SBJ/January 16-22, 2012/Media

Ackerson settles in behind the wheel, outlines goals as interim president at Speed

After 17 years of managing Fox’s highly rated “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show, Executive Producer Scott Ackerson has turned his attention to motorsports. Ackerson took over as interim president of Speed earlier this month, replacing Hunter Nickell, who had been in that role since 2005. Fox Sports Chairman David Hill tapped Ackerson for the job because he wanted someone who could improve production and programming at Speed. Ackerson spoke with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Tripp Mickle about how he planned to do that last week.

Speed is in close to 80 million homes and its ratings are OK. What needs changing?

ACKERSON:
There’s been a good base here, but my background in production can help elevate what’s already being done here with programs like “Speed Center” and the “Hub.”

How do you do that?

ACKERSON:
You have better teasers. You have better features. You have better storytelling. You have better bumps. I’m a big fan of storytelling.

Let’s look at a specific show. What sort of changes will we see to “NASCAR Race Hub?”

ACKERSON:
Rather than just putting on sound bites, I’m going to bring in an insider, someone much like a Jay Glazer. There’s a need for a NASCAR insider on that particular show.

Better storytelling has become a buzzword in motorsports. Why does the motorsports world need that now?

ACKERSON:
A lot of these drivers tend to be guarded. I get that. There’s tens of millions of dollars they get from their sponsors. We’re not going to jeopardize that. But we need more time. You can’t tell a story with three- to four-minute interviews standing outside a trailer. It’s in everybody’s best interest to get their stories out. If you show a personality, you might root for a person. And if you root for a person, you might watch. And if you watch, ratings might go up.

There’s been an emphasis in recent years on original programming at Speed. What’s your take on that?

ACKERSON:
We’ll be looking at different shows. We’re in the infancy of that so I don’t have a real answer for what new programs there might be. NASCAR is one of the highest-rated sports on television, so it’s in our interest to get them on air as much as humanly possible.

You mentioned the importance of NASCAR programming. Could Speed exist without NASCAR?

ACKERSON:
Yeah. Speed could exist without NASCAR. I would hope it wouldn’t. We would just have to change our philosophy. You wouldn’t be covering as much NASCAR. It was Speedvision before. It was F1 and stuff like that, and it existed then so it could exist now.

Why do you think NASCAR has been challenged with the young demographic?

ACKERSON:
The basic problem is the races are too long. If you’re 18 years old now or 20 years old or even 30 years old, it’s not the same as it was in the ’90s. You don’t have four hours, five hours to give to a race. The only reason we race 500 miles is because we race 500 miles. Things should evolve. This is pretty radical, but whether it’s a length of time for the race or it’s shorter, I think that would help. We really need to look at the sport and how you do it because those younger viewers are going to be the viewers of the future and we need to do everything we can to make them more interested in the sport.

A year from now, you want to be able to look back at 2012 and say what …

ACKERSON:
I want to be able to say that we lived up to everything we said we would do: Production is a higher quality and ratings are up.
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