FCC races to digital with NASCAR

Org to sponsor David Gilliland's No. 38 car

How do you get word out about the coming switch to all-digital TV?

If you’re the Federal Communications Commission, you sponsor NASCAR, the biggest spectator sport in the country.

FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin — originally from North Carolina, where NASCAR is huge — announced that the commission is buying space on driver David Gilliland’s No. 38 car for three races.

For a reported $350,000, which is about $100,000 less than the going rate, the FCC gets to put its DTV message on the car’s hood in the form of a highly visible question: “Is Your TV Ready for Digital?” Below will be the date of the transition — Feb. 17 — when all full-power broadcasters are required to shut off analog signals and use only digital.

“NASCAR fans are known for their avid interest in this sport,” Martin said in a statement. “Their awareness and responsiveness to NASCAR sponsors is also exceptionally high. I believe this sponsorship is an extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among people of all ages and income levels across the United States who loyally follow one of the most popular sports in America.”

According to the FCC, 17 of the top 20 highest attended sporting events in the U.S. annually are NASCAR events; average attendance per event is more than 125,000. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series is the No. 2 rated regular-season sport on television with nearly 8 million viewers, featuring 36 races at 22 different tracks across the country.

Gilliland’s car will bear the FCC message in three races — at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 19, Phoenix Intl. Raceway on Nov. 9 and Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

Some members of Congress have criticized the FCC for not doing more to educate consumers and prepare them for the coming transition, and lawmakers recently allotted the agency $20 million for outreach and promotion.

In addition to the NASCAR sponsorship, the FCC also has bought $1 million worth of ad pages in magazines and publications issued by the AARP. Retirees are considered among those most vulnerable to losing TV signals after the transition if they don’t prepare properly. AARP magazine — the org’s flagship title — has the world’s highest circulation with 24 million subscribers.