5 Things NASCAR Must Do in the Offseason

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2012

5 Things NASCAR Must Do in the Offseason

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    You may think that since Sunday's season-ending race at Homestead, NASCAR officials have gone into hibernation or on a long vacation.

    That couldn't be further from the truth.

    Even though the Daytona 500 is still more than three months away, NASCAR officials are both reviewing the highs and lows of the 2012 season and looking at the 2013 campaign.

    While there will be one significant change on track—the so-called Generation 6 new Car of Tomorrow—at least four other key issues to be looked at will be off-track.

    Let's examine those pressing issues:

1. A New Car for 2013

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    The so-called "Gen 6" Car of Tomorrow becomes the Car of Today starting with the 2013 Daytona 500.

    Slightly smaller, reportedly more racy and more identifiable with car models seen in auto dealer showrooms, the new car is state of the art in every way.

    In addition, the new design and especially the rear end of the car should have a significant effect on reducing aero push and aero tightness and, in theory, give more control of the car to the driver.

    From a cosmetic standpoint, among the changes will be having drivers' names move from above the driver's side door to a screen at the top of the windshield, and sponsor logos will be allowed upon the tops of cars for the first time.

    The change to make the cars look more like the same kind of vehicle fans drive on the street is in response to fan feedback, and is in direct contrast to the original premise of the COT back in 2008, to make cars look alike and minimize the brand distinction between, say, a Chevrolet and Ford, or Toyota and Dodge (which will not be in the Sprint Cup Series in 2013, but could return as soon as 2014).

    NASCAR listened to the fans and hopefully the fans will respond in kind.

2. The Next Multi-Year TV Deal

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    Just over a month ago, Fox and NASCAR agreed upon an eight-year extension of their current contract to televise the first 13 races of the season. The new deal is worth a reported $2.4 billion and gives Fox exclusive rights for its share of the 36-race TV deal through 2012.

    In so doing, Fox will keep rights to continue televising the sport's biggest race of the year, the season-opening Daytona 500.

    But with just over the first third (13 of 36 races) of the season locked up long-term, NASCAR now turns its attention to TV rights for the remaining 23 races. And that's where it could get very interesting.

    ESPN/ABC is expected to bid for all 23 non-Fox races, which would be a 35 percent increase over its current slate of 17 races (which runs through 2014).

    What about Turner and its six-race share of the season? Good question. While it's expected to try to keep its one-sixth of the season, reports continue to surface that both NBC and CBS are preparing to enter the rights fray, as well.

    And Fox could potentially seek to up the ante by adding more races to its baker's dozen—at an increased price, of course.

    How that will affect the overall package remains to be seen. Will ESPN/ABC be forced to cut its share to, say, just televising the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup to potentially accommodate one or both of the possible newcomers and/or more races on Fox?

    Although he hasn't commented directly on this possibility, one of NASCAR chairman Brian France's favorite phrases is, "everything is on the table at this point."

    That's certainly the state of the rest of the next big TV deal for NASCAR.

    Two other things to keep note of:

    First, SpeedTV is expected to be merged into a new all-sports network known as FoxSports1 (some reports have it being known as the Fox Sports Network) in 2013, likely in the spring. That likely means a significant decrease in overall motorsports coverage as other sports will be part of the new mix, with Major League Baseball expected to take up a significant part of the on-air real estate.

    Second, and as a result of SpeedTV's merge into FoxSports1, don't be surprised if you start hearing more about a potential NASCAR Network, a la the NFL Network and the MLB Network. If it becomes reality, it would likely fill the gap caused by SpeedTV's demise and give NASCAR more control of both current and archive content.

    Rumors of a potential debut in 2016 have been floated, but there's been no confirmation of whether a NASCAR Network is a real likelihood, let alone a starting date. But with SpeedTV's coming demise of sorts, it certainly opens up the door to a NASCAR Network at some point.

    Lastly, NASCAR has already extended its satellite radio deal with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio through 2016.

3. Bringing NASCAR.com in-House

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    Of all the offseason buzz about the sport, this is one of the most anticipated. NASCAR has regained the rights to NASCAR.com and will debut a brand new site on Jan. 3.

    By bringing the site back under the NASCAR corporate umbrella, NASCAR joins other league-owned web sites such as NFL.com, MLB.com, NBA.com and NHL.com.

    While revenue generation for the sanctioning body is one of the keys to the new site, look for an expanded and more comprehensive user experience, as well.

    And in a sense, the "new" NASCAR.com, which is expected to significantly increase its use of video from the current version of the site, could potentially be a precursor or lead-in to the rumored NASCAR Network.

4. Increased Use of Social Media to Further Spread the NASCAR Message

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    NASCAR really embraced the use of social media in 2012, particularly with its use of Twitter.

    Can we forget the impact readily seen and measured in this year's Daytona 500, when during a red-flag session resulting from a fiery crash with a track dryer, eventual season champ Brad Keselowski tweeted about the race from his car, quickly gaining more than 100,000 new followers in just over an hour's time.

    That incident showed NASCAR just how big Social Media can be—and that its impact can be measured almost immediately.

    The irony is that less than two weeks ago, NASCAR fined Keselowski $25,000 for tweeting from his car during a race stoppage at Phoenix.

    The supposed reason was that Keselowski violated a rule about having an electronic device that is against the rules while in the race car—even though the race was stopped at that point.

    Some observers feel that the fine was just a penalty ruse that was actually meant to sanction Keselowski for harsh comments he made after the race that weren't exactly endearing to NASCAR officials.

    And you have to admit the irony that NASCAR both embraced and got incredible mileage from Keselowski at Daytona, yet only 34 races later, it punished him for essentially doing the same exact thing.

    NASCAR was the first major sports league to form a partnership with Twitter. Look for an even bigger and wider social media reach in 2013.

    In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that tied in with the "new" NASCAR.com, that NASCAR attempts to form its own social media brand of sorts to complement its union with Twitter.

    NASCAR has become a social media trendsetter in the sports world and looks to become even more of a force in 2013 as it further widens its interaction with fans, media and even within itself.

5. More Attendance-Boosting Initiatives

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    This could be the biggest off-track initiative of all.

    NASCAR has obviously seen some downturn in at-track attendance over the last several years, much of it due to the poor economy. But as things have slowly picked up in the country, so too has attendance at NASCAR tracks.

    Somewhat. At times.

    But the sport is still a far cry from the sold-out houses it had in the late 1990s and the first few years of the 21st century.

    NASCAR, as well as individual track operators, has done a lot to try to bring fans back to tracks with lower ticket prices in some instances, big promotions, better deals with local hotels, etc.

    But there's still work to be done, and you can bet that's going to be on the agenda in a big way during the offseason.

    There are obviously big changes coming to the sport, what with the new car, the new NASCAR.com, new rules and so forth.

    None of those things are going to mean much if there aren't fans to support those initiatives, right?

    So NASCAR will continue to do everything in its power to keep fans buying tickets and passing through the turnstiles. Sure, some people will continue to complain about high prices of admission, concessions and souvenirs.

    But you try to run a billion-dollar sport, with its high overhead, prize money, personnel salaries and equipment that are needed to run every race, multiply that by 36 regular-season races and three non-points paying events, and you'll see that NASCAR needs to charge more so that it can offer more to the fans.

    If the fans scale back, NASCAR will ultimately have to scale back. And that's something no one—well, at least your typical NASCAR fan—wants.

    Hopefully, the economy will continue to improve and we'll see at-track attendance start to climb again.

    If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: As the country goes, so goes NASCAR.

    Let's hope the good old USA has a great year in 2013, because that bodes well for NASCAR, too.

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

    If you subscribe to SiriusXM Radio, tune in this Sunday, Nov. 25, from noon to 3 p.m. ET as I co-host "The BackStretch" on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Channel 90.


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