Fox' Daytona 500 Telecast Gets Best Overnight Rating Since '06 Race
Fox earned a 10.0 overnight Nielsen rating for Jimmie Johnson's win in the Daytona 500 yesterday afternoon, marking the best overnight for the race since NBC earned a 10.1 in ’06. That year also was the last time Johnson had won NASCAR's marquee event. The 10.0 overnight is up 30% from a 7.7 last year, when weather forced the race to a Monday night. Last year’s primetime telecast also had a nearly two-hour delay due to Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer. Fox opened this year's race with an 8.6 rating at 1:30pm ET, with the telecast peaking at a 12.8 rating during the final laps from 4:30-4:45pm. Greensboro led all markets with a 21.2 local rating, followed by Indianapolis (20.5) and Charlotte (20.3) (Fox). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes the Daytona 500 was “a box office hit for Fox but probably not the record-breaker that network analyst Darrell Waltrip predicted.” In addition to Patrick winning the pole position and “giving the race more exposure to casual fans, the unfortunate track accident Saturday that injured fans also put Daytona in the news.” In addition, yesterday's race was “tight and had various NASCAR stars in contention -- popular Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 1-2 -- and included the debut of NASCAR's so-called Generation 6 cars” (USATODAY.com, 2/25). Fox Sports Publicist Eddie Motl in an e-mail wrote that the ratings “marked the best year-to-year big-market ratings improvement in the competition’s history” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 2/25). NEWSDAY's Neil Best tweeted, "New York area averaged 5.0% of homes for Daytona 500, up 43% from last year. That's a huge number for NASCAR in NY. Wow, Danica Fever!" (TWITTER.com, 2/25).
EYES WIDE SHUT? SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes Fox worked "as auxiliary PR for NASCAR," as the net "gave short shrift to the 12-car accident during Saturday's Nationwide Series race that injured at least 28 fans." Fox announcer Mike Joy read a "20-second highlight of the crash early in the pre-race show and included a one-sentence mention of those injured." Viewers then saw "plenty of packaged features." Pre-race host Chris Myers asked driver Michael Waltrip and analyst Darrell Waltrip "about the accident 10 minutes into the broadcast, which was good, but there was no report from the hospital, no interviews with the families of those hurt in the accident, no interviews with fans about the safety of attending the Daytona 500 and no sitdown interview" with NASCAR President Mike Helton. Fox eventually "updated the story 127 minutes into its coverage (and after a wreck) when Myers gave a 60-second update on those that had been taken to the hospital" (SI.com, 2/25). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes Fox' coverage "was a major disappointment." It was "uneven and incomplete." Fox spent "maybe, 30 seconds" on Saturday's accident. Jones: "That's it. And that's embarrassing." Where was the "interview with NASCAR chairman Brian France or president Mike Helton or Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood?" For Fox to have its "hour prerace show spend more time airing the Zac Brown Band singing songs instead of analysts discussing the consequences of Saturday's accident was either incompetent or intentional in order to not make NASCAR look bad. Either way: not good" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/25).
CRASH COURSE: SI.com's Lars Anderson wrote ESPN and NASCAR "did a poor job of handling" Saturday's crash "in a variety of ways." ESPN will "frequently give viewers five different angles of a car innocuously spinning out in Turn 3 during a race, but the World Wide Leader showed just one replay -- ONE -- of what could turn out to be the most significant wreck in the history of the Nationwide Series." Anderson: "We all know that ESPN and NASCAR are in a multi-million dollar bed together, but the network's inaction should be appalling to anyone at ESPN who ever spent the time and money to go to J-School" (SI.com, 2/24). SI.com's Deitsch writes ESPN was "rightly lambasted by plenty for some curious decisions on Saturday regarding the Nationwide accident, including leading with Danica Patrick on a 'SportsCenter' intro prior to crash details and an initial lack of images from those injured at the track." Those criticisms "were fair." Deitsch: "From what I saw later in the evening, though, ESPN caught up well on the journalism front, giving the story the attention it deserved." Meanwhile, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio host Claire Lang was "sensational Saturday evening with her coverage" of the wreck. Lang was "measured with her reporting, asking smart questions of drivers and thoughtful with callers ... [and] stayed on the air hours beyond her normal shift, barely taking a break." Speed, especially host Adam Alexander and trackside reporter Bob Dillner, deserves praise "for fine work with witness interviews, updating injuries with reports from the Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, and live shots of the raceway after the accident" (SI.com, 2/25).
THE DANICA FACTOR: USA TODAY's Hiestand notes Fox had "promised not to overdo coverage" of Patrick during the 500, and race announcers Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds "rarely mentioned Patrick during the first 60 laps and never really went overboard." When Waltrip "mentioned that Patrick hadn't lost race positions during a green-flag pit stop -- when she actually had -- it seemed more like an honest slip-up rather than some sort of effort at cheerleading." Minutes after Fox "went off the air, ESPN had Patrick live in its on-site 'NASCAR Now' studio." Meanwhile, Fox "scored on the new wrinkles that will reappear in its NASCAR coverage this year." Its Gyro-Cam, a "stabilized camera showing viewers the driver's view of banked turns, gave a much better perspective than standard in-car shots." Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that he "liked the shot." Shanks said, "Gyro-Cam is going to get really dialed in." Hiestand notes Shanks also "liked Fox putting a ground-level camera in the middle of the track -- giving viewers the look under cars as they zoomed by" (USA TODAY, 2/25). In Illinois, Mike Imrem writes under the header, "Patrick Made Daytona 500 Must-See TV." Imrem: "I don't know a carburetor from a windshield wiper ... But I was fixated on this race Sunday because of Danica Patrick." She made the race "fascinating no matter what her critics say about her" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 2/25).
MAINSTREAM APPEAL: The main stories coming out of Daytona this weekend, Patrick's performance and safety concerns after Saturday's crash, crossed over into mainstream news programs. All three broadcast morning shows included Daytona among their top stories, with ABC's Matt Gutman appearing live on "GMA" from Daytona Int'l Speedway reporting on the aftermath of the crash. NBC’s “Today” aired a report on Daytona as the third story to begin the broadcast, with Janet Shamlian reporting live from the track. CBS' Mark Strassman also had a live report for "CBS This Morning,” which made the crash the program's fourth story of the morning. Last night’s editions of ABC’s “World News” and CBS’ “Evening News” both led with the results of yesterday's race and a look at fan safety following the crash. The second report on NBC's abbreviated “Nightly News” was about Saturday’s crash (THE DAILY).