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Press Snoop: Ratings good start for NASCAR future

30 June 2006


The Fox telecast of last Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Dodge/Save Mart 250 race at Infineon Raceway was the highest rated televised sporting event that weekend with 8.2 million viewers.

The score put the race ahead of Major League baseball, World Cup soccer, PGA golf, track and field, College World Series and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Saturday event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Monday morning 'overnights' gave the Cup race a 4.6 rating. The final stats on Thursday, from Nielsen Media Research, came up even higher, at 5.1 - the second highest Cup race at Infineon, second only last year's 5.7 rating at Infineon. This year showed a nine percent increase over the same race in 2004 - 4.7 on Fox.

One rating point is equivalent to one-percent of all US households.

The second-highest show last weekend was the Fox pre-race show, with a 3.1 rating. Locally, in northern California, the Cup race was shown live and received a 2.6 rating in San Francisco, and a 6.1 rating in Sacramento - both within an hour of the road course, which drew about 100,000 spectators. Sacramento's rating was up thirty per cent over last year's 4.7 rating.

USA Today's MICHAEL HIESTAND said Monday that NASCAR ratings "are remarkably consistent. No big surprise given that, unlike in other sports, the same athletes are competing in virtually every event."

BILL FRANCE, NASCAR chairman and CEO, said Thursday at Daytona that "television ratings, attendance, sometimes they can always be better. But, generally speaking, it's always pretty good."

France, who held a scheduled press conference at Daytona, also spoke on several other subjects, starting with confirmation that the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow has three benefits - safety, cost and competition - and moving on to the revelation that there will be 'adjustments' in the 2007 Chase for the Championship format next season.

"It's a natural time to do that," he said, "We have a new television partner in ABC and ESPN coming on board who will televise the final ten live on network television, matter of fact, including Richmond. So the ideal time for us to make adjustments, not major changes, but adjustments, will be in the off season this year.

"We'll be looking at nothing new. Everything we'll be looking at has been brought up by various people in the last couple years. We'll be looking at everything to see if we can make it a little bit better. There won't be a dramatic changes because the basic format is working well

"We pay attention to what people feel good about or don't feel good about. You know, we take that into consideration. We're looking at adjustments, not changes. Adjustments tend to be smaller, tend to be less dramatic, and that's kind of what we're looking at. Seeing what has gone across my desk now from people internally and race fans and just different places we get ideas from, including the media, some of them we like, but we're sort of playing with. The trick for us is, you can't artificially do it

"The least of the priorities is some change with the final ten tracks."

Let the lobbying begin,

Regarding drivers racing while hurt, France said "we obviously will work with the doctors and make sure that somebody is at a minimum level to compete. And then there is, of course, the minimum level - get in the car, go one lap and get your points. We want our drivers competing as much as possible, and, so far, we're comfortable with the policy."

With Nextel and Sprint merging, it was inevitable that France be asked about a possible name change for the premier NASCAR racing series.

"NASCAR is going to play a big role in the general marketing of the new company, and my anticipation is some point down the road, there will be a change and they will have the right to do that and we will be very co-operative with that," he said, "In a perfect world, you'd like to not be moving your series name around. There's just circumstances that are out of our control, and that we have to react to. But it's not ideal."

France denied that there were any discussions about Nextel/Sprint getting another company buy-out of the contract to be title sponsor.

With TV partners changing at the end of this season from Fox/NBC/TNT to ESPN/ABC, France was questioned about changing formats to more Saturday night races, which some have said hurts the weekly races at short tracks, and whether there would be any thought to midweek races. France said that there was no talk about midweek races.

"We're mindful of the Saturday night races on weekly series," he commented, "Unfortunately the large scope of people that we have to report into and accommodate - television networks, millions of race fans, will always take precedent of scheduling from the weekly track level. It's a tricky balance because you have historical events that have happened in certain times of the year, and so you can't change that too much. We can make a small change here or there, but we'll try to accommodate our TV partners, as all sports leagues do.

"And the real beneficiary is going to be the Busch Series. They [ESPN] are going to have the exclusive home of the Busch Series. You are going to see that division treated like it's never been treated before, because they are going to have all the events; they are going to have all the incentive."

France said he could understand how some think the Busch Series is like Nextel Cup Light.

"I think we're always mixed about that, frankly," he admitted, "You know, there's some good things and there's some bad things. We think, any time we can give the Busch Series it's own stage, the more we can do that, the better that division will do. So we are going to look at all kinds of things to give that division. As I said, not everybody in the country knows it is far and away the number two division in the country - far and away. So we'll have to do a better job of distinguishing it and giving it it's proper place.

"My sense is, and my hope is, that they are just going to make the Busch Series is a quiet #2 motorsports division in the country. It is far and away bigger than the IRL or bigger than CART or bigger than any of those, by any definition - attendance, television viewership, sponsorship, you name the criteria. And because it's caught in a context of a hype of the Nextel Cup, that it probably doesn't get its proper due."

France is hopeful that the Busch Series will race in Canada.

"I don't know that it will happen next year, but my hope is that we're going to figure out the Busch Series in Montreal," he insisted, "That's a great venue because we have a big fan base in Canada."

Asked why there were more fines and penalties this season, France said "well, I think the urgency to win and how many competitive teams, you know, that are just going to go to the line a little bit harder. And sometimes, they flop over, either accidentally or intentionally, doesn't matter. We'll take the kind of action we need to take.

"My sense of it is that, you know, there's just more teams that are trying harder. And it's more competitive. So you're trying for every little inch I can gain an advantage on, and sometimes that puts us in a position to have to react, and when we have to, we will."

France denied knowing anything about a major manufacturer leaving NASCAR and, while he professed not to have a preference in which open wheel series he would prefer, France clearly would like to see one healthy series, "whatever it is". He didn't fear losing sponsorship of his developmental NASCAR series to a healthy single series.

"The more healthy sportscar racing is, or open wheel is, you name it, the weekly series, we will get our sponsorship, whatever is going to be, earned by the teams and ourselves, we'll get that," he said, "It's not about dividing up - the pie is big."

Looking ahead, France said NASCAR is talking about alternative fuels, unleaded fuels, and a green series.

"I say green series, that has a broad meaning to it, of what that could be, and it may be ten, 20 years down the road, doesn't matter," he said, "We'll be building a car here in the next 12 to 18 months at the R&D centre. We have the unique situation in motorsports now that we can work on things way out in advance. We have people to do that that aren't going to the events that we can explore these kinds of things."


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