NASCAR Rejects Local TV Blackout

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IJanuary 23, 2009

NASCAR has rejected the idea of Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith to follow the National Football League's lead to black out events on local television when tracks are not sold out.

"That's exactly what should happen," Smith said. "It worked for the NFL, so you have a forerunner there who has done it successfully." (

The practice is common in the NFL and was most recently used to sell out stadiums in the 2009 NFL playoffs for the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. Both teams had to request an extension but managed to sell the remaining tickets prior to kickoff.

Smith said he was unsure of how broad the blackout should be, but he felt it would only benefit the local tracks.

"I think it would be beneficial to speedways," Smith said. "If it's blacked out and people who live close by say they're going to sit home and watch it, they wouldn't get to see it." (

On Wednesday, Paul Brooks, NASCAR senior vice president who oversees the sports broadcasting efforts, said it would only create more problems.

"Event attendance is a priority for NASCAR and our television partners," Brooks said. "However, there are many significant issues, unique to NASCAR, that arise around the concept of local TV blackouts.

"TV partners, advertisers, ratings, team and event sponsors would all be negatively impacted. However, the most significant issue is the negative effect this move would have for our fans.

"We need to continue to find ways to bring our fans even more television, Internet, radio and new-media coverage and continue to remind fans that the ultimate NASCAR experience will always be sitting in the grandstands watching that race live." (

ESPN (who owns the rights to the final half of the season, as well as the Chase) agreed with Brooks.

"We all want to see growth in both attendance and television ratings. We will continue to work with NASCAR and race tracks to find mutually beneficial solutions that do not involve blacking out our telecasts," said George McNeilly, senior director for communications for ESPN. (

The idea is impossible to think for an already struggling sport. NASCAR has seen many of its tracks not be able to fill the stands in recent seasons.

That brings the question of two things: Are the fans simply not able to pay for it? Or, do they just not want to go?

With Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports dominating the last three seasons, and the changes the sport has undergone, such as the Chase and the Car of Tomorrow, many of the old school fans have opted to either sit at home and watch the race, or simply turned the channel to the NFL.

Another problem the sport has is the growing number of stands at each track. It's becoming more and more difficult to fill 100,000+ seats every weekend. Most of the tracks on the circuit are mile and halfers, with six-digit seats available.

NASCAR fans tend to be blue-collar, hard-working people who simply cannot afford $75 or more for a seat at the track.

Instead of blacking out the local television, how about the sanctioning body considers lowering the prices, so the everyday fan can afford a seat.