As viewership numbers are steadily declining for NASCAR Cup Series, it is obvious to fans that something has to change for the broadcasts to attract more viewers and reach the coveted “younger” audiences. Let’s take a look at some changes Fox needs to make (in no particular order).
Fans love to complain about the amount of commercials. Younger demographics are more likely to stream their entertainment and have less intrusive commercials. Formula 1’s broadcast is totally commercial free, thanks to Mother’s Car Care and Mercedes-Benz.
The loudest complaints about commercials came during 2023’s Daytona 500, but the numbers show it was actually less green flag laps missed than 2001.
The are some glaring differences from 2001 to 2023: the aforementioned standard of entertainment, the frequency of breaks, and as most fans remember, if there was a green flag commercial break, TV would cut in to the break to show action on track if needed.
The less than obvious differences add to the perception that commercials dominated the race. Fans pointed out several rejoins weren’t focused on the racing action. Instead, Fox chose to go from paid commercials straight to ad reads – mostly for Fox owned entertainment brands.
The quickest way to address this is lose the ad reads entirely and break into an ad when something happens on the track. A more complex solution is to reduce ad time and weave the sponsored reads into the action in a more organic way. Viewers get the sense that Mike Joy is so tired of giving all the branded air time that he just reads what he is given without care for how it fits into the action.
A next level improvement comes from the Dale Jr. Download. In his podcast, Dale Jr. talked about how NBC’s production discusses what’s happening on track prior to a break. Many drivers turned commentators talk about how as they watch the race, they can just feel something is about to happen. The energy is ratcheting up, drivers start getting more aggressive, tires are on the end of their run. Phill Allaway from the Frontstretch said similar in his analysis of the Daytona 500 broadcast.
Anyone who was watching the race likely noticed that things were getting quite rambunctious at the time. It looked like they were going to wreck at any moment. Had they waited a little bit for things to calm down just a little (perhaps a lap or so), maybe this wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. They could have paid off the side-by-side break elsewhere.
An experienced spectator or commentator knows this and it could prevent missing good TV if Fox had that feel.
2. Find the Action
Fans who have never been to a NASCAR race can’t understand how much they miss on the TV production. At track, you can feel the energy. Not just the horsepower from the engine. Spectators in the stands can feel when the racing action turns up a notch. They can see wrecks happening turns if not laps before the carnage. They can see passing and battles happening all over the track at any given point of the race.
Being that TV cameras can only focus on so many cars at one time, a majority of green flag battling and passing is missed. While some of this is the nature of tv – just ask hockey fans – Fox’s production struggles to show what fans would say is “the good stuff.”
Bowyer wasn’t the only one baffled. While he actually verbalized the action being cut, viewers could hear Mike Joy’s play by play call deflate following that decision.
During the 500, Mike Joy had to direct the production’s attention to Austin Dillon’s crash significantly after Dillon lost control of the number 3 car.
Joy, the veteran action caller, has announced NASCAR for decades. He knows the sport, but those listening pick up on his frustration with production and their ineptitude. It flattens the energy of the TV viewing experience. This was exemplified by the juxtaposition of Mike Joy’s Cup coverage and Adam Alexander’s Xfinity call at Fontana.
3. Stop Trying So Hard
NASCAR’s prime is largely regarded as the mid-2000s. Fans enjoyed NASCAR RaceDay on Speed as a prerace appetizer Sunday mornings. RaceDay conveyed the energy of the fans in attendance, talked to drivers, covered human interest stories, and they sprinkled in a little produced fun. Contrast that with Fox and Chris Myers’ prerace coverage. The majority of race build-up is contrived, forced skits and acts.
Race fans love racing. They don’t need a cooking show with the drivers’ kids to engage with the race. Fans enjoy truck commentator Michael Waltrip. He’s insightful and energetic. Fans are tired of grid-walk Michael Waltrip. He’s goofy and out of place.
4. No More Cartoons
Craftsman Truck Series drivers have real pictures. Xfinity drivers have real pictures. Cup Series drivers have cartoons that aren’t even close representations of actual NASCAR drivers.
Denny Hamlin has said it several times on his podcast about how bad these illustrations are.
There’s nothing more to say. Stop it.
There are plenty more areas for improvement, but 3 of these 4 points can be summarized into 1 overarching theme – respect the sport for what it is. Nobody is coming to NASCAR because Joel McHale is doing his schtick introducing drivers. NASCAR fans will, however, turn off Joel McHale for butchering those intros. Give fans and the race the respect they all deserve. Drivers don’t have to be cartoonized. Fans want to hear a real prerace perspective, not a goofball with a mouthful of Wendy’s.
Racing action gets fans’ hearts pumping. A good broadcast gets out of the way for that to happen, only adding insight when appropriate. With Cup’s TV ratings falling so far in 2023 and feeder series increasing, NASCAR fans are clamoring for changes to Fox’s production. Will they listen?