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.