After NASCAR’s mega deals with NBC and FOX end in 2023, with ratings still dropping year after year, the series will probably need to look beyond just a new race format – they’ll need to look at a new way to watch it. The planning should start now…
One of the reasons I decided to write about motorsports, in particular NASCAR, was I saw the potential in a resurgence in the series. I can see an opening, an opportunity to really bring “major-league” racing to an exciting place (again). That doesn’t necessarily mean it will get bigger, I just think it has the potential to get better.
I also wanted to get involved because it appears most journalists who have in-depth coverage of the sport are paid by the series – filtered somewhat I imagine by the push from executives to keep people moving in the direction they want (which is most likely the same pressure those executives are getting from TV executives looking to get their hands into the sport to “fix it” as they see ratings slip).
To help “fix” the sport however, the series needs outsiders, pundits not dependent on a paycheck with NASCAR in the name to push and report the sport.
It’s never good to start the year with a Washington Post headline that reads Daytona 500 overnight TV ratings likely the worst in race’s history. It reports that the ratings were “…down 22 percent from the overnight rating scored [in] 2017… down 16 percent from 2016 and down 30 percent from 2015.”
The Daytona 500 actually had the same viewership level as the NBA All-Star Game… that’s right. The NBA All-Star game, an exhibition event that means nothing to the players, performed at the same TV rating as the biggest race in American motorsports (let’s see how the Indy 500 fares in May).
With that being said, and the races following “the 500” showing the same decline in viewership, there’s no question we need to look into not only the future of NASCAR as a sport, but how we will view it. Here’s my thoughts:
- Small TV Deal: The races will most likely not air on major network channels like NBC or FOX anymore, but go entirely to their subsidiary sports channels – NBCSN and FS1, a place where they already put a majority of the series – talk shows, practice, qualifying, and some races. If it’s picked up by another network, the series would go to someone like CBS Sports, who is experimenting with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. Regardless, a network will still find NASCAR desirable after 2023, most likely because live TV is the only thing keeping people on cable – especially live sports. So NASCAR will be on TV as long as there is cable, but in a much smaller capacity with limited viewing potential.
- FREE Streaming: There’s no question there is “cord cutting” going on. People aren’t watching cable TV as much anymore, and NASCAR needs to catch the wave. They should try to find flexibility in their future TV deal that offers race coverage for free streaming online. The revenue can be made up in advertising banners and commercial breaks. The cable network will know that Baby-Boomers and some Gen-X’ers will be mainly the only ones on cable TV by then, and they really shouldn’t care if they share it on Facebook Live, YouTube, or anywhere else online. The couch and the big screen TV have it’s place, but the medium needs to be spread across several channels to open up to different, typically younger viewers who want to multi-task more and engage with an online community/live chat at the same time (as seen in the screenshot below).
- All Access Content: This one is an extension of the free streaming on social media channels and other online outlets involving a deeper community engagement. Services like Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter… we need INDEPENDENT journalists/content creators that are continuously creating behind the scenes content throughout the race weekend for people to experience – whether in the garage, at the hotel bar, or out to dinner where drivers, influencers, and industry people are, to grab soundbites, impromptu interviews… we need to take the fan into the whole experience of life on the road and build momentum towards tuning in on race day. These drivers, series people, may not want this kind of access, but it should be a part of their job – it’ll help with sponsorship and building their own brand equity. If they need to focus and be private? Stay inside the garage, hauler, or motor coach.
- Event-Focused Races: They’re already doing this by experimenting with live concerts pre-race, or an MMA fight post-race at the track… they should treat the bigger race tracks as a festival event that draw crowds in for multiple forms of entertainment. It’s hard to get 100,000+ people anywhere these days, let alone a race that’s four hours long. They need to make the weekends, especially at the super-speedways, and even at mile-and-a-half’s more dynamic and eventful throughout the weekend. Make it a must see experience every weekend.
- Smaller, Intimate Racetracks: This one is the most obvious when it comes to watching in person and even on TV. Let’s face it; the future isn’t at 2.5 mile super-speedways. If there’s anything dirt track racing has taught us in the last few years with its resurgence is it’s taking away NASCAR fans, or new, young race fans who never were interested in NASCAR to begin with. Why were they never interested in NASCAR? “Because, it’s boring” would be the most common response, I’d imagine. This topic behooves me the most, as NASCAR has been asked repeatedly by its fans to focus on smaller race tracks and go to places like Iowa Speedway, or re-open Rockingham or North Wilkesboro Speedway. Is NASCAR too good for moving into more short track racing? If so, that will spell the end for a series that needs to re-adjust into a business model suited for the future generation. Tons of action, loaded with stimulation is a necessity. They’d also look a lot better with smaller grandstands packed than with thousands of empty ones for everyone to see. What’s the profit margin in that game?