This was part of my editorial column from the 8-15 edition of the Penny Press (pennypressnv.com). Given what RBR-TVBR wrote about NASCAR, I thought your readers might be interested. This column came after a long conversation with my friend Doug Rice of the Performance Racing Network. Remember, I used to own the official radio station of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Every so often, I leave the writing of politics to people who have no life outside the beltway and consider that most quintessentially American sport there is…the running of the stock cars at Talladega and Bristol. NASCAR.
The sport, which is centered around big American engines and big American cars (plus Toyota), had a huge boom in the early 2000s, ironically after iconic driver Dale Earnhardt was killed near the end of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Today? Not so much.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, it still nets its associated businesses billions (with a B) of dollars and has millions of fans.
But these days, in America, if a business is not growing it is in decline.
NASCAR is in such decline that one of the best known brand names in television, ESPN, declined to bid on extending its high priced contract for televising the races past 2014 and into the breach stepped NBC.
Now ESPN (and ABC-TV which televised part of the schedule for ESPN owing to the common ownership by the Walt Disney Company) will undoubtedly survive the absence of the Chase for the Championship from their air. It has happened before and, frankly, many of the people who the late Benny Parsons introduced to NASCAR on both ESPN and ABC have joined Parsons in that great broadcast booth in the sky.
That’s a very nice way of saying what ESPN was thinking which is that NASCAR’s audience is getting older and dying off. And if you want to see the ultimate result of the failure of a great sport to replace its fans, go to the pari-mutuel horse racing track nearest you and see how many walkers and oxygen tanks there are in the Jockey Club.
Interestingly enough, much of society’s money is still spent by the walker and oxygen tank crowd, but most advertisers want to reach a younger demographic, making a bet on the inheritance as opposed to the longevity.
For NASCAR, which relies on advertising sponsorship for its teams as well as its broadcasts, that’s not good.
So, starting in 2015, with the price of TV admission being about $820-million a year, the players will be Fox and NBC which are making big bets they can bring down the average age of the fans by being hip and cool—just like ESPN did when they invented the X-games for that purpose.
What caused NASCAR’s decline?
Actually, the success of several owners who found out that you didn’t have to employ iconic and occasionally difficult to deal with superstars to win. You know, like the newly corporate Yankees would like to get out of A-Rod’s contract. (A lifetime ban would come with a multi-million dollar gift to the Yankees who wouldn’t have to pay out the contract of a guy near the end of his career, anyway.)
When the NASCAR owners made the discovery you could put a kid with no common sense or fear in a really good car and win, the Dale Earnhardt Jrs. and the Jeff Gordons and the Tony Stewarts were immediately at a disadvantage.
You see, these are all people with some common sense (well, you can question Stewart’s but he’s still among the living) who have no desire to strap themselves into a car and kill themselves. Unfortunately for the sport, that’s who today’s fans come to the races to see.
And then there’s Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson’s practically an automaton.
He just goes out and wins and does what the owners want him to do which is not to be Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip, two of the more difficult to deal with superstars from the past.
Unfortunately, while he has plenty of fans, he puts everyone else to sleep. He’s good. Very good. But not long term good for the sport.
Too much success which is hard to replicate, not enough superstars and a bad economy are a lethal combination.
Fox and NBC know how to sex something up. The question is what will they turn NASCAR into? And whenever they feel they have succeeded, will those of us in the walker and oxygen crowd who still try and make a date for Daytona or Talladega or Las Vegas be interested. Or dead?
–Fred Weinberg, principal, KELY-AM Ely, Nevada