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Volume 22 No. 7
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Fox rides NASCAR to greater distribution while bringing racing to new audience


There is no larger stage in sports television than the Super Bowl. xxxxxx So there they were during last week's NFL championship telecast on Fox, Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip, two of NASCAR's more marketable and recognizable figures, featured prominently during the network's marathon coverage of TV's biggest game.

"To have that type of partner who is speaking to the world and able to promote our sport is so significant, it's hard to put it into words," said Paul Brooks, NASCAR's vice president of broadcasting.

"They put us out there during the Super Bowl, when the very fans that we'd like to bring to the sport are watching," Brooks said. "They're lifting up every element of the sport because of what they're doing and will continue to do."

The incipient relationship between NASCAR and Fox and sister station FX has proved to be a model of reciprocal promotion. At a time when sports ratings are slumping, NASCAR has driven viewers to Fox networks. Fox has returned the favor by taking stock car racing to mainstream corners it had not penetrated on its own.

In a year when NASCAR's continued growth was the hot story of TV sports, Fox made the most of its investment. Though a recession dampened ad revenue, the network racked up viewers. Fox averaged a 6.2 Nielsen rating for its 14 Winston Cup races, a bump of about 25 percent over the numbers from similar races in 2000.

Fox used those NASCAR viewers and their well-documented loyalty to expand its properties, putting two Winston Cup races on FX, which is fighting for placement on U.S. cable systems. FX increased its distribution from 57 million households to 74 million last year, thanks in part to the lure of NASCAR programming.

In turn, exposure during the Super Bowl and paid advertising spots during Fox's prime-time schedule helped NASCAR beam its message to mainstream viewers who weren't likely to sample the sport were it not for Fox's glitzy packaging.

"They have been an incredible partner," Brooks said. "When you look in the area of promotion, of production and of really balancing between taking care of the core fan but also helping us grow into a new audience, they've handled that in an extraordinary way."