SBD/February 11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Kicks Off Season In Daytona With High Hopes For '11

NASCAR hoping to reverse attendance, ratings declines in '11
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series "gets rolling this weekend with somber reflection, added uncertainty and cautious optimism," according to Jim Peltz of the L.A. TIMES. The season gets underway with Saturday's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona Int'l Speedway and next weekend's Daytona 500, and drivers and NASCAR officials are hoping that the opening week "launches a rebound year in the popularity of the 36-race Cup Series." While it is "still among the most watched of sports, NASCAR's overall attendance and television ratings have been dropping." NASCAR this offseason "installed a simplified championship points system to help boost interest in the series" (L.A. TIMES, 2/11).'s Bob Pockrass, in the first part of a six-part series, wrote NASCAR "still has tremendous value and appeal." But the "profound decline" in TV ratings and attendance "begs for answers." For those "who thought the racing was better than ever" last season, "looking up in the grandstands at about half the races was downright depressing." Reviewing TV ratings "proved perplexing." No one "expected the incredible growth of the 1990s and early 2000s to continue at the same pace," and "saying that NASCAR teeters on the verge of collapse would, frankly, be overly dramatic and imply that sponsors shouldn't invest in the sport." But "sitting still and saying that NASCAR will return to prominence when the economy gets better does not spark change." The issues "have been analyzed, dissected and debated for the past three years," but "few have laid out any concrete plans for how to address them." Michael Waltrip Racing VP & GM Ty Norris: "There's no silver bullet. You can't say one thing stopped the ratings and one thing stopped the attendance so you can't say one thing is going to fix it" (, 2/7). Read parts two, three and four of Pockrass' series.

TURNING THE CORNER:'s Ed Hinton wrote the "sun is breaking through on NASCAR." Hinton: "I'm talking about the pulse of the garages and shops, and the brightening skies about money. All across the media tour, we heard teams announce renewals of contracts with existing sponsors, and additions of new ones. ... We saw promise of variety in winners." The grandstands this season "still won't be jam-packed," and the ratings "may remain in the doldrums for a while." But "all in all the financial gloom is lifting" (, 2/7). In Daytona Beach, Clayton Park noted NASCAR and ISC officials are "cautiously optimistic the new year will bring more fans, television viewers and net earnings than last year." The officials "believe they have done their part," including "reducing overall ticket prices, offering a wider selection of ticket-package options to appeal to all income levels, improving track amenities, and implementing both rules changes and an altering of the Sprint Cup Series points system to increase interest among fans." NASCAR and ISC also "have stepped up efforts to attract first-time fans and the so-called youth market." ISC Senior VP, CFO & Treasurer Dan Houser said that corporate sponsorship sales, a "significant source of revenue for ISC," have "stabilized." He added companies are "spending with us, but not necessarily back to pre-recession levels" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/7).

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING: In Virginia, Dustin Long wrote NASCAR fans, "like much of society, are immersed in the technology evolution." Fans "can watch races on the computer," and "most drivers and teams are hooked into Twitter and Facebook, tightening the bond between fans and drivers." Fans are "seeing more of what's going on than ever, from lap times to the measurements of sensors hooked up to a race car." Fox, which will broadcast the Feb. 20 Daytona 500, "will debut a TV graphic that shows how much a driver turns the steering wheel, providing another clue to how well a car is handling at that time." It is "that type of technology that gives fans more information and, NASCAR hopes, greater enjoyment of the sport." Long noted "one of the next key areas for the sport will be how many Cup races fans can view on their computers," and to date, it is "not many." All six TNT races "are shown on," as "both the network and website are owned by Turner Broadcasting, which has all the sport's online streaming rights." But Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill said that he "doesn't plan to put his network's races online," and ESPN "has not announced if it will make Nationwide races available online" (ROANOKE TIMES, 2/9).
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