Time For NASCAR To Give Up The Good Fight Against The NFL – Forbes
Charlotte Motor Speedway announced in April that it was moving its October NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, with its news release noting that the switch would foster “on-track competition and a schedule-friendly weekend format for families.”
Jimmie Johnson was quoted in the release as saying, “A day race will allow us to run so many more lanes and, I think, create such an entertaining and compelling race. … I’m really excited for a hot, slick, day race.”
So, naturally, when race day came last Sunday, the start of the race had to be moved up an hour because of … a threat of rain. Martin Truex Jr., the points leader, powered to his sixth victory of the season in a Toyota, a manufacturer that is dominating the series.
The race was not hot or slick, literally or figuratively.
It was easy to see that the seats in the grandstand at Charlotte ― in the very heart of stock-car country! ― had multicolored backs because most of them were empty of either families or single people. It was of no help that the Carolina Panthers, the pretty good local NFL team, happened to be playing at the same time, in Detroit.
The TV numbers came rolling in later in the week, and they were grim. Despite being aired on broadcast TV, the race drew 2.9 million viewers on NBC, according to ShowBuzz Daily. Sports Media Watch said it was the lowest-rated Cup Series race on broadcast television since at least 2000 and the least-watched since at least 2001.
And there are still six races left in the season. You really wonder if anybody will be watching the “championship” race Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, either in the stands or on the couch at home. All six races, incidentally, are on Sunday afternoons: NFL time.
It has become obvious that NASCAR can’t compete with the NFL ― football games carried on CBS and Fox at the same time as the Charlotte race drew a combined 25.5 million viewers ― so why is NASCAR even trying? Fans have tuned out.
The 2017 NASCAR season would be so much better if it were over by now. A Labor Day weekend finale at Darlington Raceway, a track with a lot of history, would have been perfect. A 30-race season, or dare we even say a 24-race season, might hold people’s attention longer.
This first-year “playoff” format is a ruse, just as the old Chase was ― a gimmick to extend the suspense of a season. “Playoff” races are still held with full fields, so they don’t look any different than non-“playoff” races, except that “playoff” drivers are competing with one another.
(If NASCAR really wanted to do it right, there would be one preliminary race each weekend featuring just cars eliminated from “playoff” contention and then another race with just the “playoff” cars. But sponsors of the non-“playoff” cars would probably not like that.)
NASCAR is not the ratings or box-office smash it was. It is no stretch to say stock-car racing won’t be the boffo hit it was before the recession. It has become a prohibitively costly show to put on ― so having fewer shows might actually be better.
Truex’s team, Furniture Row Racing, announced this week that it would not field a second car in 2018, saying it could not land a sponsor. That is a blow to drivers still looking for a seat for next season, including Danica Patrick, the most famous woman in the sport.
The NFL’s ratings are dwindling, too, and NASCAR, a bastion of patriotism, is not entangled in a national-anthem controversy as the NFL is. To move all fall races to Saturday nights would also be problematic since that happens to be college football time. And not all NASCAR fans are NFL fans, and vice versa. But enough of them clearly are. So maybe there should be no fall races.
But NASCAR plugs on, and these sad autumn shows are contracted to run on TV until, gulp, 2024. Maybe some adjustments could be made because at this rate, there might not be any cars left for fans to, well, not show up to watch.