High-octane NASCAR

Association builds momentum by selling rights to only three nets

NASCAR races have added more TV viewers this year than any other sport, feeding off the association’s shrewdly devised plan to sell the rights to only three networks instead of the six that bought them in previous years.

“By consolidating the events into two packages, one for Fox in the first half of the year and the other for NBC and Turner in the second half, NASCAR has made cross promotion easier and built incredible momentum,” said Rick Gentile, a TV-sports consultant and head of his own company, 24 Prods.

Horizon Media senior VP of research Brad Adgate said, “NASCAR has transformed itself from a rural, regional sport to a national sport. Those oval arenas are cropping up all over the country, from Las Vegas to Dallas.”

Viewers can’t seem to get enough of the races. Just last Sunday, NBC’s coverage of the EA Sports 500 from Talladega Superspeedway generated a 4.8 national rating/11 share. That’s a 60% increase over last year’s 3.0 rating on ESPN, representing the highest national rating ever for an auto race in competition with the NFL.

By comparison, Sunday’s NFL action on Fox and CBS during the same window (roughly 1-4:15 p.m. EDT) combined for roughly 17 national rating points.

Through 15 telecasts, NASCAR Winston Cup coverage on NBC and TNT has produced a 4.0 national rating/10 share — a 38% improvement over the 2.9/9 for the comparable races a year ago.

“NASCAR is truly a national sport, unlike baseball, football and basketball, which are heavily driven by home-team favorites,” said Andy Donchin, senior VP of media buyer Carat, North America. “NASCAR doesn’t have home teams. If you’re a Jeff Gordon fan, it doesn’t matter where you live.”

Event driven

Donchin said also that NASCAR “is not as overexposed as baseball and basketball.” NASCAR is pretty much a weekend phenomenon, whereas cable subscribers in baseball and basketball markets can get almost all of the games on TV, which makes each game less of an event.

The NASCAR ratings are particularly impressive because the numbers for football, baseball and basketball have gradually declined in recent years.

For example, ABC’s “Monday Night Football” — which has suffered from poor matchups and a number of one-sided games this season — is down 14% vs. a year ago and 18% vs. 1999.

Fox’s Sunday-afternoon NFL games and ESPN’s Sunday-night contests are also down by double digit percentages compared to last year.

During the regular season, the Fox Network’s Saturday-afternoon baseball games were flat, but both the All-Star game and the post-season playoffs are up year to year. Fox could also score big if the World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, which kicks off Saturday night, is hard-fought and goes six or seven games.

The National Basketball Assn., whose season kicks off Tuesday with a nationally cablecast game on TBS between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards, is hoping that Michael Jordan’s return to the court in a Wizards uniform after three years in retirement will boost the ratings.

NBC, TNT and TBS have each added a batch of Wizards games to their schedules to take advantage of the massive publicity surrounding Jordan’s comeback.

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