SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/In Depth

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  • Meet the Fan Panel Participants

    NASCAR FANS SOUND OFF

    Avid fans discuss what attracted them to NASCAR,

    what they like and dislike about the sport, and what

    it will take to keep them watching


    KEVIN DEVITT (Charlotte): The 47-year-old IT executive has been a NASCAR fan for 27 hears and has attended races in Florida, Alabama and Michigan. He watches most races on TV.
    HELEN BAILEY (Cornelius, N.C.): The 43-year-old has been a fan of NASCAR for 10 years and attends four to five races a year but has stopped watching NASCAR on TV.
    MICHAEL DOBY (Charlotte): The 19-year-old college student went to his first race when he was 6 months old. A diehard Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, he attends four to six races a year and watches every race on TV.
    The NASCAR fan is more powerful today than at any point in the sport's history. As viewership has slid and seats have gone empty at races, NASCAR increasingly has turned to fans for advice.

    NASCAR created a fan council in 2008 that has influenced everything from the return of the spoiler to consistent race times. The sport also spent last year interviewing spectators at nine racetracks in an effort to determine what tracks could do to improve the race-day experience. The results, which will be released early this season, could reshape the way tracks treat fans.

    Recognizing the rising influence of the NASCAR fan,
    BO JUMBERCOTTA (Fredericksburg, Va.): The 42-year-old golf course superintendent has season tickets to Richmond International Raceway and attends both races there every year. He watches most races on TV.
    TERRI KETTERMAN (Mooresville, N.C.): The 46-year-old financial services executive grew up in New England attending races at Lebanon Valley Speedway She now attends seven to eight races a year, blogs throughout the season and watches every race on TV.
    SUSAN PRITCHARD (Boston): The 60-year-old health care administrator has been a fan of NASCAR since 1994. Though she's never attended a race, she never misses one on TV.
    we convened a group of seven avid fans in January to discuss the state of the sport. Four of the fans gathered in our Charlotte office, while the others joined via video conference. SportsBusiness Journal motorsports writer Tripp Mickle led the discussion.

    We covered five key areas — drivers, competition, attendance, sponsorship and television — in hopes of learning how NASCAR consumption patterns have evolved over the last few years and what NASCAR could do to reverse recent declines in viewership and attendance. We didn't unearth a silver-bullet solution to what ails the sport, but we did learn a lot about what fans like and dislike about NASCAR today.



    DAN MACKE (Albuquerque, N.M.): The 39-year-old attorney attends four to five races a year and never misses one on television.




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  • Predictable interviews hurting race appeal

    In an effort to learn more about fans’ relationships with drivers, we asked panelists how they picked their favorite drivers and why they find them interesting.
    All seven panelists said they picked their favorite driver because of his background, personality or relatability.
    All seven panelists agreed that drivers were more scripted today than any time in NASCAR history, and that caused them to consume less NASCAR content.
    None of the panelists identified Jimmie Johnson as his or her favorite driver, and six of seven panelists said that the five-time champion’s dominance has hurt the sport.

    Why did you become a fan of who you follow today?

    Helen: I like Denny Hamlin because he’s a clean driver. He’s very ambitious. He has so much potential.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Fans look up to drivers who are willing to show their personality and not be too vanilla.
    Michael: I was always a Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan. When Junior came along — my dad’s a senior and I’m a junior — I just figured, “I’m going to pull for Junior.” When Senior died, I just kept pulling for him.

    Kevin: My favorite driver used to be Dale Earnhardt Sr. He was a good character for the sport and a leader for the sport, and I really don’t think anybody has come along that has filled his shoes.

    Dan: Jeff [Gordon] was a guy that was a role model not just for his sport but for all sports. I picked up on him because he came from outside the mold and established himself as the superior driver for his era in the mid-’90s. He didn’t come out of the South. He came out of the Midwest by way of California.

    Susan: I was a Dale Sr. fan. Originally it was the legacy piece of it [that led me to Dale Jr.]. But for me now, you can see the exuberance and the joy that he experiences with every race. It’s like every race is his first race.

    Bo: The biggest thing I enjoy about watching Tony [Stewart] race is his competitiveness. I don’t think these guys hop in a race car to finish second. Tony hops in there and it echoes a bit of Dale Earnhardt and the way he drove.

    Terri: The thing about Clint [Bowyer] that really draws me is just his background. He’s a hardscrabble racer, short tracks from the Midwest. Really a hardworking guy. He’s got a phenomenal sense of humor. He flirted with me in the autograph line, so that didn’t hurt. And also he’s very genuine.

    Are drivers more or less interesting today than they used to be? And how does that affect your interest in the sport?

    Helen: I like Dale [Earnhardt’s] story because he was out there and he had to win because he had to pay his bills. Now, it’s different. It’s about the fame. It’s about the celebrity status. It’s a different type of motivation for these younger guys.

    Dan: For a time period there — I referred to it as the regulatory era — the more NASCAR stepped in to regulate the sport, the less interesting drivers got. I don’t know if it’s because they had to deal with sponsors or what, but it seems like they got really vanilla for a while. Hopefully, this new “Boys Have At It” era is going to bring more personality out.

    Does drivers being vanilla or scripted make you watch NASCAR less or attend fewer races? Has it in any way impacted how you consume NASCAR?

    Terri: It’s impacted how I consume some of the peripheral programming. If I know exactly what someone’s going to say, I’m not going to bother listening.

    Michael: The interviews aren’t as interesting as they used to be. You kind of used to look forward to the interviews after the race, especially if there was a wreck on track. You’d want to hear what the guy who got wrecked would say. “I’m going to get him next week,” or something like that. Now, if you say you’re going to wreck somebody — Denny Hamlin did that a couple of years ago, and he got penalized.

    Susan: I tune out on the postrace. You really lose me after the burnout and they get the trophy and you start interviewing the second, third, fourth, fifth [finisher] or whatever. They’re all saying the same thing. They spit out their sponsors and it’s pretty much a script.

    Does the manufacturer interest you — Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Toyota — the team, or just the driver?

    Kevin: I’m personally a big Ford fan, which hasn’t gotten me very far in NASCAR lately. Yet my favorite driver ever was a Chevrolet driver, so I guess I don’t put a lot of emphasis on that. ... I can’t say that sways me one way or the other to a driver.

    Michael: I’m actually a big Chevy fan. The manufacturers back in the ’80s were big with Bill Elliott and Earnhardt. That actually sold stuff at the dealerships. Now the cars have nothing to do with the real looks of them. Over the years, they’re going to try and get more of that look from the factory back to them kind of how they did with the Busch Series.

    Helen: I’m loyal to Toyota. I drive a Toyota. But it has nothing to do with the car. It’s the driver. The cars look the same on the track.

    Dan: I suffer from the same identity crisis as [Kevin]. I’m a Ford guy in the outside world but I root for Jeff, and if Jeff falls out then I’m a Tony guy, and if Tony falls out then I start rooting for the Fords. That’s my hierarchy.

    Not one person has brought up Jimmie Johnson. He’s the most dominant person in the sport. Why isn’t he resonating with you?

    Kevin: What he has done in any sport would be considered amazing. But even if I was a Jimmie Johnson fan — enough is enough. There are times I won’t watch a race because I’m tired of seeing him running out front all the time.

    Helen: Do I think he’s a great driver? Of course I think he’s a great driver. But can I put him up and say he’s the greatest driver ever? No. I think he has the right formula and that makes him a success.

    Dan: He hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment of the sport at all. It’s unfortunate really for him and the sport that he hasn’t attracted or garnered the accolades for what he has done. This is a historic thing. As a Gordon fan, I went through this in the ’90s. Everybody said it was the equipment. It was the crew chief. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. But I don’t think Jimmie Johnson runs in different equipment than a guy that runs for Roush or Richard Childress. They’re all putting the same amount of money into it and all have engineers working for the team.

    Terri: You [can) draw a correlation between when Jimmie obtained his level of success and what we were talking about a few minutes ago around the “vanilla period.” When he came of age and realized most of his talent was when the personality clamp was tightest on all of these drivers.

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  • If you were Brian France for a day …

    You’re Brian France for the day. Name one thing you would change.

    Bo: Buy out Bruton Smith because he’s bought tracks, taken races from the track so he could have multiple events at his bigger tracks.
    Kevin: He has hurt this sport. I agree.
    Dan: I would put Bristol or Richmond, or both, in the Chase.
    Helen: Drop the Chase.
    Terri: If I was Brian France, I would change my career.
    Michael: I would put one of each type of track in the Chase: a road course, leave Talladega in there, take maybe Texas away or Kansas, put in maybe Watkins Glen.
    Susan: In dream land, I’d go back to pre-Chase.
    Kevin: I would put points at the halfway point, maybe even the [quarter, half and three-quarters] point.

    Television ratings: Up or down in 2011? And do you care?

    Helen: Don’t care.
    Terri: I care only because I want things to get better and because I want to stop hearing about it. Up.
    Kevin: I think they’ll be down until competition gets better, and it’s going to be several years before that catches on.
    Michael: I care and I think they’ll go up this year.
    Susan: I don’t care. I’ll watch anyway.
    Dan: I think they’ll be down again. I do care because I care about the health of the sport. There’s too much other content out there so I think it will be down.
    Bo: I think it will be down again. I do care. I think it’s all about competition. That’s what’s going to get fans back into race cars.

    NASCAR made a big point that racing in 2010 was better. Do you agree or disagree?

    Helen: It’s not back.
    Terri: It’s better.
    Kevin: It’s better.
    Michael: It’s the best it ever has been.
    Bo: I don’t think it was as competitive as they’re saying it was. If that was the case, Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t have won his fifth straight title.
    Dan: It was better. Last year was the best racing I’ve seen in a decade.
    Susan: It wasn’t the best it has been, but it was better than it’s been in five or six years.


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  • Points system, Chase for the Cup, race duration

    NASCAR's biggest change going into the 2011 season was adopting a simplified points system for all three of its top series, which officials hope enables fans to calculate easily what drivers' results mean for season standings.
    The system will award the winning driver 43 points, the second-place driver 42 points, and drop with each finishing spot before awarding the last-place driver one point.
    We asked our panelists about the points system and other competition changes over the years.
    Six of seven panelists favored the new points system. One panelist wanted to see NASCAR award points at the midpoint of the race to encourage competition.
    Some panelists were insulted by the new points system, saying NASCAR must not think they know how to count. At least three disapproved of how NASCAR communicated the change.
    Six of seven panelists disliked the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the postseason format NASCAR introduced in 2004.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Panelists suggested adding incentives that would encourage closer competition throughout an entire race.

    The New Points System
    What was your reaction to the points change?

    Bo: I like the new move. It makes it tighter.

    Dan: It will place more emphasis on winning for those last two race spots, and I'm interested in that because I attend the Richmond race every fall each year.

    Kevin: When I first saw it, I thought they were trying to say all of us NASCAR fans are stupid and can't add larger numbers.

    Terri: They do that a lot, don't they?

    Kevin: After I got over the initial insult factor and started thinking about it, I don't see much difference between this [system] and last year's. It just makes it easier to count points. One of the things I dislike about this point system is it doesn't put enough emphasis on winning. I did have a thought as I was coming here. If you take this new points system and add some incentives throughout the race, like maybe you at a minimum halfway give the leader a point, that's going to give them a reason to be more competitive at the midpoint of a race. You'd have that to look forward to as well as the end of the race and maybe you could even take it to even every quarter of the race. Give out an extra point just to give them a reason to race.

    Terri: I don't think it's going to make a big difference. … My intelligence is rather insulted, not only by some of the things that have been done but by the communication. Change management seems to be an enormous challenge for that leadership and I don't understand why.


    COMPARING
    THE FAN BASES
    ESPN Sports Poll surveys sports fans about their level of interest in specific sports. The charts below show the percentage of U.S. sports fans who are either casual (at least a little bit interested) or avid (very interested) followers of these sports:

    Casual

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    NFL

    68.9%

    70.6%

    71.0%

    67.1%

    67.0%

    MLB

    58.7%

    61.8%

    61.4%

    58.7%

    57.3%

    NBA

    48.6%

    50.8%

    51.7%

    48.9%

    47.7%

    NASCAR

    42.1%

    40.2%

    41.8%

    36.1%

    35.9%

    NHL

    31.6%

    32.8%

    34.4%

    33.8%

    34.7%

    MLS

    26.8%

    29.5%

    28.6%

    27.8%

    29.7%

    Avid

    2006

    2007

    2008

    2009

    2010

    NFL

    32.1%

    34.8%

    34.0%

    31.9%

    32.5%

    MLB

    19.6%

    21.7%

    21.2%

    20.1%

    19.0%

    NBA

    14.3%

    15.7%

    15.7%

    15.3%

    15.2%

    NASCAR

    15.1%

    14.9%

    14.3%

    11.8%

    10.5%

    NHL

    6.5%

    6.9%

    7.9%

    7.5%

    8.3%

    MLS

    5.9%

    6.5%

    6.6%

    5.5%

    6.4%

    Kevin: Whatever they're going to do they need to do it and leave it alone.

    Did anyone else have a problem with the points change from a communications perspective?

    Bo: I'm just so used to NASCAR waiting until three weeks before Daytona to make this kind of call. It's par for the course.

    Dan: I'm of the mind that NASCAR's been too hard on itself in a lot of respects. The more they gimmick around with these rules, they get into this whole battle again between their legitimacy against other sports.

    Does it hurt the sport's legitimacy that the announcements are made the way they are?

    Helen: It drives me crazy. Football has not changed. Nobody's had to explain the rules each [football] season. With NASCAR, I've got to relearn the rules every season.

    Terri: What they're trying to do is correct in two years mistakes that have been building up for six or seven. Change in and of itself I don't have a problem with, but … it's got to be managed. There are whole organizations built around change management, and they're wretched at it. And their communication is wretched.

    The Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship
    Regarding the Chase, do you give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down? And why?

    Helen: The Chase has made the last 10 races not matter to anyone else in the field. It's just 12 people we have to look at. I don't like the Chase. It's just ruined things.

    Susan: I'm a thumbs down on the Chase. I think you just do straight points the entire season because that's what happens: You just spend the end of the season following 12 drivers.

    Bo: I'm thumbs down on the Chase. I'd be thumbs up if they changed the racetracks. If you changed the racetracks, you'd probably change the outcomes and some of the competitiveness.

    Dan: I'm a thumbs up. I'm very much in favor of it. It doubles my pleasure because you almost get two seasons. You get a regular season and then you get in theory a playoff as well.

    Shorter Races and a Shorter Season
    People have talked about shorter races and a shorter season. Where do you all come down on those ideas?

    Dan: I don't want to shorten races or shorten the season because it's the sport I like a lot. If you're going to shorten races, you better cut that ticket price.

    Kevin: When they started talking about shortening the races, they tried to push that off as the network trying to drive them to do that. It's almost like they're trying to shorten the races to get to the crux of what the real problem is: Everyone wants to try to get to the end of the race so it can start getting competitive and be worth watching. I just think that's an attempt to fix something that's broken that's not going to really fix what's broken.

    Susan: I've never wanted shorter races. Who would ever propose, "These baseball games, let's make them eight innings. Let's make this football game three quarters?" It's ridiculous to me.

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  • In the studio: 2011 NASCAR preview

    SportsBusiness Journal Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and Motorsports Writer Tripp Mickle talk about what we learned from our NASCAR fan panel, and what to look for when the sport opens its season this weekend at Daytona.

    Print | Tags: NASCAR, Motorsports, Tripp Mickle, Media, Media Partners
  • Walking distance, alcohol tolerance

    NASCAR is the ultimate community sport. You may be a fan of the Carolina Panthers or Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, but when was the last time you spent a weekend camping with other fans of your team? When was the last time you sat down at a ballpark and had the guy in front of you offer you a nacho or a beer? That, at its core, is what differentiates NASCAR from its sporting peers, and it is the underpinning of why our panelists love the sport.
    NASCAR is in the process of analyzing nine of its tracks in hopes of improving the fan experience. We talked to our panelists to find out what they would do to improve attending races. The biggest recommendations were that tracks control spectator drunkenness, eliminate smoking and improve communication with fans.


    What would you improve about the race experience?

    Helen: No smoking in my face, please. That’s probably the only thing. I love that Charlotte’s making improvements. I love that Bristol makes improvements every time I go. I love that there is interaction between the drivers. I wish that they would be less celebrity and more appreciative of their fans.

    JIM FLUHARTY / NASCAR ILLUSTRATED
    NASCAR has been analyzing tracks in hopes of improving the fan experience.
    Dan: It’s a track-to-track thing. I have criticisms about each track I go to. It would be difficult to say what all tracks should do to make a better experience. I go to races on the East Coast and I go to races on the West Coast. There’s, for some reason, a difference between what you can and cannot bring into a racetrack between the East and West Coast. When I go to Richmond, we can bring a cooler and we can bring food in, but when I go to Phoenix, I can’t do it. That’s just one of them. You can bring a cooler in but you can’t bring beer in. I’m not going to say how much money that costs me.

    Terri: The only track that needs some more understanding of fan experience is my favorite track: Darlington. Behind the new Brasington Grandstand, there’s this enormous gate that they have that they let the golf carts in and out. It’s also the closest. They make the fans walk. When I’m looking at the grandstands and looking at this big open gate and I’ve already walked half a mile in this 95-degree heat and you’re going to make me walk another 500 feet … I can do it, whatever, but for some of these people, it’s hard to get around. The one thing SMI tracks do is transportation. Mobility around the track. To see that at other tracks would be good, considering how many people have a hard time getting around.

    Bo: I’ve had pretty good experiences at tracks. The one thing I always go back to is: Some people just can’t drink enough. The next thing you know, they’re passed out behind you. The first thing people say about a NASCAR race is, “You get to bring your own beer in.” Well, some people just can’t handle it. I like my beer, but I only walk in with four or five in a cooler. I don’t walk in with a case and get inebriated over a 400-mile race. I wish if there was one thing they could control, it’s the amount of alcohol that’s actually flowing. It ruins the fan experience for a lot of people who are there to enjoy the race.

    Could they address that by having a section for drinking and a section for sober fans?

    Bo: There’s a part of the track at Richmond that’s nonalcoholic, but you run into the people at the bathroom. It isn’t like an educational experience for your kids that you’d want to take them to, seeing some guy that’s half passed out in the bathroom.

    Kevin: That’s an interesting point. I’ve been going to races for a long time. I’ve gone to a lot of IndyCar races, specifically the Indy 500, and it was always, always a big party. More people were there to party than to watch the race. That was one of the things in the early days that attracted me to NASCAR. NASCAR fans were racing fans first and you didn’t have the same sort of uncontrollable drinking at NASCAR races as IndyCar races. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a drinker. I’m not opposed to it, but I’ve noticed over the last five or six years that NASCAR fans are starting to get up there at the same level of rowdiness and drunkenness that IndyCar fans were at 20 years ago.

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  • Brand loyalty can be deeply personal

    Sponsors, arguably, enjoy more visibility in NASCAR than any other sport. Cars are known by their number and their sponsor, and drivers rarely do a media interview without mentioning their sponsors.
    Our panelists for the most part believed that sponsors have contributed to more scripted comments by drivers. They shared how sponsor ties to the sport and their favorite drivers affect what they buy and where they shop.


    NASCAR talks all the time about brand loyalty. It claims that if you have a favorite driver or you see the NASCAR bar on a product, you’re going to be more inclined to buy that product. Is that accurate? How many of you have made a purchasing decision because of sponsor?

    Michael: I drink Amp Energy. I don’t drink a lot of it. If I’m ever going to get an energy drink, it’s always Amp. It’s not Nos because that’s Kyle Busch and I’m not going to drink that. It’s Amp because that’s Dale Jr.’s. It does have an effect on a loyal fan.

    Terri: I can’t give you an example. I know I do it all the time. I do it with an auto parts store. I do it with whatever.

    Susan: No. Never. I like Coke. I don’t like Pepsi. If my guy’s a Pepsi driver, I’m not switching to Pepsi. I don’t drink energy drinks. I’m not going to drink Amp. I will say the only time I’ve made some consideration for that was when Tony Stewart was driving for Home Depot. I do have a preference for Home Depot over Lowe’s, and I think probably that’s Tony Stewart based.

    Kevin: I’ve never made a consumer purchase based on a sponsorship, a driver-sponsor relationship in NASCAR. I like Lowe’s because their stores are put together more logical than Home Depot. It’s got nothing to do with Jimmie Johnson or anybody else.

    Bo: I can tell you right now I wouldn’t walk into Lowe’s if I had a hole in my roof. I just do not like Jimmie Johnson. It’s just one of those kind of things. I don’t like walking into the store and seeing his face on the Coke machine. I don’t like seeing his car at the counter. So I will go to Home Depot and support Joey Logano as much as I possibly can.

    What about drivers and sponsors? How has their relationship with sponsors changed?

    Bo: You identified Miller Lite with Rusty Wallace. He didn’t even have to thank them until the end of the year if he didn’t want to. More and more of these drivers today stand in front and they run down the list of sponsors on the car that you can’t see when they’re flying around at 100 mph on the racetrack. It’s very robotic. I’d like to see it go back more to where it was: good ol’ boy racing.

    Susan: You’ll see a guy like Mike Waltrip. He can run down a list of his sponsors and that takes up his entire comment [after a race]. That’s the first thing out of their mouth whenever they’re interviewed, “I want to thank A, B, C, D all the way down to Z.” Then you get maybe a half a second of what their personality is. They may have personality, but we don’t get to see what their personality is.

    Michael, you’re younger. Does that bother you as much?

    Michael: I guess with the economy so bad, you have to have sponsors to get by. Back when Earnhardt Sr. came up you had one sponsor — Wrangler — who got him up there. One of my favorite lines Earnhardt said was, “I can win in the car on Sunday and feed the cows on Monday.” You can relate to that if you’re a man that works outside all day. You could relate to the drivers. Nowadays, it seems it’s getting more and more about money.

    Kevin: Drivers are too scripted. While it might be good for the sponsors to be associated with an event, it has detracted from what the fans are looking for and being entertained by watching a race.

    Dan: In defense of the drivers, I’m realistic enough to recognize that the sponsors pay the bills. The sponsors put the cars on the track. The sponsors are responsible in large part for my enjoyment of the sport. I understand thanking sponsors. I know it annoys us all, but I’m realistic enough to know it’s kind of a necessary evil.

    Bo: It’s sort of garbage in, garbage out with what they’re saying about sponsors. I understand sponsors pay the money and are due their time. But it’s a billboard that flies around the track 500 miles in most cases. They’re getting an awful big show if their car’s out front anyways. You don’t have to run down every sponsor that’s on that race car. I’m more into the human side of it. I’d rather see race car drivers talk about their real life stuff.

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  • 'I'm a full-blown race-day geek'

    NASCAR has lost a quarter of its viewers in the last five years. It has tried to stem the losses by shifting to consistent start times and improving the competition on the track, but it hasn't made a difference.
    Our panelists reflected on macro trends taking place in NASCAR viewership.
    • Four of our panelists still watch the sport religiously and never miss a race.
    Three fans said they are consuming less than they used to because they believe races aren't as competitive as they were.
    All of our panelists watch the sport alone or with family at home. None of them hold group viewing parties with friends or watch at bars.
    Four out of seven panelists said they prefer Fox's broadcast to ESPN or TNT.

    Current Viewing Habits
    • How many races do you watch a year? Has the number of races you watch gone up or down in the past five years?


    Helen: I used to watch every Sunday. Now, I can't sit still and watch the follow-the-leader on TV. It bores me to tears. I actually got rid of my TV this year.

    PHIL CAVALI / ESPN
    One panelist said she thinks ESPN does a better job with pit reporting and replays.
    Terri: I'm a full-blown race-day geek. I have the scanner going on the laptop. I've got the TV on mute most of the time and I have MRN or PRN on the radio. I probably watch more than I did five years ago because there's more available.

    Kevin: When it gets to the tail end of the season and football starts, back in the day, I would always watch NASCAR and occasionally flip over to see what was going on in the football game. Today, when the end of the season starts, I'm watching the football game and occasionally flip over to see what's going on in the race, watch the last 10 laps of it because that's when the only competitive racing is going on.

    Michael: I basically watch every race just like always.

    Susan: I watch every possible race that I can on the weekends. If there's a commercial or there looks like there's going to be an extremely long caution, I keep the Sunday crossword puzzle next to me and I just fill in a couple of clues. I won't get up and leave the room. I'm committed.

    Dan: I've watched every race since '95. If anything, my viewing habits have gotten worse because there's more content out there.

    Bo: I watch a little less percentage-wise. On Sundays, I probably went from watching 90 percent of a race to 50 percent of it. Call it channel surfing. Call it being the guy looking for the next best thing on sports related.

    Four of you said you DVR races. If you DVR, do you watch same day or next day?

    Kevin: A track that I find to be somewhat follow-the-leader or boring, I may record it and fast-forward through all the commercials and watch it on 4X when the cars look like they're going 1,200 miles per hour and you can get through it in two minutes.

    Dan: The only time I DVR is if I have a family obligation on Sunday or if the race gets rained out and I have to record it on a Monday.

    ROUGH RIDE
    NASCAR's Sprint Cup viewership base has fallen 23.7 percent since the 2006 season.

    Year

    Networks

    Avg. rating

    Avg. viewers (000s)

    2010

    Fox, TNT, ESPN, ABC

    3.6

    5,992

    2009

    Fox, TNT, ESPN, ABC

    4.0

    6,440

    2008

    Fox, TNT, ESPN, ABC

    4.3

    6,917

    2007

    Fox, TNT, ESPN, ABC

    4.4

    7,116

    2006

    Fox, TNT, FX, NBC

    4.9

    7,885

    Network Preferences

    • If you could only watch races on one network, would it be Fox, ESPN or TNT?


    Bo: Fox

    Susan: Fox

    Terri: ESPN

    Dan: Fox

    Michael: Fox

    Kevin: I'm not crazy about any of them. It would be hard for me to pick between ESPN and Fox.

    • What is it about Fox that you all like about Fox?

    Michael: I like [Fox's] Darrell Waltrip and Larry Mac [McReynolds]. They've been in the sport a long time and I like to hear what they have to say. ESPN is a close second. I don't really like TNT at all.

    Dan: Fox devotes a lot more attention to the entertainment value of their broadcast. For all of his perceived faults, Darrell Waltrip is probably the most colorful announcer in the sport. Let me put a plug in for TNT. TNT suffers because they carry a stretch of races that, at least for me, is not particularly appealing. If they had some other races in their block of races, I may actually vote for them.

    Bo: I agree with what Dan says about the slate of races that [TNT] shows. I agree with the background [Waltrip] and McReynolds give you about how a car's handling or the look inside a car and what the driver is experiencing. It seems like to me that Fox has a heads up on — for whatever reason — the way the reception comes through on a television set.

    Susan: It's almost like it's pumped up in technicolor or something. It's a much more vivid experience. TNT comes across a little flat to me. In the pecking order, I'd be Fox, with ESPN running second but not a close second. I really enjoy the spectacle and Fox gives you spectacle.

    • Terri, you were pro-ESPN and anti-Fox. Why is that?

    Terri: I enjoy Larry McReynolds very much. I don't enjoy Darrell. There's probably 10 people on the planet that don't know the guy's got 83 wins and 10 championships. The résumé reading [he does] makes me insane. The ESPN broadcast is about the race. ESPN has personalities like Alan Bestwick. He's got some type of racing background. I like Dale Jarrett. He gives great perspective. He's a champ but we never hear about that. We hear about his experiences and his take on what's going on. And ESPN does a much better job in the pits with pit reporting. They do a much better job with replays. And they do a much better job highlighting the full field, midpack and in back.

    Improving the TV Experience
    • What's one thing you would do to improve the television experience?


    Michael: For me, it would be less commercials. TNT does wide-open coverage where you have commercials and you can still see the action going on. That would be great if they (all) had that.

    Kevin: For me, it's all about the competitiveness on track.

    Terri: I think it's finding wherever the action is on the track and not being afraid to go deep in the field to show what's going on. Trying to understand what a fan in the grandstand sees and bringing that experience home would be better. Where are they battling?

    Helen: It goes back to competition on the track and too much follow-the-leader. That's going to have to change to excite me again.

    Bo: I have to agree about competitiveness and commercials. I would tune in a lot more especially watching racing through the field.

    Dan: I like night races and I'd tune in more for night races. I'd like to see them take a shot at a midweek prime-time race.

    Kevin: I agree. If there were more Friday night and Saturday night Cup races, I would watch that more than Sunday races.

    Susan: I also love night races. They're the best. Secondly, I really like the idea of more split screens, so that you can see the action in the front of the pack but also see whatever interesting changes are taking place later in the field.


    Print | Tags: In-Depth
  • Tuning in, or turning off?

    An online survey of NASCAR fans conducted by Turnkey Intelligence sheds light on issues facing the sport. Here are highlights of why they're tuning in, or turning off:

    Top reasons given for watching fewer races

    Avid

    Casual

    My personal schedule has become too busy for me to pay attention to NASCAR

    31.5%

    30.4%

    NASCAR has become too commercialized

    23.9%

    22.6%

    Tired of seeing Jimmie Johnson winning the points race

    23.6%

    12.5%

    TV broadcasts have become dull

    20.0%

    17.9%

    Too many rules and restrictions on the cars/drivers

    18.0%

    15.1%

    Better things to watch on TV at the same time

    16.1%

    31.7%

    The "Car of Tomorrow" and other advancements in automotive technology have made the sport less interesting

    15.7%

    8.7%

    Find myself more interested in other sports/entertainment

    15.1%

    36.6%

    NASCAR races are too long

    14.1%

    22.8%

    I have been attending fewer races than in previous years

    12.5%

    7.3%

    I don't know when and where the races are on TV

    12.1%

    13.5%

    Casual fans are driving the decrease in NASCAR ratings. Among fans who watched at least one race in 2010:

    15% of avid fans watched less in 2010 than in 2009
    30% of casual fans watched less in 2010 than in 2009


    Methodology
    :
    Turnkey Intelligence, in collaboration with SportsBusiness Journal, fielded online surveys among respondents sourced through the Toluna Group. Responses were collected from Jan. 27 through Feb. 1. A total of 793 NASCAR respondents completed the survey — 294 avid fans and 479 casual fans. Avid fans were defined as choosing "very interested" when asked "How interested are you in NASCAR?" Similarly, casual fans were defined as choosing "somewhat interested" or "a little bit interested" when answering the same question. All 793 respondents reported watching fewer NASCAR races in 2010 compared to 2009. The margin of error for all respondents is +/- 3.5 percent.

    » NASCAR has become too commercialized

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    20%

    11%

    Neutral

    23%

    28%

    Agree

    57%

    61%

    » NASCAR is best viewed in person at the track, rather than on TV

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    22%

    25%

    Neutral

    26%

    30%

    Agree

    53%

    45%


    » Watching a NASCAR race today on TV is
    more exciting than in years past

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    38%

    42%

    Neutral

    27%

    35%

    Agree

    36%

    23%

    » I wish that NASCAR races focused more on the drivers and their background stories

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    30%

    27%

    Neutral

    33%

    39%

    Agree

    37%

    34%

    » NASCAR races are too long

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    34%

    20%

    Neutral

    27%

    27%

    Agree

    39%

    52%


    » Advancements in automotive technology, i.e. "Car of Tomorrow," have made NASCAR less interesting

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    29%

    27%

    Neutral

    25%

    40%

    Agree

    46%

    33%

    » I wish that NASCAR races focused more on
    the pit crew and pit stops

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    35%

    35%

    Neutral

    33%

    41%

    Agree

    32%

    24%


    » If NASCAR races were offered in 3-D, I would be more interested in watching them

    Avid

    Casual

    Disagree

    36%

    50%

    Neutral

    28%

    26%

    Agree

    36%

    23%


    NASCAR
    fans' interest in the NFL is increasing, but their interest in NASCAR is flat or decreasing.

    Interest in NASCAR – Change

    Casual NASCAR Fans

    Avid NASCAR Fans

    Declining interest '10 vs. '09

    38%

    33%

    No change

    50%

    33%

    Increasing interest '10 vs. '09

    12%

    34%


    Interest in NFL – Change

    Casual NASCAR Fans

    Avid NASCAR Fans

    Declining interest '10 vs. '09

    16%

    17%

    No change

    49%

    42%

    Increasing interest '10 vs. '09

    35%

    41%

    Print | Tags: In-Depth
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