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Michael Schumacher’s Lesson to NASCAR

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In today’s WSJ, Jonathan Clegg extols Michael Schumaher’s presumptive return to Formula 1 racing (which became official today).  Clegg describes F1 tumultuous last eighteen months: the loss of manufactures Honda, Toyota and BMW; a race fixing scandal involving the team principle of Renault; and the loss of sponsors such as The Royal Bank of Scotland and Bridgestone Tires.  Of particular interest was the reported viewership decline of F1.  Clegg states the number of Germans watching F1 racing in 2008 was only 29.6 million, a substantial decrease from Schumacher’s final season in 2006 when a reported 42.8 million Germans were watching F1 racing.  In step with the decrease in viewership, the broadcasting rights for F1 in Germany decreased from $90 million to $49 million during the same period.  The pairing of Schumacher with Mercedes should lift the F1 viewership in Germany near the 2006 numbers; however, was the decrease in viewership a symptom of a larger problem, and what should NASCAR be learning from F1 recent experiences?

NASCAR ratings were down across the board for the 2009 season.  A season that was marred with allusions to bailouts, and distinguished  by uncharacteristically dull racing.  Jimmy Johnson (San Diego native) captured his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship to little fanfare after an uneventful Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Johnson’s reign has been derided by critics as bad for the sport – much as Schumacher’s five straight F1 titles were – as they have prayed for the revival of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career.  While it is unlikely that the Johnson Era will be looked upon as a golden age for the sport, NASCAR must examine what is the problem that is causing the symptom of decreasing viewership.  During a year where more people are staying home and watching sports, MLB playoffs were up and NFL games are consistently at the top of the week’s ratings, NASCAR numbers plummeted.

The decrease in NASCAR viewership should not be attributed to Johnson’s lack of resonance with fans.  While he may not be the most charismatic individual, no other sport has a higher percentage of compelling personalities amongst its athletes.  Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are dynamic individuals who illicit strong emotion from NASCAR fans.  It could be argued that NASCAR and the NBA are the two leagues that have thrived due their star’s persona; however, when the NBA saw its ratings decline, following Jordan’s second retirement and amidst the dull Knick-Heat defensive era, the NBA changed its rules to facilitate more offense.  They diagnosed their problem and corrected it, NASCAR must do the same.  Restrictor plate racing and the car of tomorrow have combined to create a very dull product, especially when viewed on television.  Nobody will argue that drivers must have some level of security on the track, but the product has become uninteresting.  I do not have the answer as to what will improve the product, I only know that there must be change.

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Written by Peter Amador

December 22, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Posted in Auto Racing

Tagged with ,

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