SBD/Issue 19/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Sprint Cup Schedule To Feature Standard Starting Times In '10

NASCAR, TV Partners Trying To Halt Ratings
Decline With More Uniform Start Times In '10
NASCAR Sprint Cup races next year will start at either 1:00pm, 3:00pm or 7:30pm ET, depending on the location of the race, as the sanctioning body and its TV partners try to halt the ratings decline with more uniform start times. Races in the eastern or central time zones will start at 1:00pm, while races on the West Coast will start at 3:00pm. All night races will start at 7:30pm. The only exception will be the lengthy Coca-Cola 600 in May, which will drop the green flag at 5:45pm. NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said the changes will result in 28 races moving to an earlier start time. In all, 21 of the 36 Cup events will start at 1:00pm, including the Daytona 500. So far this season, Cup races are averaging a 4.2 U.S. rating and 6.739 million viewers for weekend events. Three weather-delayed races were run on Mondays. The ratings are down 4.5% and the total viewership is down 6.4% from '08. "I don't think any of us really know," ESPN Exec VP/Content John Skipper said when asked how much the uneven start times have contributed to the ratings decline. "This (uniform start times) is one thing we know fans like. ... It's all a gut call. We listen to the fans, we talk about what's best, and ultimately it's NASCAR's call and we hope it makes the ratings go up" (Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Ipsos research of NASCAR fans indicated that "more than two-thirds preferred early afternoon Sunday times with 1 p.m. being the most appealing" (USA TODAY, 10/8). France said, "Our research has shown us that our core fans want to begin watching NASCAR a little bit earlier in the afternoon. Sometimes that's counterintuitive for traditional programming for sports. But nonetheless, in looking at the last couple years, we've been going later in the broadcast window and we haven't been as consistent as we can and it will certainly help us in the future" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 10/7). 

HOPING FOR A RATINGS REBOUND: The AP's Jenna Fryer noted Fox "was the biggest proponent of later race starts," and Fox Sports Chair & CEO David Hill "particularly liked starting the Daytona 500 late enough in the afternoon that it ended in the prime-time television viewing block" (AP, 10/8). However, Hill yesterday said, "I think we started to tamper with something we shouldn't have, and I'll put my hand up and say 'guilty.'" Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy added, "If you ignore the fan and you don't do what is very old-fashioned customer service, you do that at your peril. And we just think we're making life simpler for the ardent fan. It's as simple as that" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 10/8). Hill said that he "expects ratings that have decreased the past few years to drop again next year as fans adjust to the more consistent times," but ESPN.com's David Newton noted Hill and other network execs "believe the long-term benefit will be worth the change that France said was quite challenging with three networks involved." Skipper noted TNT this season "had a couple of races in the middle of the schedule" where ratings were up, while ESPN "had four races up." Skipper: "We do see some signs of growth we'd all like to build on." Meanwhile, France said that "another benefit of earlier start times is more flexibility for rain delays" (ESPN.com, 10/7). In Virginia, Dustin Long notes earlier start times also “should provide a little time for the networks to do some sort of post-race show” (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PIOLT, 10/8). 

FOR CONSISTENCY'S SAKE: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote if one does not think the start times were "something that needed changing, take a look at this year's schedule," which featured "forty-plus races with something like 25 different starting times." Busbee: "That's a mess. So I'm very pleased with this new uniformity" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/7). ESPN's Ryan McGee said, "The single biggest complaint that I received … from race fans, it's not Car of Tomorrow. It's not Kyle Busch. It's not anything, other than start times" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 10/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Pistone wrote the new standard start times "should make a considerable difference in the sagging ratings problem NASCAR has faced the last couple of seasons," and it also will "go a long way in demonstrating to fans NASCAR's willingness to listen and adapt to what the paying customers are asking for" (CBSSPORTS.com, 10/7). FOXSPORTS.com's Larry McReynolds wrote under the header, "It's About Time NASCAR Got Consistent." McReynolds: "We have totally confused the race fans over the past several years. ... I applaud NASCAR for recognizing this problem and addressing it" (FOXSPORTS.com, 10/7). In Greensboro, Dustin Long writes NASCAR "showed that it doesn't ignore fans" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 10/8).

Gossage Says Consistent Start Times
Will Be Good For TV Audience
REACTION FROM THE TRACK: In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly reports Daytona Int'l Speedway President Robin Braig "embraced the news" and "predicted a spike in Daytona 500 ticket sales from Wednesday's announcement." Braig: "The start time has been our No. 2 complaint" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 10/8). However, Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) President Eddie Gossage said the "jury is out." Gossage: "I'm curious what the fans think about it. I do think consistent start times for the sake of the TV audience is good so the fans know when to turn on the television and where to go and what time to look for it." ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett noted the change impacts the Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 in April and Dickies 500 in November at TMS, both of which will start at 12:00pm CT next season. Gossage: "I'd like to have the Dickies 500 end in the dark in the fall. There are other ways to consider how to accomplish that. Maybe we talk about a night race in the future" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 10/7).

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