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How NASCAR is working to put a spark back into races

Peter Dawson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Auto Racing

On television, the returns over the past 12 years have been disappointing. Entering the season, the sport had seen a 45 percent drop in viewers since 2005. In 2015, Fox and NBC took over the television rights from ESPN and TNT.

Fox's eight-year, $2.7 billion contract gives it the rights to the first 14 races of the regular season. NBC's 10-year, $4.4 billion deal gives it the rights to the final 20 races, including the 10 playoff races.

"This is one of those rare examples when both Fox and NBC have the same desire, which is for the other to succeed," Flood said.

A significant challenge for the two new networks was to balance coverage to attract diehards, casual fans and potential new ones.

This year, NBC has tried innovative approaches. Former Olympian Ato Boldon was a contributor for several major races. Announcer Steve Letarte has called some races from the top of a pit box, similar to the network's "Inside the Glass" coverage for the NHL.

For some, the strategies haven't hit the mark.

"The NBC announcers talk too much," said John McLaughlin, a long-time attendee of the races at Texas Motor Speedway. "It only takes so much. People have a basic intelligence, even the new fans can grasp what's going on."

Through 17 races this season, NBC's race coverage is bringing in an average 3.3 million viewers, the same as a year ago.

At the tracks, executives have been open to suggestions. Attendance revenues at Texas Motor Speedway parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. have fallen by more than half since 2008, from $188 million to $90.6 million in 2016.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said the track has worked to make the races accessible and affordable. He cited improved traffic flow, free parking, increased fan amenities and lower ticket prices.

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