SBD/Issue 56/Events & Attractions

Motorsports Marketing Forum: How Can Racing Boost TV Ratings?

Julie Sobieski Says ESPN Needs To Find New,
More Creative Ways To Deliver Motorsports

More effective marketing approaches and additional action between drivers, with a dramatic finish every year, would go far in boosting motor sports television ratings, panelists said yesterday afternoon at SportsBusiness Journal/Daily’s 11th annual Izod IndyCar Series Motorsports Marketing Forum. The panel discussion, “Motorsports Media: An In-Depth Look at Driving Ratings and Increasing Viewership,” featured Fox Sports Exec VP/Research & Programming Bill Wanger, Turner Sports Senior VP & GM Matt Hong, Versus Senior VP/Production & Exec Producer Leon Schweir, ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisitions Julie Sobieski, NASCAR Managing Dir of Market & Media Research Brian Moyer, and Speed President Hunter Nickell. “Give me a reason to care,” Nickell said. “Jimmie Johnson is a rock star, maybe the driver of the greatest team ever in NASCAR. We oughta be high-fiving him. He’s unbelievable.” Johnson became the first driver in the seven-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to overcome a points deficit in the season finale, winning his fifth consecutive title. It was the most competitive racing in the sport in 60 years, Nickell said. NASCAR viewership has dropped nearly 24% in four years, but some of the powers in the sport believe that can and will be rectified. Sobieski highlighted the 15 NASCAR and 33 IndyCar drivers ESPN shuttled to its headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and NHRA drivers it brought to its L.A. facilities, during the season to expose both sides to each other, for future familiarity and to bridge other media platforms. “To get their personalities and stories out,” Sobieski said. “It’s about getting creative, figuring ways to be flexible, selling entitlements to give us assets so we can sell media buys and converge with teams. It’s really about delivering more value and finding more creative ways to deliver that value.” ESPN's Chris Berman promoting Johnson during an NFL countdown or highlights show? To Schweir, that’s not a stretch. “During hockey in May, we’ll be pushing the Indy 500,” Schweir said.

Wanger Says While NASCAR Ratings Have
Been Down Recently, They Will Rebound

MUST-SEE TV: Nickell wants must-see events, like Sidney Crosby playing Alex Ovechkin in hockey. “Whether you go back to 'Days of Thunder,' ‘Hit the pace car, Kyle Busch, you hit everything else out there! I can’t miss this race because something is going to happen.’ That’s what we have to do,” Nickell said. Wanger believed not having to compete with the Winter Olympics, which occurred at the start of the '10 season, will help NASCAR at the start of '11 at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas. And Fox will use the next Super Bowl to promote Daytona two weeks later. “That’s a big platform to jumpstart the season,” Wanger said. Hong placed a premium on keeping fans interested in racing developments during the week via slick fantasy options on the Internet, which has been responsible for added appeal to baseball and football. The downtrend in younger viewers notwithstanding, Moyer said the power of what NASCAR can do for advertisers should not be underestimated. Wanger compared the size of the past Daytona 500 audience to that for an NBA Finals game or CBS' "Two and a Half Men." “It’s a huge, massive, behemoth sport. Is it going through a downtrend right now? Yes. Will it correct itself? Yes.” Nickell enjoys seeing Carl Edwards go into the crowd after a victory. And when someone finishes second, he still wants to see emotion, which should draw viewers. “Five times in a season, I’d like to see a guy who finished second, in front of 5 million viewers, look into the camera and say, ‘I am pissed! I don’t want to talk to anybody!’” Nickell said. “You’d have a totally different perception on how hard these guys are trying.”

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