Superstar Racing Experience announced this week its new home for 2023 and beyond on a “multiyear media rights agreement”: ESPN.
The announcement is a win, win, win for all three parties involved. Just looking at the ratings, the numbers didn’t really support another year of Saturday night racing on CBS, without timeslot or format changes. SRX being able to find a new broadcast partner instead of having to go through those changes stops a lot of bad will that was potentially going CBS’ way. As cool as it was to see auto racing again on CBS after decades without it, it’s also understandable that it would allow the SRX property to lapse given the numbers.
SRX seemed like a bit of an oddball in the CBS lineup anyway, as the lone race series on a network that hadn’t shown racing outside of Formula E in 20 years, and of course Formula E is such a tiny presence that nobody was thinking about it. Going to a more sports-centric cable channel may be able to help them out a bit, even if their overall numbers are going to naturally go down in the transition from network to cable.
Midweek races were a death note for NASCAR in the ratings back in 2020, even if they were a necessary evil due to COVID-19. But those races were done on a very haphazard schedule with no sense of scheduling or consistency; there’s a chance the numbers will even out with a consistent every-week schedule like they do with other sport leagues running midweek in the summer.
Thursday nights are a great move if the ratings can bear out, because that’s going to allow SRX to not have to compete head-to-head with any other non-local racing series. The race industry at large will be able to watch SRX more, as most will not be either racing or right in the middle of a race weekend they need to focus on.
ESPN gets a sports property that consistently did a little under 1 million viewers on network on Saturday nights and is putting them on Thursdays in a dead time of the year for sports, potentially a big boon. It should not affect NASCAR contract talks, as if they get that property or not should already be decided by the time the SRX season actually starts. I went back on Showbuzz Daily and reviewed the programming that ESPN ran from those Thursdays this past year, and in that 9 p.m. EST time slot they had:
July 14: NBA Summer League, 0.09 18-49 demo rating (49th)
July 21: Episode two of Derek Jeter documentary The Captain, 0.22 (6th) (Went up against the first Jan. 6 committee hearing, four of the five programs above it were involving that and the fifth was an MLB game it led into)
July 28: Episode three of The Captain, 0.21 (5th)
Aug. 4: Episode five of The Captain, 0.10 (36th)
Aug. 11: Little League World Series, 0.14 (19th)
Aug. 18: NFL Pre-Season Football, 0.68 (1st)
Average: 0.24 (19th). Without the NFL: 0.152 (23rd)
It’s unrealistic for SRX to come in and immediately perform to the first two weeks of the Jeter documentary. But it should be able to outpace the summer league number. SRX’s benchmark will probably end up being right at that LLWS number; if it beats it, that’s good. If it doesn’t, that’s bad.
It’s hard not to wonder about tracks and drivers, even months before the season begins. The most obvious date on the calendar for a particular track would be on Aug. 10 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. That race would be held a day prior to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series at IRP, along with NASCAR and the NTT IndyCar Series at the big track that weekend. It wouldn’t be wise in general for SRX to follow a particular series, just because then it runs the risk of being seen as a meager support to it, but not having a race at IRP on that day would seem more like SRX being left out from everybody else.
It’s unlikely Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway would return to the schedule, just because it would seem very hard to get the fairboard to approve a mid-week race. I’d have a date at Irwindale Speedway, because it’s a brand-new market in California. It would be silly if SRX snubs the Carolinas once again, but it has a unique problem there this year.
Of course, SRX doesn’t want to race at Cup tracks. That defeats the purpose of it in some ways. On the other hand, it would be odd if SRX doesn’t race at North Wilkesboro Speedway after openly hinting at it the last two years. If it decides against North Wilkesboro though, there are plenty of options in that area.
As far as drivers, the new night would allow more active drivers to compete. At the same time, it wouldn’t be smart to just run a bunch of active drivers because it waters down the cameos when they do happen. What I’d do would be to have three teams of drivers so there’s still something tangible a driver is racing for besides money and prestige.
Team Wild Car would consist of the series’ trademark local driver, a rotating legend, Tony Stewart (who fits here as both a former NASCAR and IndyCar champion) and a rotating NHRA driver.
These teams would race it out every week, with the SRX team championship being awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the season, to go along with the driver’s championship.
In addition to those 12 cars entering every week, I’d throw two more when they were needed.
The first would be a part-time car that would only be driven by a woman, if none of the other 12 cars were occupied by them. Racing is one of the few sports where women have the same chance of success competing against men as other men do, and yet there are few competing in it at the highest levels. Unlike those other series, SRX has full control over who is picked to drive in it. Promoting women in racing is both the right thing to do and, of course, would be a great promotional move.
The other is that, with ESPN also broadcasting Formula 1, now’s the time to field a former F1 star in a separate car if SRX can land them. Mark Webber was announced for the first season but had to pull out due to COVID-19 restrictions. Jenson Button was named as a potential driver, along with the all-woman and all-NHRA cars, in a Ray Evernham Sports Business Journal interview after season one but never materialized in season two. This is probably the best time for either driver to show up, especially with Button’s work with Sky Sports broadcast on ESPN throughout that season.
Regardless of what happens next, the future appears to be brighter for SRX going forward. The fact that it’s a multiyear deal with ESPN doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does seem to indicate the series will have a home somewhere for the foreseeable future.
It’s up to SRX — and ESPN — to make the most of it.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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