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

'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.

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.

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



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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.

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