Frontstretch Staff · Wednesday January 9, 2013
Welcome to “Mirror Driving.” Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!
This Week’s Participants:
Amy Henderson (Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)
Toni Montgomery (Frontstretch IndyCar Managing Editor)
Beth Lunkenheimer (Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor / NASCAR Truck Series Insider)
Phil Allaway (Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)
Summer Bedgood (Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)
Matt Stallknecht (Frontstretch NASCAR & IndyCar Contributor)
Mike Neff (Mondays / Thinkin’ Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)
With 2013 on the horizon, what was the biggest issue in NASCAR that has, thus far, gone unresolved?
Matt S.: Aero push.
Mike N.: Aero dependency.
Amy: Aero dependency and late season ratings.
Summer: The way these cars race (even with the new ones coming). No one likes them. Not the drivers, not the crews, not the fans.
Phil: True. Perhaps the new car will help that a little, but I’m a little skeptical.
Summer: I don’t think it will, Phil, because that’s not what it’s for. It’s there for corporate reasons.
Amy: We’ll see if the new bodies help the aero at all. I don’t think you’ll see a huge difference.
Summer: Ratings are going to come up when the product improves. So essentially, they are one and the same.
Amy: Ratings dropped like a stone in the Chase which indicates to me that the fans don’t want that format.
Mike N.: Here’s a little look at the 800-pound gorilla that no one in NASCAR wants to face. The NFL is bigger and better, period. You are going to lose ratings late in the season because the NFL draws more.
Summer: I don’t recall them dropping dramatically until the economy went to crap.
Amy: The title race in other series without the format was closer, and fans didn’t feel faked out.
Summer: And the ratings were so much higher in those races, right Amy? Didn’t think so.
Matt S.: Ratings progressively went up during the 2011 Chase Amy. The Chase is not the problem.
Amy: They went up because it was close. But when almost 80% of fans repeatedly say they want to get rid of this playoff system, it’s clear that it is part of the problem.
Summer: NASCAR might change the Chase because of public pressure, but I don’t think it has anything to do with ratings. If the racing is good enough, people will tune in.
Mike N.: The problem is the NFL, people. NASCAR cannot compete against them. No one can. Run the races, take what you get and move on.
Summer: What NASCAR needs to fix is the individual product. Many of the people who tune in on Sundays (or whenever) aren’t watching for the championship. Casual viewers tune in for the individual races. They need to fix the product for them to stay interested.
Toni: It’s not just the Chase. I know people that used to be loyal race fans that still watch, but not nearly as much or with as much dedication and when football season kicks in, they are off watching football. That’s not the choice they used to make. But it’s not only the Chase driving them that way. It’s an overall malaise with racing. Malaise… your 10 cent word for the day…
Matt S.: Ratings were at all-time highs in 2005 and 2006, and guess what? The Chase was alive and well in those seasons. It’s the cars and the economy. Seriously.
Summer: Right. Those fans who hate the Chase still tune in every week, Amy. I don’t think it really has much to do with ratings.
Phil: The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series don’t appear to have substantial rating drops late in the season like Sprint Cup does. They just hold steady. Maybe it’s just the fact that those series don’t race on Sundays.
Mike N.: The other thing someone needs to figure out is how they calculate ratings. Because there is no way in hell that Kansas should have better ratings than Martinsville, ever. I don’t know how they count people but something is inherently wrong.
Summer: I think that the Nationwide and Truck Series stayed the same because only the diehards really tuned into those races anyway. Not many casual fans watch those series.
Toni: Summer is right about Nationwide and Trucks. They always had a smaller audience of mostly diehards, anyway.
Matt S.: Ratings are also cyclical and hard to predict. Fix the on-track product and I guarantee the ratings would stabilize again.
Summer Bedgood: I think that’s a good point, Matt. NASCAR has gone through peaks and valleys in terms of interest. I think a lot of this mess is more of just a fallout from the popularity gain in the early 2000s.
Phil: I could buy that, Summer. However, we’re starting to get to the point where the ratings are falling below what they were in 1999.
Summer: Well that’s why I said “part,” Phil. I also think that the economy contributed and some casuals just stopped caring.
Toni: Cup had a larger audience, not all of whom were diehards, and many of whom don’t have the same level of interest as they used to.
Amy: I agree the racing needs to be better. And so do the broadcasts. Why should Joe Fan tune in if he’s never going to see his favorite driver, or if he’s going to have the points shoved down his throat for half the race starting in May?
Summer: Amy, Joe Fan will still tune in to support his favorite driver. If the coverage sucks, it won’t be the diehards who tune out. Again, the people who bitch don’t have anything to do with the ratings loss. It’s those who just change the channel to something better.
Amy: It depends on who Joe Fan’s driver is. I did a column on that, and lots of people said they do tune out because they never see their favorites.
Summer: I can’t imagine that being anything other than a small, vocal percentage Amy. And they still tune in but turn off the TV later because they already know the outcome.
Matt S.: Well, if you make racing on the 1.5-milers exciting like it was back in the late ’90s and early 2000s (go watch the 2001 Spring Atlanta race if you don’t believe me) the ratings will take care of themselves. Superspeedway and Short track races will always be at least somewhat exciting. We need to focus on fixing the damn 1.5-mile tracks.
Phil: Also, some casual fans don’t particularly like all the championship focus, either. They believe that individual races are more important.
Mike N.: Hey, if the economy was part of it, wouldn’t you think ratings would go up because fans can’t afford to go to races?
Summer: Mike, not necessarily. What about people who got rid of cable? I just don’t see it as coincidence that ratings dropped at the same rate as the economy.
Mike N.: What race fan doesn’t have cable these days? Then again, what human doesn’t have cable or satellite these days?
Phil: A lot of younger people are ditching cable/satellite in favor of Netflix, Hulu and stuff like that. Can’t watch the races if you don’t have a pay TV service (OK, you can for 17 of the 36 events).
Toni: What about the fact that a lot of the drivers who were most popular during the boom of the late ’90s and early 2000s have retired? Maybe Joe Fan’s driver isn’t even out there anymore. And none of the newer ones caught their interest.
Summer: Or who just plain suck now, Toni.
Matt S.: Another thing that has been lost in the past ten years (and this was something going away before the Chase was born) is a lack of hype and media attention to the non-Daytona 500 crown jewel events. NASCAR needs to do something (return of the Winston Million) to spice up the Brickyard 400/Coke 600/Southern 500/Spring ‘Dega Race.
Amy: Good points. Also, in the 1990s, the way the sport was run and marketed, you really felt like you knew the drivers. I don’t get that sense anymore, and so perhaps fans haven’t found anyone to replace their old favorites.
Summer: I think Twitter helps with that.
Amy: To some degree, Summer, but the fans still say certain drivers have no personality, despite the obvious one some show on Twitter.
Summer: I know that. Even still, a minority of people tuning in actually have and are active on Twitter (which is another problem with NASCAR — their median age). Social media helps them connect.
Toni: But a good number of the folks I am thinking of are not Twitter users. And losing those folks means they are not passing the sport on to younger family members…
Mike N.: I don’t think it’s true that we don’t know the drivers. Race Hub and other behind the scenes kind of shows offer us more of a peek into drivers’ lives than we ever used to have.
Matt S.: I think the fans who say these guys lack personality are just bitter that most drivers aren’t Southern good ol’ boys like all the drivers were in the ’80s and ’90s.
We hear all the time about NASCAR losing fans, but what’s the best way for them to attract new ones who will stay with the sport for a long time, particularly within the under-30 demographic?
Beth: Simple… make the product and the way it’s presented on TV more exciting.
Matt S.: Exactly!
Summer: Yep, it’s that simple Beth.
Amy: I think you have to change the way the sport is marketed and packaged. The under-30 crowd doesn’t have the attention span of the older crowd, for one thing.
Mike N.: For those people who read Mirror frequently, you know how much this pains me to say. Heat races to qualify into the main event and then shorter main events… three 50-lap heat races. A 50-lap Consolation Race and then a 300-lap feature.
Mike N.: That was before 90% of the population under 30 was on Ritalin and Adderall, Matt.
Matt S.: Um, 500-mile races worked for years and years. No reason why they still shouldn’t work today.
Summer: Mike, I honestly think you are right. I hate it, but the length of the races is a huge part of that.
Beth: But the length of the race is only a problem because the drivers are too worried about the damn Chase.
Toni: NASCAR is actually in the same boat on this one as other motorsports and the automotive hobbyists — there are rumbles in all those circles that cars are not of interest to younger people. They are simply utilitarian devices. Without that passion for the automobile, it’s hard to sell racing.
Mike N.: Part of the reason people aren’t into cars like they used to be is that they can’t work on their own anymore. You have to be a certified technician to work on a typical car these days.
Beth: You’ve got a point there, Mike. I do miss my old Buick where I was able to work on it (with a little help and some trying and re-trying) but I can’t do a thing other than maybe change the oil on our F-150.
Phil: It’s still very tough. We’re talking about reaching an audience that may not even care about cars at all. Not just racing, but vehicles in general.
Toni: Gadgets and devices are what interest younger generations today.
Summer: The under-30 demographic is around with Twitter and social networking. The faster the better.
Phil: To a point, NASCAR has tried to get involved with devices with stuff like Sprint Cup Mobile and FanVision. However, that’s not cheap.
Summer: And some young people just don’t care.
Amy: This is the video game generation we’re talking about. There’s a new level every five minutes, and we’re talking three hours of one event.
Phil: Keselowski pitched the idea of grid girls a while back. Its been a part of racing overseas for decades.
Summer: I think it’s a stupid way to get young people to watch, but I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.
Matt S.: Most kids these days still think NASCAR is a redneck, Southern sport. The more NASCAR can do to distance themselves from that stereotype, the more success you will have with the under-30 demo.
Beth: That’s a pretty big problem too, Matt. I can’t tell you how many people that find out I write about NASCAR say to me, “Isn’t that a redneck sport?” And it’s so far from it.
Summer: Matt, then the diehards b*tch because NASCAR is “getting away from their roots.” I’m not saying I disagree with you, but they’ll wind up alienating their base if they do that.
Beth: If the drivers were actually racing hard, like they used to, it’d be more entertaining.
Summer: You can attract the younger generation by perhaps adding grid girls or something stupid like that. But otherwise, it’s hard to make them care long enough to watch.
Phil: NASCAR has done a pretty good job with social networking, I’ll admit. However, I don’t think the sanctioning body actually suggested that everyone participate.
Amy: I also think that a lot of fans became fans because their parents and grandparents were… and NASCAR drove away a lot of the “old school” fans in the last decade. And if they are no longer watching, their kids aren’t getting indoctrinated the way they did.
Summer: Yeah, but I don’t know that that’s just as much of a product as it is their drivers retiring and them being resistant to change. In other words, sometimes people aren’t “lifelong” fans. They quit watching after a few decades.
Matt S.: I agree completely with some of these points. But if you want the under-30 demo to take notice, regardless of if their parents do they themselves have to take the sport seriously. The simple fact is that 80% of that demo does not.
Phil: There are some families that are still introducing kids to racing. Not that many. Still see some kids at the local short track. However, I think the average age in the crowd is closer to 50, though.
Summer: I hate making this point, but I think another reason NASCAR isn’t as popular with young people is the lack of risk. The cars are so safe now that it just isn’t there. This is as opposed to the X Games. I hate that it takes the risk of death to get people to tune in but that’s the way it is.
Mike N.: I’ve said that all along, Summer. I don’t want to see people hurt or killed but part of why I fell in love with racing was the fact that the drivers were cheating death every time out.
Phil: The lack of “death risk” also leads to crazy stuff like Gordon’s intentional wreck of Bowyer at Phoenix.
Amy: I think it’s more that an “X” Games event takes about one minute a competitor. That appeals to the ADD Generation.
Summer: Amy I think it’s both, honestly.
Beth: I don’t think it’s so much a short attention span as it is there’s just not great racing throughout the event. It used to be thrilling to watch the whole race. How do you think I got hooked?
Amy: That’s true, Beth, but a long race is never going to be a thrill a minute, even a great one.
Summer: I agree with Amy on this one, Beth. The endurance races especially will not be exciting from green to checkered.
Matt S.: I also blame ESPN for not giving NASCAR equal treatment to the other Major sports (NFL/NBA/MLB) on shows like SportsCenter, First Take, PTI, etc. If ESPN would treat the sport like the other ones and inundate people with it like they do the other stick and ball sports, I think the under-30 demo would eventually start to take it more seriously since they would see it being on equal footing with the other heavy hitters.
Summer: Matt, I think it goes both ways. If people genuinely cared they would show it more. But search “nascar” on Twitter when SportsCenter is talking about it and you’ll see more people talking about how it’s not a sport than enthusiasm for it being there.
Phil: I think a lot of people in sports really don’t get racing at all. ESPN has tried to help educate their personalities with mini-boot camps at races recently, but it hasn’t helped that much.
Matt S.: Brad K’s performance in the Chase ought to have provided all of the ESPN talk shows with plenty to talk about. Yet all NASCAR gets is a scarce mention every now and then on SportsCenter.
Phil: Matt’s right. NASCAR gets probably 94 percent of their weekly SportsCenter coverage right after the races on ESPN.
Matt S.: And that’s a major problem. NASCAR has to find a way to remedy that line of thinking among the mainstream sports community. I get tired of NASCAR being treated like a secondary niche sport when it’s fan base is equal to that of the NBA.
Beth: That’s going to be nearly impossible to do, Matt. So many people think driving in circles isn’t a sport.
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Connect with Mike!
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Connect with Phil!
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Connect with Summer!
Contact Summer Bedgood
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