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Pedley: NASCAR Has An iProblem

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 11 2010

The TV numbers for racing continue to plummet even though the product is as solid as ever. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

There are certain drivers to whom you absolutely must listen when they speak about racing. Jeff Burton is the all-timer in that area. But Greg Biffle never fails to educate when he talks.

Last week, Biffle was asked about sinking TV ratings for NASCAR and he tossed a new – and I think extremely reasonable – explanation into the pool of reasons.

Technology in communication.

“I haven’t been able to get all those stats,” Biffle said, “but one thing I do know and feel is that there are so many other ways today (to get information),” he said. “And I think we’re going to continue to fight with this TV rating (decline) until we have a way to measure another way of finding out how people keep up with the race.

“You can get it on your computer, you can get it on your phone, and everybody is tweeting lap-by-lap, so today you don’t have to sit in front of the TV, you don’t have to watch it to still be an avid NASCAR fan and be involved with the sport and who is doing what and who is running where. There are a lot of different avenues and I think that has a lot to do with it because I still see as many people as ever that are excited about or sport, that are paying attention and watching it, and there are still a lot of people in the grandstands, but I don’t know why the TV ratings are where they need to be.”

Great points. And points which ring true.

Back in the mid-1980s I was sports editor at a daily newspaper. The times they were a changin’ in the sports reporting business. Virtually all games important to readers were then beginning to be shown live on television.

Afterward, there were post-race shows on television and radio. Long, detailed ones.

ESPN had its feet under it and had people and cameras everywhere. It was cable casting virtually 24 hours a day.

For afternoon games, like in the NFL, local news showed highlights and gave stats for the local teams at 6 p.m. Then again at 10 p.m.

By the time newspapers were flopped down onto porches at 6 a.m., traditional information transmitted by ink was old news. Stale news: Electricity travels at 186,000 miles per second.

Newspapers took a long time to grasp all of that. They continued to publish cliche-ridden “gamers” which were little more than regurgitated box scores with a couple quotes. The gamers were virtually formulaic, putting scores and attendance in the second (“in front of a crowd of 66,000, the Hamsters beat…). That is, they published things readers had known by the time they went to bed.

And the decline of daily newspaper sports sections began.

Now, it is television under assault by new media. That is, the so-called social media and hand-held devices which allow users access to information any time and, virtually, any where.

Smartphone users can sit in the grandstands at a football stadium and keep up with racing action at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

They can sit on a beach and get enough information on Cup races to make them happy and tan all at the same time.

Good skiers can hit the double blacks and find out what driver is winning at Homestead at the same time.

It’s not only that they can, they are.

Moving and collecting bits of information is more preferable to some – many millions, actually – these days than is planting the butt in a grandstand seat or comfy living room chair and absorbing massive information from live action or television.

It’s certainly cheaper.

Yes, sure, of course it’s shame. Of course it’s dangerous as it is not just information about fun and games which is being gathered and parsed in teeny, tiny bits. People are forming opinions – and taking action – by doing little more than blindly feeling the the elephant’s tail.

And to some – mostly old-schoolers – of course it leads to a stripping away of the beauty that only the real thing can possess.

But it sure is easy. And, kind of fun.

So now it is television’s turn to either adapt or go the route of books, telegraph keys and daily newspapers – the route of irrelevancy.

And the future of NASCAR will depend on how it and television responds.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 11 2010
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Terry says:

    Jim,
    Biff is right…and yes Jeff B is well worth listening to.I wish they did more interviews with guy’s like him and Bill Elliott.
    Old school fans would wait a week for Wide World of Sports to show a replay……even longer before then ” as I mentioned seeing the old theater Movietone of a sports car race in Nassau 1954 ” on TCM..
    THESE ARE TRUE RACE FANS…… neoNASCAR fans are use to QUICK flash media. That is why it is hard to sell baseball these day’s. They are now wanting shorter races…..it is what it is.
    We will all go the way of the KANSAS CITY STAR…some day…
    Terry

  • Jim says:

    Well, well, well. Talk about having ones head in the clouds! Sounds like someone or alot of people need to pull their head out of the sand and open their ears! Why former fans no longer care, here it comes, WWE Na$car SHOW, not RACING, Spec series, Top 35 crap, maybe another 2000 or 3000 more rules, absolute stupidity enforcing the rules the have, the disaster know as THE CHASE, the super secret speech police,=== I’m out of breath. Think I’ll save the rest for the nest rant.

  • Steve says:

    Let’s add something else to this. Nascar spent and is spending many years catering to the casual Nascar fan. You know, the ones sitting at the beach only wanting updates on the race using their phone? If Nascar didn’t spend all their time catering to these people and spent more time catering to their core fan base, they might see more butts in seats. Diehard Nascar fans are not going to the beach on race day, I can assure you that.

  • Peter says:

    Honestly, I believe it has gotten to the point that ESPN coverage is below par, with basically the same focus each week, with a small amount of changes. Of course it’s a different track, but fans (at least like me) want to be kept in the know on as many drivers as possible, to keep us on our toes. Sure, with ESPN we are kept in the know, on 4 drivers. You can cater to the large amount of fans, that’s fine, but even they want to know what’s happening around their driver on the track and the only way to do so is to somehow expand the coverage. It is somewhat because of this that I now spend my Sundays using raceview, which not only allows me to keep up with my driver specifically, but allows me to see how he is running to those around him. Raceview also does a fairly decent job of keeping up with other drivers with their ticker. Yes it’s a hefty price, but guess what? I don’t have cable nor satellite. In comparison, I’d be paying about 360 dollars per year for just about 2 channels (ESPN and SPEED), but instead I pay 80 dollars or so for what I believe is better race coverage. Saves money, makes me happier.

    In short, both ESPN and FOX need to find a way to make their coverage uniquely important, find something that the other options do not have. This ultimately lies in the commentary and how it is brought to the people. Make it worth while to watch each week, not just the same ol’ song and dance.

  • joe says:

    So why is it that the Nationwide Series tv ratings are holding their own and the truck ratings are up?