Yet despite the limited tie-in opportunities that a half-season of coverage might normally allow, Fox has created more value for its advertisers— the myriad marketers and corporate partners who make NASCAR the most visible and sponsor-friendly league among the major sports.
Through shoulder programming on its multiple cable platforms, Fox has given its advertisers a venue other than its main network to continue to bask in the NASCAR halo effect when NBC takes over its half of NASCAR coverage each season.
Marketers can take advantage of Fox's cable outlets Fox Sports Net, FX and Speed Channel. When the contract began three years ago, Friday qualifying races were aired on Fox Sports Net, followed by some Sunday morning programming on the day of the race.
"It was so successful that we added 'Victory Lane,' a primetime show after the race, and then 'Totally NASCAR,' a half-hour show every weekday," explains Guy Sousa, exec VP, ad sales for Fox Cable Sports. "That's how the shoulder programming started to evolve."
FX has carried advertiser-presented races such as the Busch races and the Winston Cup races as well as some of the qualifying races.
In Fox's second year of coverage, it added Speed Channel and devoted most of the day to the wildly popular NASCAR. The niche cable network went from 30 million homes last year to 60 million this year.
Advertisers continue to ratchet up their presence. For instance, just last month Fox and Denny’s Restaurants in Spartanburg, S.C., combined on a promotion offering fans an opportunity to win a trip to an upcoming race through its "Taste Victory" sweepstakes. Denny's already had been involved with its "Dish of the Week" promo on "Totally NASCAR" on Fox Sports Net. "Here is someone who came to us and asked 'what can you do for us in television,'" Sousa says.
The promotion runs across four Fox properties: Speed Channel, Fox Sports Net, FX, and foxsports.com.
"It's a great way to touch the consumer, especially in a sport like NASCAR where the fans are dedicated and loyal," says Margaret Jenkins, Denny's chief marketing officer. "We did multiple research studies about what types of sports stand out and where we could fit in in a crowded restaurant category, and NASCAR was it. It's excellent to be able to do something a little bit different and show your brand in a way that touches that consumer."
%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% Other advertisers, who have taken advantage of the multiple platform menu include Visa, McDonald's, UPS and Gatorade, to name a few. In addition to sponsorship of the individual races, marketers have also served as presenting sponsors for the shoulder programming.
This year, Smirnoff Ice is the presenting sponsor of "NASCAR This Morning," while Goodyear serves that role on "NASCAR Performance."
To say that NASCAR is thrilled would be to say that the cars kind of run fast.
"That was really the vision that [Fox Sports chairman] David Hill created for us in the early days of the negotiations," says Paul Brooks, VP-Broadcasting for NASCAR. "You hear all these fancy words like 'synergy' and 'collective momentum,' but they have, in our minds, surpassed those visions. They've used the assets, but they've also created assets with things like Speed Channel. Really, it's become the heart and soul of NASCAR."
Sousa credits NASCAR with not only endorsing the idea of shoulder programming, but being an active participant in it.
"They've allowed us with the shoulder programming to craft many promotional relationships, [even] with non-participating advertisers wanting to get involved with TV in addition to the affiliated sponsors and advertisers," Sousa says. "The shoulder programming is vital for advertiser value because we're limited in what we can do during race telecasts. When you're in a race, you have to show the race. This is almost the reverse NFL model."