Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A (Not So) Fond Farewell

NBC bid a fond farewell to the NASCAR community Sunday, with its broadcast of the “Ford 400” from Homestead-Miami Speedway. In truth, however, the network kissed NASCAR goodbye a long, long time ago.

Before I go further, a qualification. I have no complaint with the on-air product NBC delivered this season. Bill Weber, Benny Parsons and Wally Dallenbach, along with the pit road tandem of Allen Bestwick, Matt Yocum, Marty Snider and Steve Burns guided viewers through the complicated world of NASCAR Nextel Cup racing in expert fashion this season, and to them, I say, “Thank you.”

To their network, however, I say, “Thanks for nothing.”

After six years as one of NASCAR’s broadcast partners, NBC opted out of the bidding process for the next multi-year television contract a year ago, saying the price was too high. That’s their call to make, since they know better than anyone whether NASCAR racing has been a moneymaker for them, or not. Unfortunately, instead of exiting the sport with their heads held high, the powers-that-be at the Peacock Network elected to leave NASCAR on their hands and knees.

Rather than giving NASCAR Nextel Cup racing the vigorous promotion it deserves, NBC gave the sport the back of its collective hand this season. In stark contrast to years past, there were no “NASCAR on NBC” promotional announcements during prime time programming; no reminders that America’s fastest growing sport could be seen “right here on Sunday afternoon.” NASCAR was the best-kept secret in NBC’s lineup, to the point where in the last few months, viewers were far more likely to see Nextel Cup promotional announcements on ABC/ESPN (next year’s broadcast partners) than they were on NBC.

They also bailed out on Victory Lane ceremonies in two of the final three races, shuffling the winner's interview and post-race analysis to CNBC, where many viewers were unable to follow.

That’s a sad state of affairs, and one of which NBC should be ashamed.

Lack of promotional effort by NBC is not solely to blame for NASCAR’s diminished 2006 TV ratings. The season is too long, a number of races are far too long, and with the exception of Tony Stewart, the Busch Brothers and Jeff Burton, NASCAR’s stars are in danger of becoming little more than “talking heads;” spouting rubber-stamp answers and sponsor plugs into every available microphone. NASCAR continues to ignore these factors at it own risk, but those shortcomings do not in any way negate NBC’s lack of effort on NASCAR’s behalf.

NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer called Sunday’s Miami swan song, “a bittersweet occasion," saying, “we had a remarkable six years with NASCAR, (and) we're proud of our association with it.” He said the network leaves NASCAR "with enormous pride in having been a part of lifting NASCAR from the place it was when we took over six years ago, to the place at which we leave it today.

"It's really difficult to go through a lame-duck year,” he said. “I think…the crew brought enormous professionalism and passion to our final year, and all of us are really proud of the job they've done."

Sadly, network management did not acquit itself nearly as well as the on-air talent. “Lame-duck” or not, NBC could have (and should have) promoted the sport to the best of its ability, to the benefit of all parties. Its failure to do so serves as fair warning to any other professional sports franchise that might be tempted to partner with them in the future.

NBC proved itself to be a fair-weather friend this season, and NASCAR is diminished as a result.

8 comments:

  1. i agree with you...i was shocked to see that a couple of the chase races were on tnt...what's up with that?! oh, that's right, they're leaving-so therefore, they don't care..football is more important! i still never heard the official reason why allen bestwick (who i always refer to as "ken doll") was thrown back in the "field" and bill weber up in the booth...and he was also replaced on "inside nextel cup"...and what's up with speed tv? i heard you say they were cancelling some shows-what are they going to replace it with-more "lost drive-in"?! hubby is a motorcyclist and we enjoyed 2 wheel tuesday-but they've changed that...dropped "nascar nation"-which the first version with bob varsha and krista voda was much better than the revamped one...i do like the fact that "raceday" formerly "nascar this morning" goes to the tracks but don't like how they play with the start time...i liked that 30 minute break between "raceday" and prerace to shower or start laundry or whatever...sorry for the rant...love the show-just wish my radio picked up in the office..only get to hear on lunch...

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  2. Personally, I am glad that NBC is out. The other week on "Raceday", I saw a sign that read "NBC - Nothing But Commercials". How very true. Now we go back to ESPN, the network that started the modern era of NASCAR.

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  3. umslgrad9:06 AM

    Sorry, no sale. If one digs a bit deeper, three of the four highest rated races were on NBC this season.

    The problem wasn't lack of promotion. The problem is over-exposure to a product that simply is not as good as it used to be. NASCAR was the fastest growing sport in America. It has hit a plateau. It's no coincidence that attendance has been noticably down this year, too. That's not NBC's fault. Under the leadership of Brian France, NASCAR has thrown over the bedrock fans that made the sport's explosive growth possible in favor of fad chasers who are tired of "stock" car racing and have moved along to the next thing. NBC is a convenient whipping boy, but a bogus one. What's next year's excuse? That fans were confused by the move to ESPN and couldn't find the broadcast to tune in?

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  4. umslgrad, NASCAR's TV numbers have been up consistently in each of the last five years, right up until this season. Did all those supposedly disaffected, old-time NASCAR fans suddenly come to the same "NASCAR now sucks" conclusion at the same exact moment? Who organized this obviously well-coordinated boycott? And when was the "product" so much better than it is today? I'd be interested to hear some details, in addition to the broad generalizations.

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  5. I couldn't agree more. I too was appalled by NBC's lack of promotion this year. Even FOX seemed to slow down a bit as they came near the end of their segment. But I do give FOX props for the many promos aired early in the season.

    I think the switching around of channels has big a detriment to ratings as well. Hardcore fans will find the station whether it be FOX, NBC, ESPN, TNT, TBS, etc etc. Casual fans which NASCAR seems to be trying to reach are not going to try that hard. Unless there's some real good promotion next year it may get worse.

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  6. Anonymous4:25 PM

    it's nbc's own fault the ratings fell.i dont understand why they put all races on tnt except for watkins glen(new york market)and indy(it's indy).why the best races of the season were on cable is beyond me.come on,bristol?richmond?they also ruined a great busch race in martinsville.clay wanted a night race and nbc said no in favor of volleyball or something stupid like that.im just glad to see nascar going back to abc where andy petree and rusty wallace in the booth is enough of a reason for me to tune in

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  7. Anyone thinking ESPN/ABC will herald a return to the "good old days" may be in for a rude surprise. They paid even more for the rights than NBC/TNT did so I won't be surprised if they show just as many commercials as the current broadcasters.

    As for Rusty being in the booth, how long will it take of him saying "That cat sure has a fast hot rod - Wooo" before we get sick of it?

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  8. Terry Mc9:12 AM

    Dropping ratings are a bad thing and they have dropped. NBC is not going to bail on a successful show. But, with ratings going down shows get cancelled. How in the hell is ESPN on cable going to increase viewers. I listened to your radio show on SIRIUS, but it was getting boring as hell towards the last, due to the way too long season and the stupid chase, where the field is cut down to 12 who may make it and then 10 who do, after that your forced to root for someone you may not even give a damn about. Who in the hell is going to watch that?

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