NHRA Says Countdown Format Has Led To Increased Fan, Sponsorship Interest
Much like NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, the NHRA's Countdown was "designed to generate interest near the end of the season, when motor sports are dwarfed by the nation's sports juggernaut -- the NFL," according to Jeff Olson in a special for USA TODAY. NHRA Senior VP/Sales & Marketing Gary Darcy said of the playoff-type format, "It gives a great marketing platform and media platform, and it creates fan interest. ... It has heightened the level of fan interest." Olson notes some drivers have "grown accustomed to the structure, while others think it puts too much emphasis on the finals six races after an 18-event 'regular season' in a sport that runs for 10 months out of the year." Driver Mike Neff said, "What you set up for there is a chance that someone can win 19 races and not win the championship, which is absurd." Darcy said that the Countdown format was implemented "not because of NASCAR and the reinvigoration it found with a revamped system but because something was needed to generate interest at the end of the NHRA season, which stretches from February to November." He added, "Baseball's playoff system has evolved over decades. It's in that vein that we wanted to keep a level of excitement around the course of the season and at the end of the season." Darcy said that the Countdown is "working, both in terms of fan and sponsor interest and numbers," but did not provide specifics about TV ratings, crowds or sponsorship dollars. Darcy: "Many of the tracks want to be in the Countdown, but they don't want to switch their date equity to get there" (USA TODAY, 8/30).