SBD/January 25, 2011/Media

Fox' Hill Calls For NASCAR Races To Be Shortened Amid Shrinking Ratings

Fox Sports Chair feels shorter NASCAR races could help in boosting ratings
The length of NASCAR races are too long and should be shortened in the future, Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill said last night during a Fox Sports reception on NASCAR's Media Tour. Hill said, "There is more diversion ... more opportunity for stuff than any other time in man's history, and I think a lot of the races are too long." An ideal broadcast in Hill's eyes would include 40 minutes of pre-race coverage, a three-hour race and 20 minutes of post-race coverage. Hill suggested that shorter races might help reverse declining NASCAR ratings. In an effort to drive ratings this season, Hill said Fox and its cable network, Speed, will emphasize drivers in their broadcasts rather than mechanics. He called the Car of Tomorrow, which was introduced in '07, a red herring that shifted media and spectator attention away from drivers and onto the car. He also called out reporters for treating five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as "ho-hum" and advocated treating drivers like heroes. Fox will try and do that by linking today's drivers to legends of the sport in a new introduction that will run at the beginning of each race. It also will introduce a new technology to the race broadcast that will show the degree of turning a driver makes as he steers the car. Those efforts will be complemented by new programming on Speed, which unveiled a new documentary program called "The 10," that will countdown the 10 greatest moments in NASCAR this February. Speed also showed a clip from "The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt," a documentary that recounts the legendary driver's '01 death during the Daytona 500 (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

IN NASCAR'S HANDS: Fox' deal with NASCAR runs through the '14 season, and Hill said that it is "too soon to speculate on if the relationship will continue past the current deal." He added that he personally would "like to continue airing NASCAR on Fox," but because it is a "business decision, the next few seasons will determine how aggressively Fox pursues a new contract." NASCAR has aired on Fox since '01. Hill also said that Fox is "content with the consistent start times NASCAR instituted last season to simplify the television schedule for viewers." Meanwhile, Hill "didn't miss a beat" when asked if he would "push NASCAR to shorten any of its races." He said, "NASCAR doesn't negotiate" (Jenna Fryer, AP, 1/24).

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE: SBNATION.com's Jeff Gluck reported Fox NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds yesterday, "working as the M.C. for the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing media tour stop, was wrapping up the program when he decided to offer some 'off-script' remarks for the 200-plus journalists in attendance." McReynolds "proceeded to remind the media that we all make our living in the sport and asked for us to be more positive in 2011." McReynolds: "I know it's easy to write about all the bad things and I know it can't all be about the good things, but (here's) the only thing I reach out to you: If it's television ratings (you're writing about), we know the ratings are down. How about also promoting that we're second only to the NFL? If there's 25,000 empty seats at Michigan, how about making sure you document there's still over 100,000 people in those grandstands? Things like that will get our sport back to where we were." Gluck noted while McReynolds was speaking, "there were reporters literally groaning and cursing under their breath." Gluck wrote, "If you want me to believe tweeting about declining TV ratings or blogging about an attendance issue is somehow contributing to that problem, that's a tough sell. I truly doubt being 'more positive' about ratings and attendance and the sport in general is going to bring fans back. And, by the way, that's not my job anyway" (SBNATION.com, 1/24).

ICY RECEPTION: In North Carolina, Monte Dutton writes McReynolds was "kind enough to serve as a guest lecturer on media ethics." He "instructed us all to accentuate the positive, specifically noting that we should all stress the people in the grandstands instead of the ones who stayed home." Dutton: "This, of course, is the television version of journalistic -- it's kind of absurd to use the word -- ethics. Many a recent Sprint Cup race has been visited by strange Halloween costumes that look for all the world like thousands of empty seats" (GASTON GAZETTE, 1/25). In Birmingham, Doug Demmons writes the "reason stories point out that grandstands have 20,000 empty seats instead of 100,000 filled seats is because it was just a few years ago that all the seats were filled." Demmons: "That's why it's called news. But McReynolds' comments came across as a plea for everyone to spin the news in the most positive way possible in order to support the sport and save everyone's job" (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, 1/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee noted media members took to Twitter and Facebook "to vent about the condescension inherent in McReynolds' statements" after he spoke. Busbee wrote, "What if McReynolds was right? What if we do go a little too heavy on the negativity?" But he added, "It's possible to call out a sport while still loving it; it's possible to expose flaws not for the sake of muckraking or pageviews, but because you'd like to see those flaws corrected for the long-term health of the sport" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).
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