In 2001 NASCAR started the season with a historic TV contract. Fox and NBC Sports were going to televise just about all of the Sprint Cup Series (Winston Cup Series as it was then) races on national TV. Set up your TV, adjust your rabbit ears and boom high energy NASCAR racing.
What followed was an unprecedented expansion of NASCAR fans watching the sport. Seats at the tracks were hard to come by as were campsites and motel rooms. Ticket prices for the same rising. Then something happened starting around 2007. Fan numbers visiting the tracks started dropping. Much has said that it was due to fuel prices and the economy in general but was it?
The 2001 through 2006 seasons saw most of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series broadcast on either Fox or NBC which most everyone could receive for free without paying for cable or satellite service. In 2006 NBC indicated they would not seek renewal of their contract for the last half of the season. In 2006, the last year of the contract, 26 of 36 races, 15 on Fox and nine on NBC, were on free TV.
ESPN and TNT picked up NBC’s part and most of those races then moved to cable or satellite TV. Suddenly those new fans that did not have access to cable or satellite TV were cut off from regular viewing of NASCAR in the last half of the season. At least ESPN is a widely held channel in the pay TV area, available in most motels, bars and other places with cable or satellite TV.
Through the years there has been much discussion about how to keep NASCAR fans engaged in the sport and bring in new ones. Well first and foremost if a fan gets drawn in during the Fox part of the season via a Jet Dryer explosion or some other drama, only to be cut off in early June when the series moves to cable; that is a problem.
Sure people get busy doing other things during the summer months and viewership does decline naturally but moving to cable is a self fulfilling prophecy.
In 2015, Fox and NBC have the contract back, as in the movie “Back to the Future”. This is a great opportunity for getting back to past success for both networks. Unfortunately that opportunity is being used to sell their other Sports channels; Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Net.
During the Fox half of the season most of the races starting with the last race in April will be moving to Fox Sports 1 a cable channel. This is not only the races that used to be broadcast on TNT but also ones that were previously broadcast on Fox; a step back. Only 10 races will be on Fox in 2015 in lieu of 13 in 2014.
During the NBC half of the season 13 of their 20 races will be broadcast on their cable channel NBC Sports Net. This includes most of the summer races. This is the bright spot in the new contract as there will be seven races on NBC in 2015 compared to only three on ABC in 2014.
Don’t get me wrong, it is great that NASCAR is even on TV, but it just seems that a great product is being wasted by putting it on cable TV. If you’re a NASCAR fan in the Midwest or West that doesn’t have cable TV or satellite, the only way you will be able to stay engaged after May, is an AP piece in the paper on Monday morning.
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Feature Photo Credit: 303102 Patrick Smith/Getty Images