Nascar spins stories, not wheels

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Nascar will no longer be ignored.

Nascar CEO Brian France last week said his sporting organization is "undercovered by the media" and to remedy that, he's launching a content-generating division-"the AP of Nascar," he called it.

The company is in the conceptual stage of what could include a wire service and, potentially, a cable network. It's already experimenting with podcasts via its password-encrypted media Web site.

"I've been told by our organization that you can't control [editorial coverage]," Mr. France said, lamenting his case last week to 3,400 cable marketers at the annual CTAM Summit in Philadelphia. "So you're going to see us get into the content business, not to distribute live events, but similar to the NFL channel in that it is a 24/7 promotion channel."

Nascar is the second-highest-rated regular-season sport on TV, according to Nielsen Media Research. But you wouldn't know that by watching the Sunday-night sports highlights or reading the morning paper, said a Nascar spokesman. "We are redoubling our efforts to educate editors, producers and reporters on the sport and to help to make Nascar easier to cover," he added. Nascar feels particularly snubbed by large markets and those in the Northeast.

Mr. France said every time he visits The Los Angeles Times he meets with the sports editor to "show him the numbers in Southern California about who watches what." Last week the newspaper covered Nascar Nextel Cup champ Kurt Busch's win at the Pennsylvania 500 in 299 words, part of an AP-written "motor-racing roundup."


Nascar wants to develop content for those radio stations, TV affiliates and large-market newspapers that lack staff schooled in motor sports or don't have the budget to send reporters and crews to weekend races or race shops for midweek coverage.

Yet some sports-advertising executives say Nascar simply has "a bad case of NFL envy," and its desire for an all-Nascar cable network has been fueled by the NFL Network.

The NFL claims 165 million fans to Nascar's 75 million. And the NFL attracts more ad dollars. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus data, in 2004 the NFL generated $2.4 billion in ad spending; Nascar generated $528 million.

Nextel paid $750 million for 10-year naming rights to one of the three major racing series. NFL's recent deals include an eight-year, $560 million Pepsi sponsorship and an eight-year, $384 million Gatorade deal.

Nascar's biggest racing series are the Nextel Cup, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. Its Daytona 500 draws 200,000 fans. And while its most-concentrated fan base is in the Southeast, where the sport was born, it's quickly spreading throughout the country. Its twice-a-year races at New Hampshire International Speedway boast attendance of 101,000 each.

Nascar's season runs from February through November with just over 100 races between the three racing series; the NFL runs August through January and each of the league's 32 teams play 16 regular season games.

To be sure, Nascar's not wanting for broadcast partners-NBC and TNT share broadcast rights with Fox at $200 million a year each, and Fox cable nets FX and Speed Channel air additional Nascar programming. ESPN, meanwhile, has dramatically increased its coverage hoping to lure the sport to its network-Nascar's broadcast contracts expire after the 2006 season and may be renegotiated by this fall.

In radio, too, Nascar is a big-money draw: last year Sirius stole satellite-radio rights starting in 2007 from rival XM for a whopping $107.5 million over five years.

But even if Nascar, longing for extra editorial coverage, did offer an AP-style news division, it doesn't guarantee takers.

"We produce our own material and we'll continue to do that," said Joe Sullivan, sports editor at The Boston Globe. He notes his paper has increased its coverage in the past 10 years, in part due to twice-a-year races at New Hampshire International Speedway. "At one time Nascar races were in our briefs, now it gets headline stories ... but I will say this: It's not the NFL."


The NFL claims 165 million fans to Nascar’s 75 million. In 2004, NFL generated $2.4 billion in ad spending; Nascar, $528 million

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