Tuesday, May 29, 2012

COMMENTARY: Overpromise vs Underdeliver

The debate rages across NASCAR Nation; has Sprint Cup racing become stagnant, dull, even boring? 

"Come see this... EVERY WEEK!"
With caution flags down by approximately 30% this season, some point to a dearth of what NASCAR Chairman Brian France once called, “Game Seven moments;” high-energy events that bring fans to their feet and provide ESPN’s SportsCenter with highlight-reel material for years to come. 

Perhaps that’s true. Or perhaps NASCAR, its tracks and media partners are simply guilty of over-promising. 

In an effort to reverse sagging attendance and television ratings, NASCAR has turned more and more to the sensational. Promos for upcoming network television broadcasts have become little more than crash montages, with one bone-jarring wreck after another, sandwiched around small snippets of actual racing and a brief Victory Lane celebration. Many member speedways are now taking the same tact, attempting to sell tickets with 60-second ads that portray our sport as bare-knuckled, 200-mph demolition derbies. 

In the lead-up to the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, fans were promised a thrill-a-minute experience that was equal parts “Pass in the Grass,” Davey Allison pounding the wall at the checkered flag, and Darrell Waltrip encouraging Rusty Wallace to choke on a wad of cash. Never mind that those video clips are more than a decade old, NASCAR, SPEED and Charlotte Motor Speedway promised us all that, and more.

The race itself failed to live up to all the hype. In truth, no race could have. 

This week, commercials began running in the Charlotte, NC market, enticing fans to purchase tickets to next month’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. The commercials are a veritable smorgasbord of motorized mayhem, but amazingly, not one of the wrecks used to promote the race actually occurred at Kentucky Speedway. Last season, Kentucky’s inaugural Sprint Cup Series event featured 105 laps of uninterrupted green-flag racing and just six caution flags; none of which were for major crashes. 

That’s a far cry from the nuclear cataclysm featured in the track’s advertising. 

Just another ho-hum NASCAR race.
There is a long tradition of accentuating the positive in marketing.  Laundry detergent brands routinely prop-up their market share by declaring themselves “new and improved,” when in most cases, little or no actual changes have been made. Movie trailers generally include the funniest or most dramatic moments from a particular film, leaving theatregoers to discover for themselves that those were the only noteworthy scenes in the entire production.

Is it any wonder that after a weeklong promotional bombardment of flipping, crashing, flaming racecars, NASCAR fans have come to expect exactly that on Sunday afternoon? And when it doesn’t happen, is it any surprise that they feel like victims of the old “bait and switch?” 

When pitching potential sponsors, marketing experts routinely advise teams to “underpromise and over-deliver.” Sadly, in recent weeks, it appears we’ve done just the opposite.

By virtually every statistical yardstick, NASCAR is faster, safer and more competitive than at any point in its history. Two decades ago, there were perhaps a dozen teams with a realistic chance of visiting Victory Lane on any given Sunday afternoon. Today, that number has doubled. More drivers enjoy quality rides today than ever before, and the days of a team enjoying a multi-lap lead over the remainder of the field have long passed.

The product presented by NASCAR on speedways around the country is better today than it's ever been, but somehow, we've set the bar of expectation so ridiculously high that fans cannot seem to enjoy it.

There's more to NASCAR than fiery crashes and fistfights. Not every baseball game ends with a walkoff, grand slam home run. Not every Super Bowl ends with a 95-yard touchdown pass on the final play from scrimmage. And sadly, not every NASCAR race ends in a three-wide, upside-down fireball of a finish.

That's the simple truth, and it's time we started telling it.


  1. Anonymous2:50 PM

    Well Said Mr. Moody.

  2. Case in point, the Kentucky Speedway promo that ran during the NW & Cup race this weekend showing constant wrecks from Darlington, Talladega, Bristol and the Busch / Harvick car deal on pit road. They had to combine incidents at no less than 5 tracks to make a 30 second commercial. It's no wonder fans are clamoring for more action.

    Personally, I like the fewer cautions and the more side by side racing we've had this year.

    1. Jeff, that's almost exactly what I said in the article. ;)

    2. Dave, that commercial was aired up here in the WV region, too. I don't need to say anything else about it because you, and Jeff, already hit the nail on the head. Couldn't agree more.

  3. Sure, there's way too much hype, but I think we're overselling the competition, too.

    While cautions are down, wrecks are few and far between, and both those things are good, the long green flag runs also tend to separate the haves and the have nots.

    I'll grant you that more teams have a better chance of visiting victory lane on any given week. And getting the set up right for a particular track is huge.

    But what we tend to get, especially on the "cookie cutter" mile and half tracks, are a field strung out around the track, little side by side racing, few passes for position aside from restarts... Sunday night, there were 9 cars on the lead lap at the finish.

    That's nothing really new on these 1.5 mile tracks - we saw Tony Stewart finish 9th at Atlanta a few years back, the first car a lap down.

    So aside from hyping all the knock-down, drag-out type of racing of years past, over selling how competitive the teams have become is a problem, too, especially when we have "racing" like we have seen the past two weeks.

  4. Highway Pilot3:08 PM

    Well said, Mr. Moody. Ever since all of this became an issue this season, you've been on record as saying exactly that. I've been enjoying our sport since the 80's. IMHO, our sport is the best it's EVER been. It's not about the wreckin', it's about the racin'. It's up to you my friend, the media, to keep that squeaky wheel going. Hopefully, NASCAR and its upset fans will give us some grease.

  5. Anonymous3:11 PM

    While I agree with your point on sensationalism amongst the media, let's be honest, this aero(dynamic)-centric era in NASCAR has been producing boring single-file racing considerably more often than not. It's hard to produce an ad showing close side-by-side racing when that hasn't happened since the intro of the CoT.

    1. Did you see Kahne and Biffle swap the lead seven times in five laps Sunday, running door-to-door most of the way?

    2. I saw it. But that was the exception. 5 laps of good racing out of 400?

    3. I think what annon is trying to say though, is that Kahne Biffle fight was more on a restart than 20-30 laps into a run. Kahne wins the race by 4 seconds. Hamlin beats Kyle Busch by another 4 seconds. Who beat Biffle by 2 or 3 seconds. Who beat 5th place (Keselowski) by a couple seconds.

      Passing on restarts is a shifty statistic. You can skew it to make a race look more competitive than it really is. Which is my stance on double file restarts. Yes it is more exciting, but it fabricates passes and increased passing statistics because you literally doubled the odds of making a pass.

      What I would enjoy seeing more is a field that can pass into a run. Not where the gap between the first and 5th place finisher is 18 seconds.

      late 1999 to 2002 had some of the best week-in, week-out competition I have ever seen. Whatever we were doing back then worked. If only we could "Men in Black" memory erase the word aero-push from our memory banks maybe this would be easier. Ha.

    4. Anonymous4:51 PM

      I did indeed, but that is far from the norm anymore. 5 laps out of 400 Mr. Moody. Bare in mind the only reason that side-by-side action happened was due to a contrived caution, "debris" they say.

    5. Well, every lap can't be thrilling, in any form of racing, but five laps don't make a great or even good race. What about the other 395?

    6. Did I say anywhere that there were ONLY five good laps? Not at all. I gave a five-lap example for those who claim there was NO good racing Sunday. That -- in my opinion -- was simply not the case. Disagree if you will.

    7. Anonymous5:32 PM

      Easy Dave No need to shout,And we all know you disagree about the racing getting boring. But I hear a lot of the old race fans saying the samething I know all my buddys feel that to I hope that someone does something to make it better before the sport goes to far the wrong way you cant overpromice and underdeliver.

    8. Which -- with the exception of spelling -- is exactly what my entire column said.

  6. Well said. I have been beating this drum for the better part of a season and a half. Whether it is a television network or a race ad, we are being sold wrecks. That is certainly not why I watch the race but it only makes sense that when you are being sold wrecks and white knuckle racing, that when you see a single car find the setup and drive away that fans may be a little disappointed.

    I'm not one to say the racing is terrible this year because it hasn't been. Would a little more side by side in the top 10 be nice? Sure, but you don't have to sell wrecks to sell tickets. Atlanta has those photo finishes they can use. Bristol had great side by side racing but have continued to sell wrecks. Kentucky has had surprise Nationwide winners which they can use to help sell their races.

    Hope some of the folks selling the sport to current and new fans consider a different route rather than be lazy and sell wrecks.

  7. Anonymous3:26 PM

    I agree with you 100%. They are advertising chaos. In reality a good race is more like chess. Thank God we have ascended to a level of non-barbarian behavior. They need to advertise the product that fans will see. I abhor false advertising.

  8. Anonymous3:36 PM

    It's not just the tracks but every week the media on the pre-race show tells us that we're going to see some spectacular racing & some paybacks on the track, etc. and then none of it happens...just like alot of us weekly watchers already knew. I can see how Fox would tell their commentators to "sell, sell, sell" but to us it's just more unfulfilled promises...like the track promotions.

  9. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Full Metal Racing brought to you by NASCAR, who disrespects us the fans by pushing this garbage in their promos while doing everything in their power to make the racing as boring as paint drying. If they want parity, stick 250 lbs in the noses of the top four teams cars and you'll see parity. Otherwise, no matter what they do there will always be first and second tier teams, with side by side racing occur only ON restarts.. Also, how long would the owners put up with crashfets to satisfy a few DISgruntled 'fans'?

    Doug from NJ, a gruntled fan of the Godfather

    1. NASCAR is trying to make the racing more even, when we had side by side like at Bristol, fans complained about the racing there, now they complain that they don't run side by side. People hated pack racing, then we get tandem racing then they want the pack racing back. Would people figure out what they want!!!! If you hate this racing, go watch F-1.

  10. Anonymous4:39 PM

    It seems to me it does not matter what anyone thinks except the ones buying the tickets or watching on tv. If they don't like it then they don't like it regardless the reason.

  11. wayne4:59 PM

    Racing in general has been lacking something. Isay do away with the Bump Stops and Coilbind. Get the cars back on some springs and see what that brings.

  12. Brian Turner5:32 PM

    It's not just the local track advertising, Fox and ESPN are just as guilty of breaking out old footage to hype the mayhem. Case in point was all the helmet throwing, bootie throwing, and upset drivers for the promo of the Bristol race in March. The only thing they showed that was anywhere near current was a shot of an upset Danica. I would venture to say that most people see those promos more than the track promos, so they sit there in front of the TV just waiting for someone to explode in anger. Of course, when that doesn't happen, then "some" people are disappointed and vent their viewpoint in any way possible.

  13. Even worse is the media complaining about all the fans want is to see wrecks and then that's what all the commercials, trying to get people to watch races, are showing. Is it any wonder Nascar might be pulling in new fans that complain there weren't enough or Amy wrecks if that's what they come expecting thanks to the media? And the comment about caution flags being down 30%, can we get a % for how much cautions caused by wrecks are down? Most flags have been from debris or single car issues. I don't mind green flag runs except, as had been pointed out, spreads everyone out too much and so you don't get much side by side racing.

  14. Gary Thompson7:49 PM

    Anyone who has been a fan of the sport for a few years should be able to see how many years of footage has been edited into these 30 second promos. Heck, the trend for beating and banging over the last couple of years has been on the road courses, and yet Sears Point has yet to jump on the mayhem bandwagon with any of its commercials. These drivers watched a championship come down to a signle point last season........a single point. Combine that with the fact that there are no real rivalries to speak of this season, and you get what some are calling a boring season. Personally, I like it either way. Give me manufacturer parity, outstanding TV and radio coverage, and a different personality behind every helmet, and I am a happy camper. For those that need 18 cautions before half way? The county fair season is about to start, and there will be a demolition derby on most every saturday night.

  15. Anonymous8:08 AM

    I wouldnt call it overselling....I'd call it false advertising! It's a shame that promoters are selling a demolision derby instead of the skills, stars, speed, sounds and overall atmosphere at a NASCAR race.

    There are points to be made on both sides of this issue. I do find the racing at the mile and half tracks more "boring" than other venues. However, an exciting RACE isnt what promotors are seemingly trying to sell. An exciting race to me is not a crashfest. I want to see a race for the win...and if not that, an underdog do well...and if not that, some pit strategy...etc, etc. There is always plenty to watch. Promoters need to find a way to promote that instead of showing cars on thier roof and drivers throwing helmets.

    Kevin F

  16. Andy90 (and others), your posts have been denied after violating our "No Name Calling" rule. If you can make your points without demeaning others and calling names, we're happy to hear from you. If not, please don't waste your time submitting comments. They will not be approved.

  17. Anonymous11:46 AM


    Funny, when I read the title of this column I thought it was going to be the Queen of Hype!
    I do agree with you though.
    By the way, I've been a fan since 1957, when I first saw newsreel footage of them racing on the beach. I'll be getting Medicare in August, so you can tell I've been a fan for a long time.

    Bill in SoCal

  18. Dennis11:58 AM

    NASCAR has turned their sport into an aero-push, specs series that turns off both recent and long-time fans. Generally, the only excitement is the double-file restarts and the TV coverage generally messes that up with tight shots that blind the at-home viewer to even that action. What's left to screw up?

  19. Anonymous3:13 PM

    A Tale of Two Series

    Was in Turn 3 Sunday for the 500 Mile Race. The few wrecks that occurred happened at the opposite end of the Speedway. Never heard one fan say anything about not being able to see a wreck.

    In NASCAR there is a segment of the fan base that wants more wrecks.
    In no way am I saying or implying that one series has better or worse fans than the other, many are fans of both series.
    Open wheel fans might have a different perspective though.
    Indycar fans still have fresh memories of losing a driver to a fatal wreck.
    I do not remember what kind of ads promoters were running back in 2001, but I doubt a commercial was a montage of destroyed cars flying thru the air. I wonder as NASCAR fans if we've become desensitized about what can happen?

    Robert Y


  20. Why can't people be happy with what is? I mean these guys put their lives on the line each weekend to entertain us.

    Sometimes I feel like some fans want to encourage bad sportsmanship and poor decision making skills just for the sake of excitement. Racing has become more and more about strategy and it's time the fan base shift it's thinking to appreciate the strategy taking place.

    That being said, NASCAR has to find a way to allow the fans access to that strategy during a race. I pay almost 100 bucks a year for that kind of access, so I appreciate it more. But if all you have to go by is the television, you're screwed.

  21. Have been watching for several years, and for whatever the reason,it's just not as exciting,maybe it's me,or maybe the drivers are always points racing? Maybe there is too much money involved? Maybe the drivers are so dam good they never slip up .lack of rivalries? Too much aero dependency?IDK, probably all the above

  22. Yes, what you said is true, ill agree with you. The media in some cases will always create hype for their TRP. Especially hype can be seen in sports and movies.