By Jerry Bonkowski
The switch from Fox to TNT did nothing to stop the continual eroding of NASCAR TV ratings.
According to Jayski.com, TNT's ratings for the first of its six races this year – this past Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway – was down 13 percent from last year.
That's in line with Fox's per-race loss during most of its 13-race share of the 36-race Sprint Cup season.
I'm not going to criticize anyone because of the ongoing drops. It is what it is, and this is not the time to point fingers. Of course, we could talk about having split-screen telecasts like they have in the IRL, where racing action continues to be shown during commercials.
But we're not going to talk about that. It's very clear that NASCAR's broadcast partners and sponsors don't want to follow the same course that the IRL has taken, and I'll give them that choice for now. To add to that, ESPN/ABC pioneered the split-screen technology on its IRL broadcasts and could very easily do the same with NASCAR, but it's contract with NASCAR prohibits such.
The only way NASCAR and its TV partners are going to start attracting fans back in front of their tubes is pretty much the same thing that keeps NASCAR and its TV and corporate partners in business.
I was listening to a local radio station that was running a contest where listeners had to call in after a certain band's song was played when it dawned on me: what if the TV partners, particularly in this very depressed economy that has seen millions lose their jobs and homes, start putting up a substantial amount of cash each week in somewhat of a contest.
Example: let's say the weekly pot is $1 million per race, to be divided 100 ways, meaning each winner would get $10,000.
Who among us that has been laid-off or had their job eliminated couldn't use that kind of dough? Sure, we could make the prize higher, but then we'd be cutting the number of potential winners – and I don't think that's right to do. We need to spread the pot out as much as we can and still make it a worthwhile prize for everybody to take part.
Okay, so you're asking yourself, where am I going with this? How is a TV cash giveaway going to bring more viewers back in front of their TVs?
Simple: scatter segments throughout the race – particularly during commercial breaks – and have only those folks at home that are watching the telecast, wait and wait until a special phone number is broadcast on the screen.
All you have to do to qualify to win the monetary prize is to be one of those lucky enough to call in.
And the beauty of it all is that the only way you’re going to know which number to call (the number would change each time) is to stay glued to the TV.
That way, ratings go up, folks' interest in the race comes back and the anticipation of possibly winning some hard cash simply for watching TV reignites ardor and passion for the sport.
Ergo, more TV viewers equal an increase in ratings.
Sure, it may be a form of bribery to get viewers to tune in, but tell me how something like this wouldn't work? It would, in essence, force viewers to stay tuned to the tube from the start of the green flag all the way to the checkered flag -- and isn't that what NASCAR and the networks both want?
Let's go one step further and have NASCAR match the weekly amount that the TV partners put up, meaning the weekly pot is now $2 million. Suddenly, we have 200 winners of $10,000 each.
Tell me that's not going to draw a lot of interest. I mean, there's already schools in this country that are offering incentives for students to earn better grades, so let's just extrapolate that idea a little more outside the box and suddenly you have a great promotion.
Granted, this may sound like a cheap gimmick to bring viewers back to the sport and in front of their TVs, but no one else seems to have come up with a better idea as of yet.
And after all, haven't we already had to put up with cheap gimmicks that would supposedly increase fan interest – when it actually has done just the opposite – like the Chase, the COT and now the most recent of all, double-file restarts throughout races.
There's an old saying that you have to spend money to make money. A cool million apiece is a drop in the bucket for companies like NASCAR, TNT, ESPN/ABC and Fox. What's more, this would give the networks an excellent opportunity to jack up ad rates during certain commercial segments, knowing that fans will be anxiously and attentively watching those commercials, even if they're also waiting for the number to call in.
Sell that concept to an advertiser, who pays a pretty penny for a 30- or 60-second commercial, and then the number to call in to win is suddenly displayed on the TV at the end of that commercial – or we could even go so far as to say the cash giveaway is sponsored by a certain advertiser.
There's no better lure or incentive to get people's attention than cash, and in this era of increased awareness of green living, this could be the best green living incentive of all.
(Note to NASCAR and its TV partners: just make sure you don't forget to send me a royalty check each week for giving you this idea, okay?)