Taking Stock

The off-season provides race teams with a chance to relax just a little, finish off “to do” list items from last year, and start making big plans for a successful 2003. That also coincides with what’s happening at the TV networks.

Looking ahead to 2003, Fox, FX, and SPEED are stepping up to the plate with exhaustive coverage not seen since the days of ESPN. Production meetings are already being held and NASCAR is getting heavy promotion on NFL on Fox coverage.

The Fox-owned networks will have more than 75 hours of programming over 10 days from Daytona, including over 50 hours of on-track action. Coverage will lead off at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, February 7 on SPEED and then go on all day, every day through the end of the Daytona 500 on February 16. One of the big changes this year will be the prime-time running of the Bud Shootout on February 8 on Fox.

“The Daytona 500 is known as ‘The Great American Race,’ but there’s so much more going on during SpeedWeeks and for the first time we’ll be able to show most of it to fans in America and around the world,” said David Hill, Chairman, Fox Sports Television Group. “We’re excited to have Fox Sports, SPEED Channel, FX and Fox Sports Net combine to nearly double our telecast hours. This is the type of comprehensive coverage of SpeedWeeks we had in mind when we began our relationship with NASCAR.”

Also looking ahead to next year, numerous reports say that FX is pitching a reality series to NASCAR on NASCAR. If the sanctioning body buys in, don’t expect anything close to “The Osbournes.” NASCAR is extremely selective when it comes to allowing television shows and movies, and it won’t have anything to do with a reality show that has potential to show the negative side of the sport. No Ricky Rudd black eyes, no divorces, no grueling hours away from the family, no driver feuds, no way, no how.

Another interesting story to continue to watch next year is the continuing tale of TNT carriage on cable and satellite systems. NASCAR fans have until July for things to get settled, so it will probably be resolved in most places by then. But the 7 million subscribers to the DISH Network may be without TNT on January 1 if Echostar chairman Charlie Ergen makes good on his threats. In usual Charlie fashion, Ergen is proclaiming doom and gloom if those evil networks get their rights fees increase. Let’s hope it’s just part of his normal posturing.

Speaking of fees to watch television, how in the world did an Internet-inspired rumor of NASCAR pay-per-view get started again? The only PPV option that NASCAR has or is even discussing is the in-car camera package that has two years remaining with iN DEMAND. NASCAR has four years left on the NBC/TNT contract and six years with Fox. There’s no way that pay-per-view for races is even being discussed among the NASCAR big shots. Let it go.

Looking back at last year, the TV executives held a season-ending love-fest in New York to coincide with the Winston Cup awards ceremony.

NBC’s Ken Schanzer said that the network had a “spectacular year” with NASCAR. He emphasized that the ratings were up 13% and that two consecutive years of increases marked the “first back-to-back increases for a major sport since 1994-96 with the NBA, and that was with Michael Jordan.” He also noted that seven of eight races that went head-to-head with the NFL drew a 4.0 rating or better and that Sunday’s pre-race show ranked second among Sunday pre-game shows.

Higher ratings means more business success, pointed out TNT’s Mark Lazarus, saying that 40 new sponsors came on board in 2002. He also praised NASCAR fans, saying, “When a three-hour race has a rain delay and turns it into a seven-hour event, we don’t lose our audience. July (the start of the NASCAR Winston Cup season for TNT) can’t come fast enough for us."

NASCAR also means bigger business at FX. Network president Peter Ligouri emphasized that FX has increased its overall viewership by 21 million homes since NASCAR was added in 2001 and the network is nearing 80 million homes. Liguori added, “NASCAR has had a major impact in growing our platform.” Those days of race fans complaining that they don’t get FX appear to be over and the strategy by the network to use NASCAR appears to have played out brilliantly.

Finally, congratulations are in order to two classy people who’ve done a pretty good job landing on their feet after some unsure times. Congratulations to former RPM 2Night coordinating producer Joe Baker, who is moving to ESPN’s golf and drag racing coverage. Also, a big congrats to new IRL VP of Public Relations John Griffin. It’s just one more sign that the series is making some smart decisions.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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