The Daytona 500 is in the history books. Whether it was a great race or not is debatable. However, that is not in question is the quintessential finish that Brian France and Co. were eyeing from above.
In a world where technology is taking over and television is becoming an infrequent visit, ratings for most major sports have decreased over the past few years. Part of it is the ADD generation that just simply can’t focus on one concept for more than a few minutes. But the major issue at hand is all of the technology available for people to use given that they understand how to use it.
As television stations adjust to the increasingly difficult market, they have created online streaming systems, such as FOX Sports Go and NBC Live Extra. The two, which have been used for NASCAR races since last season, have created a wave of change in the industry, impacting ratings left and right.
As we continue to witness changes with the technology in NASCAR, we have also seen a generation shift from the men and women behind the wheel of the racecars.
Rookie Chase Elliott is just one of several drivers who have begun to make a name for themselves in NASCAR. The son of former Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott is not only Jeff Gordon’s replacement, but he also carries the pressure of being the next driver to lead a new generation of the Hendrick Motorsports dynasty. As seen in the Daytona 500, pressure can escalate rapidly, putting unforeseen weight on a driver’s shoulders in the early stages of a career that could be legend … wait for it … ary.
Q: Why were ratings for the Daytona 500 down after a seemingly perfect Speedweeks?
A: NASCAR’s season-opener historically has the highest ratings out of any race throughout the year. Starting off the year with a 6.14 overnight rating, according to ShowBuzzDaily, is not what anyone anticipated.
Down from a 7.3 overnight rating in 2015, creating a double-digit drop, is a sign for NASCAR to raise its eyebrows. It was expected that this year’s Daytona 500 would be a major hit for fans. FOX promoted the event in a thorough fashion weeks before the race, attempting to reach a fan base that it never had before. So where did things go wrong?
Let’s start with this awful commercial. The stereotypes of NASCAR fans being poor, uneducated, drunk rednecks came into full effect. It wasn’t that the commercial wasn’t good for NASCAR, but it just wasn’t the right way to advertise the biggest race of the year. Imagine if FOX promoted the World Series in the same way? Yeah, people would just laugh. That’s what happened with this commercial, failing to help NASCAR’s image, which France has sought to correct, battling against the fine line of being politically correct in the ever-changing sports world and ridding NASCAR of the stereotypes associated with it.
Along with a faulty advertising campaign, another mistake was made, one that has occurred for multiple years: putting the Can-Am Duels on FOX Sports 1, rather than FOX. The ratings for the Sprint Unlimted on FOX were, too, miserable, receiving a final rating of 1.57, according to Sports Media Watch. However, the race did create solid flow of NASCAR coverage, making fans aware that it would continue over to the next week.
But besides this, NASCAR is also competing with other major sports. On Sunday, ABC had a major NBA game being televised, featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant. Though the game started approximately two hours after the Daytona 500 took the green flag, it certainly could have made fans wary of the match-up change the channel, hoping to see something different than cars going around in ovals just past the halfway point. That game had a 2.75 rating. Once again, ADD.
Additionally, there was a college basketball game on CBS that had a 1 p.m. tip-off, which had a 1.38 rating. Oh, and there was a PGA tournament, which had a 2.77 rating.
As NASCAR looks to find different ways to fight the ratings battle against other sports, the implementation of online streaming has also helped the decline in ratings. NBC and FOX do not release data on a weekly basis for how many people log into their streams. However, with the generation shift occurring rapidly, it is expected that at least several thousand people tuned into each of the races during Speedweeks using the online service, especially for those who do not have FOX Sports 1.
Those ratings do not count when the numbers come in, unfortunately. It’s something that needs to be changed. With Sprint’s involvement as NASCAR’s title sponsor coming to a conclusion, the ratings for the online streams need to be publicly available. Obviously, if a company asks for it, NASCAR will get them from NBC and FOX. However, that is not transparent.
It is possible that the ratings could be parallel with last year’s Daytona 500 if you include the users on FOX Sports Go. Instead, it makes the sport look like it is dying when in reality, it is not.
Oh, and don’t forget the people that use illegal streams to watch sporting events, too. There’s definitely plenty of people doing that whether the television companies admit to it or not.
Let’s not forget that Jeff Gordon was not in this year’s Daytona 500. Sure, people may have been tuning in for a few minutes to see what it was like without the star driver on track. But let’s face it, a lot of older, more traditional fans that don’t want to root for anyone other than the Rainbow Warrior will certainly not be tuning into a full race anytime soon.
Along with Gordon, Tony Stewart missing the Daytona 500 was another blow to the ratings. One of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, Stewart brings an influx of fans, and not having him on the racetrack certainly made some of his fans not even dare turn the television on.
Q: Chase Elliott’s wreck in the Daytona 500 was shocking to some. What do you believe his season will be like? Is he overrated?
A: Well, obviously, one race does not dictate a whole season. I still believe it is too early to determine what Elliott’s rookie experience will be like.
However, predicted to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brian Scott, the pressure is really on. He has also faced pressure in some way, shape or fashion, growing up as the son of Awesome Bill Elliott while rising through the Late Model rankings. By the way, he was astonishing in Late Models, winning the 2011 and 2015 Snowball Derby – the largest Late Model Racing – along with the 2013 All-American 400.
But this is different. This is replacing a four-time champion, arguably the man who brought NASCAR into the modern era and the spotlight.
It’s a lot to take in for a 20-year-old. I’m 20 and I couldn’t even imagine doing half of what Elliott is experiencing.
Taking a similar route to the Cup Series like Brad Keselowski, it should be expected that Elliott will struggle a bit. Keselowski ran a few races for Hendrick in 2008 before competing in nearly half of the 2009 season with HMS and Phoenix Racing. Besides his unexpected victory at Talladega, his season was a mixture of outstanding runs at Darlington and Loudon, a few top 15s and a handful of sour races with his new ride at Team Penske. He turned out just fine.
That is what I see happening with Elliott. He is going to have some tough luck in 2016. He already has. He was too aggressive during the biggest race of his life to this point – his first Daytona 500. After coming out on top in qualifying, giving HMS back-to-back pole awards in the Great American Race, he appeared rather emotionless, a habit all too familiar with young drivers receiving education behind the wheel and with public relations coordinators.
When it came to the race, coming off turn 4, Elliott got himself into a sticky situation, as did teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. later in the event. But going three-wide in the middle lane on a slick racetrack early in the going was not ideal. As seen time and time again, the Daytona 500 chews up rookies and spits them out. Just ask Kyle Larson. His Daytona 500 experience was certainly not indicative of his rookie season.
However, Elliott is not living in the moment. He is under so much pressure that he cannot enjoy his experiences. Having a brief, wry smile during his post-qualifying interview with FOX on live television, one can sense he was tense. He was doing what he was told – trying to say the politically correct thing, rather than show his raw emotions that this 20-year-old just became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR’s biggest race.
This wheel man is undoubtedly the real deal. He is going to win at least one championship within the next decade – if not more. Additionally, the pressure is on as his peers at Hendrick Motorsports are aging. Kasey Kahne is the second youngest member within the team’s stable, and he turns 37 in April. Jimmie Johnson turns 41 in September, and Earnhardt will turn 42 in October.
Clearly, Elliott is the future leader of HMS. Time will tell who else will fill out the team’s roster once Earnhardt and Johnson call it quits, which will likely not be until at least 2020 at minimum. The team doesn’t have many young prospects – for now, at least – besides a slight chance it’ll hire Cole Custer down the road if for some strange reason he doesn’t go to the Cup level with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Hendrick has essentially invested its entire future in Elliott, a superstar in the making. He will be a star in NASCAR. Why? Because he doesn’t have a choice other than to be just that.