The Perfect Storm
It was a storm. A perfect storm.
OK, maybe not as perfect as THE perfect one in 1979, but close enough.
You remember the one in ‘79? The blizzard that had the East coast socked in and all anyone could do was watch TV? The only thing that was on that day was the Daytona 500. CBS was covering it live, flag to flag. The race ended with a last lap crash between the leaders going for the win. The broadcast ended with an infield fight. This perfect storm started the change of NASCAR from a sleepy regional sport to an exciting national sport that would grow to the second favorite sport, behind the 800 pound gorilla, the NFL.
This storm had all the trappings to be a similar one, possibly one even greater.
There was a storm-Hurricane Nate. He’d come visiting the Gulf Coast on Saturday and had much of the Southeast, Ohio Valley and East Coast looking at rain - heavy rain. Even the start time of the race was moved up as the track might get a visit from Nate. Though not a blizzard, the unfavorable weather conditions would surely keep fans indoors and you’d think spending some time in front of the TV.
Plus, the 800 pound gorilla, the NFL was in trouble as the “kneeling during the National Anthem” protests by their players had resulted in a severe backlash among their fans. Many were burning their jerseys, trashing their souvenirs, selling their tickets, canceling their TV packages and overall refusing to watch another game. Sports bars stopped showing the games. Surely they would need something to watch in its place. The President even pointed the disgruntled fans in our direction noting our “players” stand during the Anthem. You would think there would be enough to see a bump in viewership.
It was set up perfectly-the fall race at one of the Crown Jewel tracks, the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The fourth race of the Playoffs. The first race after the first round of elimination. Four had just fallen. The remaining twelve were now feeling the heat. It was also Dale Jr.’s last race at his home track. Plenty of story lines to build interest and get people to tune in wouldn't you think?
CMS was bringing out the PJ1 to juice the track in hopes of improving the racing on the mile-and-a-half-er. Television coverage was moved to NBC. If someone had a television they could tune in and see what it was all about.
Everything pointed to a positive weekend for television ratings. No excuses. Could it be set up any better?
On Friday the final ratings read as follows:
UPDATE: The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs from Charlotte earned a 1.8 rating and 2.9 million viewers on the NBC broadcast network last Sunday, down 42% in ratings and 44% in viewership from 2014 on ESPN, the last time the race was run on the day it was scheduled (3.1, 5.1M).
Compared to last year - when the race was postponed a day due to rain and rescheduled for the same Sunday afternoon timeslot - ratings fell 14% from a 2.1 and viewership 11% from 3.2 million. Postponed races typically pull much lower numbers than those that are run as scheduled, but last year's had the advantage of airing on both NBC and NBCSN.
Well, I don't know about you but that wasn't quite what I expected. I sure thought with all the favorable factors brought on by Nate’s drenching rain, the NFL and Junior, we would see something different. Flat would have been nice. Uptick even better. But a double digit drop?
I’m sure there is an explanation or even multiple reasons for this. Maybe there is a significant overlap between NASCAR fans and NFL fans so there was never a chance for movement from one to the other. Maybe the torrential rain didn't keep folks in front of their TVs. Or maybe there was an influx of new viewers who made these dismal numbers even better than they could have been had they not showed up.
I don't know. If I did I’d tell you. I guarantee there is someone in the Sanctioning Body who knows, but they aren't telling. Not a word… or at least not one that I’ve heard. The folks who are in a position to get answers aren't asking. From where I’m typing though it doesn't look good.
Guess we’ll all just glide down in silence together, dropping at a rate of 10-12% a year. Eventually, it’ll turn… or bottom out. Then we can all talk about it again... I guess.
Till then I’ll keep watching races to do my share to keep the viewership numbers up… and waiting for the next perfect storm. There seems to be one a’brewing, just off the coast of Daytona. It's a slow mover. Landfall is not predicted until early next season. Unlike this last one, there won't be a Nate or disgruntled fans of a sizable ape to help out.
Instead, it might the growing list of absences of familiar faces that makes up this storm. Beginning last season, between Tony Stewart’s retirement, Jeff Gordon’s “re-retirement” after subbing for the injured Dale Jr., Carl Edwards’ pre-season “retirement”, Greg Biffle’s MIA and Junior’s impending retirement, the Cup Series has lost a staggering 215 wins, 7 Championships and the 14-time Most Popular Driver.
Another way to look at it is of the drivers on the 2015 active drivers win list, the first, third, ninth, tenth and twelfth-ranked drivers are gone next season. From that list, 5th-ranked driver Matt Kenseth has no ride announced for 2018 and the 8th-ranked and 2017 Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch still does not have a contract. So if Matt leaves Cup to drive a school bus and Kurt is forced to the sidelines that's another 67 wins and two more Championships gone. Any way you cut it, that’s a bunch of really good drivers who know how to get to Victory Lane that will be gone. These numbers may be unprecedented.
Couple that with the ever popular Danica Patrick losing her ride and you have a lot of fans, many long-term ones, who won't have their driver to pull for on Race Day next season.
The question then becomes how many of their fans will use this opportunity to exit the sport and how many will find someone else to pull for and stay on-board for the on-going viewership glide down? That, race fans, will determine if when it comes to discussions of the 2018 TV viewer numbers, do we truly have a Category Five perfect storm bearing down on us or is it all just a “topical” depression?
Only time will tell.
One thing is for sure… if Jim Cantore is named Grand Marshal for the 2018 Daytona 500 you might want to tighten those belts, hunker down and hang on.
This might be a rough one.