SBD/Issue 51/Sports Media

Drama For Sprint Cup Finale Gives ESPN Overnight A Boost From '09

ESPN Earns 3.3 Overnight Rating For Ford 400,
Up From A 3.2 For Last Year's Race On ABC

ESPN earned 3.3 overnight Nielsen rating for yesterday afternoon's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Jimmie Johnson won his fifth straight Sprint Cup championship. The overnight is up slightly from the 3.2 overnight on ABC for the finale last year, and marks the best overnight for a race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season (THE DAILY). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein wrote under the header, "NASCAR Has The Finish, If Not The Viewers, It Has Craved." The sport got "exactly what it desperately needs" with yesterday's season finale, yet the "television ratings have been down significantly throughout the 10-race playoff" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/21).

TRYING TO MAKE THINGS BETTER: NASCAR plans to meet with ESPN officials during the offseason to discuss everything from race times to promotion in an effort to reverse ratings declines, NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said Friday. NASCAR shifted to consistent 1:00pm ET start times this year, which was coupled with a shift from ABC to ESPN for many race broadcasts. Ratings during the Chase for the Sprint Cup have declined more than 20%. France said, "Obviously, we would like our TV ratings on an upswing. We're looking at all kinds of things to see what's a better formula for us." France declined to outline any specific changes NASCAR might consider. He said the sanctioning body would look at shortening some races, but it would not consider having mid-week races because of the size of the events and the distance many fans travel to attend races (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal). France indicated that the governing body could "make changes" to the Chase for the Sprint Cup in '11, and those "could potentially include an expansion of the Chase from its current 12-driver field." When asked if ESPN would be in favor of an elimination-format Chase, ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisitions Julie Sobieski said, "If there was a way -- and it doesn’t necessarily have to be elimination -- to ensure that this type of drama (three drivers racing for the championship) happens every year in the Chase, where the emphasis on winning is enhanced throughout the Chase, then that’s certainly something we would support" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/19).

STOP GOING AGAINST NFL: In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette noted the drama surrounding yesterday's finale provided a "pretty good setup for viewers to be clicking to ESPN’s telecast in big numbers." But the "problem is, trying to compete with the NFL is a proven formula for failure." Frenette: "There are two viable solutions for racing to reel in more TV viewers: Tweak the schedule so the Chase isn’t going head-to-head as much with the NFL, or pray that Dale Earnhardt Jr. becomes relevant again" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 11/20).

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