the latest workout fad instead of going out to the barn and do push up and pull ups for free.
Now dang ol NASCAR got neither.
While I agree with 99% of this piece, I do not when it comes to the position that ratings mean everything. Both Fox and NBC have used NASCAR to try and build viewership on their cable offshoots, damaging actual ratings by preventing fans from watching. If NASCAR and the two networks were really interested in larger ratings ALL races would be on the prime networks.
Only a handful of NASCAR races were ever run on the “prime” networks. If it weren’t for the cable networks, other than the Daytona 500, there wouldn’t be any live NASCAR on TV at all. Early on it was the cable networks like ESPN, TNT & Speed that took the chance on NASCAR. They needed broadcast content, and NASCAR needed exposure. I’m thankful races are on the cable networks. I’ve had the broadcast networks preempt a race for some local event, and have seen the networks move the end of a race to a cable channel, when it ran long because of weather etc. those things never happen on the cable channels.
The ratings have dropped because tv stations have moved the races to pay channels where people are sick of paying insane prices for satellite or cable.
Keep in mind too, the old races had cars wiggling loose and bumping a bit all day. Drivers told the crew what they needed.
Now the tracks are all mile and a half D, the owners don’t want the short track bumping because they cost too much on the cars and spoiled go kart kids get into engineer set up cars that wreck if they touch. Dag gum Bristol getting progressive banking? Well that dog just ain’t gonna hunt.
Have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with the author of this piece before running up on a link to this article, but I could hug the man for writing it!
I so despise the late start times that our broadcaster overlords have forced on us.
Everything was working out great until NASCAR stopped listening to its “loyal” fans and started trying to appeal to “ fair weather” fans. Just about every time NASCAR makes a decision on the future of the sport, they choose the wrong one (closing tracks, race car design, being Woke). It used to be win on Sunday, buy on Monday. Now no one really gives a damn.
You even have a driver that wants to shorten the races because “today’s fans do not have a long attention span”. I think she may be right though. My attention span for Nascar has shortened. When future fans are more important than current fans, it is the beginning of the end.
ESPN and the Deuce
Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday race.
If there was a problem Sunday they aired the race Monday.
They had the same crew every week and didn’t try gimmicks like passing the action off to a different announcer in each corner.
Most events don’t have people driving hundreds of miles to attend but NASCAR does. They need to get home Sunday night.
@Mike, @Charlie, @John – great article, NASCAR has def lost its t.v. audience and certainly its live fan base. As far as Martinsville, if you think the April race is cold, try sitting there in October when the sun is setting. Thanks @NASCAR for ruining the one great time of the year for me and my family. Oh, btw, Richmond is pretty damn cold too and Bristol gets snow!
A lot of fans can’t afford tickets any more,much less the price of cable or satellite.
ABC took a chance on the Daytona 500,way back when.
Now it’s all about splash and pomp!
I WANT TO SEE RACING,DANG IT!
Heck! Might as well watch WWE rasslin!
I am a NASCAR teen can, however my dad, who got me on NASCAR, told me it was more interesting in the 90s.
He used to visit New Hampshire when the track had two races, but New Englanders in the summer has other interests – Red Sox, boating, camping and short track racing.
NASCAR needs to figure out what they want…F1 and IndyCars has shorter races. I believe the Daytona 500 and Coke 600 should keep their lengths, but others should be shorten by 50 to 75 laps…
Respectfully disagree. Part of the luster of NASCAR is how demanding the races are on the drivers, and in the olden days, how demanding they were on the equipment. NASCAR doesn’t need to be F1 or Indycar.(who they beat out every Sunday in TV ratings by a mile anyway) They need to be NASCAR. Maybe shorten a Texas race down to 400 miles but I’m fine with longer races, especially with the Next-Gen car producing better racing. You would also have to shorten the lower series races.
TV has destroyed racing, they need to start at noon or 1 pm. 3 or 3:30 stinks
There’s a long list of reasons why NASCAR is on the decline, this is definitely one of them . I go to MIS every year for both races, now only 1, they moved the start time to 3:00 eastern . You sit all day and wait then at race time it’s also rain time. This article and our comments will fall on deaf ears, their more focused on how woke they can be.