For NASCAR, it has been a tough path to gain traction in the television ratings this season. For FOX Sports, the same path has led them to experience this season three of the lowest rated Cup races dating back to 2001. Texas, Fontana and Phoenix provided historically low ratings and according to Sports Media Watch, the 2017 Texas television ratings, “tied as the lowest in the 20-year history of the spring Texas race.” They also stated the Texas race “was still the second-smallest audience for the race since at least 2001.”
I’m not sure how an industry, reliant on funding from corporate sponsors, is able to sugar coat the fact they are experiencing historically low ratings and a loss of fans, and continue to obtain generous revenues. But they have and you have got to applaud them on their efforts to survive in a very competitive professional sports market.
As a race fan I’m happy to see NASCAR and industry insiders share how well the sport is doing, but let’s be honest, on the broadcast side of the business if NASCAR on FOX were a television show and not a sport, FOX would have cancelled the show or adjusted it to make the show better. Luckily for NASCAR and insiders it is a sport and the blame for the low ratings has been easily swept under a rug found at the doorstep of the sport’s headquarters in Daytona Beach.
Looking in the rear-view mirror, ESPN pulled the plug on NASCAR in 2013 and decided not to bid against FOX and NBC to broadcast the races because according to reports, ESPN “had soured on the sport because of declining TV ratings, an aging fan base and a tough ad sales market.” TNT also withdrew from NASCAR as reported due to “NASCAR races weren’t worth the investment.”
Obviously FOX and NBC believes NASCAR is worth the investment or we would be hearing about renegotiated deals – don’t forget NBC paid big dollars to bring the sport to NBCSN and I’m sure if NBC was losing money we would begin to see programming changes. And since NBCSN is still somewhat new to the partnership, my focus is on the future of NASCAR’s relationship with FOX Sports.
The ratings decline is ugly and one must question if the responsibility for the decline should be placed solely on NASCAR’s shoulders. If their relationship with FOX Sports is truly a partnership, isn’t FOX to blame too?
One common theme we’ve heard since the introduction of Monster Energy to NASCAR is the sport wants to attract a younger audience. This isn’t a new argument…as mentioned earlier ESPN said they left due to “an aging fan base.” And if we jump to last week, a writer for the Bristol Herald Courier suggested Darrell Waltrip should retire because, “he projects a grandfatherly and overly positive approach for a sport sponsored by an energy drink maker that promotes an “edgy” lifestyle.”
The chorus from those wanting to weed out the old guard is getting louder. I’m not sure dividing the sport based on age is a smart approach especially since Monster could be gone in less than two years and NASCAR could be left holding a failed plan to dump old fans for younger ones. It does confirm my previous opinion that NASCAR and Monster want traditional fans gone. And I will add if it’s truly about millennials and their wants – NASCAR will need to do a lot more than kicking old Darrell Waltrip to the curb. They will need to overhaul the sport, the race, in a big way.
Beyond the race, NASCAR has put their trust in FOX to present the sport in a way that’s entertaining. But the facts are the facts – the decline in ratings is happening on FOX’s watch. I am not placing the blame totally on FOX. They are just as responsible as NASCAR and the drivers. And if you look at sacrifices made, NASCAR has truly taken it on the chin with each change they make. What sacrifice has FOX made? I’m sorry – removing Larry McReynolds for Jeff Gordon didn’t move the needle. If we want to be honest with ourselves Darrell Waltrip has been the face of NASCAR on FOX. He’s been the top dog since FOX partnered with NASCAR and many sit in their current roles at FOX because of Darrell. With the exception of Jeff Gordon, FOX’s main race day personalities have been the same for years and with great sadness, because I am a fan of FOX and Darrell, I admit it is time for a change.
I am not prepared to go push an age agenda as the writer did from the Bristol Herald Courier – but I will admit FOX has nothing to lose by moving Darrell Waltrip out of the booth. The ratings almost demand it. Darrell has earned his position at FOX and he may be better served operating in a secondary role – like sitting next to Chris Myers.
Would FOX consider replacing Darrell with Carl Edwards?
Carl is available and has worked with FOX before. He is really good in front of the camera and I believe he would mix it up with his opinions. FOX needs someone who will be edgy – who will not be afraid to dish out opinions, like when Darrell and his booth mates challenged drivers like Tony Stewart several years ago. I miss the battle of opinions during the event. It’s not done anymore – and this aspect of the broadcast is missing.
If FOX wants to pass the torch to Jeff Gordon, now is the time to do it. As Darrell had the opportunity to surround himself with his racing friends, Jeff should be given the same opportunity. He may not want to work with Carl, but plenty of talent is currently on the bench waiting to be called.
FOX must begin to look at the future and try to assist NASCAR in reversing the continuous decline in the ratings. I found this interesting – a FS1 commercial for the Xfinity Series Bristol race (this weekend’s race) used Rick Allen’s voice…yes, NBCSN’s Rick Allen, who left FOX at the end of 2013. Does FOX not have someone who called an exciting finish of a race after Rick left the network? Not a good moment for FOX.
The fans have been asked to weather the storm of changes in NASCAR, while some in the sport have sat comfortably in their seats without the need to make any sacrifices. It’s time for NASCAR on FOX to share ownership of the ratings situation.
It’s time for fresh voices to mix it up and entertain us again.
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