CBS Sports is backing a new auto racing series that organizers tout as having a TV-friendly format designed to lure sponsorship dollars. The Superstar Racing Experience, or SRX, will feature short-track racing and air on CBS on Saturday nights starting next summer.
The multiyear deal with CBS covers six races in 2021 and gets the network more invested in auto racing, a sport now dominated by NBC Sports and Fox Sports, which carry Nascar and IndyCar races. Financial terms were not disclosed.
SRX organizers include Nascar Hall of Fame members Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham, as well as George Pyne, a former chief operating officer of Nascar who now runs Bruin Sports Capital, which controls a network of live events, marketing and brand strategy companies. Also involved are The Montag Group, a consultancy and talent representation firm whose clients include CBS Sports broadcaster James Brown.
In interviews, Evernham and Pyne were careful to avoid characterizing SRX as a competitor to Nascar or IndyCar. They positioned SRX’s format as one designed to appeal to modern viewers. Two-hour broadcasts will include about 90 minutes of racing time, with no pit stops. Nascar races typically last three hours or longer.
SRX’s format includes a “halftime” during which drivers and crew chiefs can tweak their strategies, with TV coverage “providing exclusive behind-the-scenes access to give viewers an inside look at that process,” according to a press release. “We are not tied to a cost structure that requires us to race long durations,” says Pyne, characterizing the condensed time frame as offering “more exciting, better entertainment.” (Pyne is an SRX board member; his Bruin firm is not involved in the venture.)
“One of the things that has been losing fans, I believe, for all motorsports is it is a long day, long time,” says Evernham, former crew chief for legendary driver Jeff Gordon. Making the races short “fits into what the fans are looking for today.”
SRX has not released its track venues or full driver roster, only describing them as “legendary and iconic drivers and mechanics from all circuits, including Stewart and Evernham.” Short tracks are defined as being less than one-mile in length. About a dozen cars will compete in each race—each one designed to be nearly identical—with speeds topping out at 150 mph. The slower speeds and uniform car designs are meant to put a premium on driver skill. “That is what is going to decide who wins this race, not the computer, not the car. This is about people and legends competing head-to-head,” says Evernham, adding races will feature plenty of passing and bumping.
SRX will own most elements, including the cars, which organizers say puts them in position to lure sponsors with broader deals covering more assets, including TV ads and on-car and track signage. “With one buy, you can buy the telecast, every single car, every single team, and a track package. That is as inclusive as a package as there is anywhere,” Pyne says.
Nascar has moved to a more integrated sponsorship model, but brands must still negotiate separately with drivers and racing teams. SRX organizers have not announced any sponsorship deals, but say they are getting interest from brands in categories including beer, soda, telecommunications and quick-service restaurants.
A sports marketing executive for a major marketer who has been approached by SRX says its short season is appealing for brands looking for immediate awareness but don’t want to commit to a longer sponsorship. “You could go into a model like this where they are just going to go heavy and hard for 8 to 10 weeks,” says the exec, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The risk is that SRX fails to gain traction with viewers. There are plenty of examples of failed upstarts in the sports world, including most recently the shuttering of two pro football leagues, the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, although the coronavirus played a role in XFL’s downfall.
Sponsorship industry consultant Jim Andrews says “there is definitely room to introduce new forms of racing, but at the same time I don’t know any of the current motorsports are gaining a lot of traction with that younger demographic that is so coveted. I think it’s still a challenge to get people under 35 to pay a lot of attention.”
Nascar’s ratings have drawn scrutiny from Donald Trump, who in a July 6 tweet alleged that its recent decision to ban the Confederate flag at races contributed to, in the president’s words, “lowest ratings EVER!” That prompted a retort from Fox Sports Executive VP and Head of Strategy Mike Mulvihill, who tweeted the same day that “NASCAR viewership on Fox networks is up +8% since returning from its pandemic hiatus on May 17.”