NASCAR’s twice-annual Changing of the Television Guard happens this week, with TNT seizing the baton from FOX for a brief, six-race slate of Sprint Cup Series coverage. ESPN/ABC will televise the final 17 events, culminating with the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
|Wallace says the schedule should be cut|
Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined Wallace in calling for a shorter Sprint Cup schedule this week, saying the move, “would be a good thing, and would definitely change some things for the better."
Earnhardt drew an analogy between NASCAR and the 800-pound gorilla of television sports, the National Football League to argue that less is more when it comes to national exposure.
"The model that the NFL uses is a pretty productive model,” said Earnhardt, an admitted follower of the sport. “They seem to have it about right. When you're a football fan, you can't wait for the season to start, and it seems like an eternity before it does. And (once) it's here, it's gone just as fast and you can't wait for the next one.”
Earnhardt said the NFL keeps its fans “enamored with it all the time… trying to get all the information you can get. So they have a good model."
|"Too much money involved."|
Once the green flag flies in Daytona Beach, the Sprint Cup Series enjoys only two off-weekends, in April and July. The schedule is physically and emotionally draining, and has prompted periodic calls for the total number of events to be reduced.
Slashing the schedule, however, is more difficult than it might seem. NASCAR’s 36 championship events – along with plus the season-opening Daytona Shootout and All-Star Race in May – each produce multi-million dollar windfalls for their host speedways.
Four ownership groups control the bulk of the Sprint Cup schedule. International Speedway Corporation -- owned by members of NASCAR’s founding France family -- and Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. host all but four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races each year. Pocono Raceway – owned by the Mattioli family – and Dover International Speedway – a Dover Motorsports, Inc. property – make up the balance of the schedule.
None of those venues are anxious to lose a date, and in this difficult economy, there is doubt whether a major motorsports facility can survive on just one Sprint Cup date per annum.
The sport’s current television contract runs through the end of the 2014 season, making immediate schedule contracture before that time problematic. The current eight-year, $4.8 billion deal helps grease the wheels of NASCAR commerce, paying out approximately $16.5 million per event in revenue to teams, tracks and the sanctioning body itself. Fewer races means less money for all parties, and with the struggling economy impacting sponsor revenue for all but the most fortunate teams, a cut in TV dollars would be ill-timed, at best.
Earnhardt admitted as much last week, saying, "Shortening up the schedule is probably the last thing I would expect to happen. There's just too much money involved… too much money moving around and changing hands for a half of dozen dates to be cut from the schedule. The impact on the economy in those areas, per race, would be reduced.
"I think shortening the season would be a good thing, and would definitely change some things for the better.
"But I don't think that’s even a possibility, more of a daydream than anything else."
Photo Credits: HollywoodPhotoshop.com, LAT Photographic