NASCAR Schedules 20 1 p.m. Races For 2010 Season

CEO pledges more consistent scheduling in effort to grow ratings

In an effort to grow struggling ratings, NASCAR and its broadcast partner executives are scheduling more consistent race times for the 2010 season. They are also scheduling races earlier in the day, in response to research and feedback from fans.  

Twenty Sprint Cup events are slated to begin at 1 p.m. ET next season, said NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. The Daytona 500, which was a 3:20 p.m. start the last two years, will move to the new 1 p.m. time next season.

NASCAR is scheduling all 2010 races into three windows—1 p.m. for East Coast races; 3 p.m. for West Coast races; and 7:30 p.m. for night races. France said the move to earlier races was somewhat counterintuitive to sports programming, which traditionally scores higher ratings as PUT levels rise later in the day.

However, the executives agreed that experimenting with start times went against some of NASCAR’s traditions and they intimated it may have irked some of the sport’s most ardent followers.

“I think we all began to tamper with something that we shouldn’t have,” said David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports, citing NASCAR’s rich traditions as part of the sports allure. He said the later start times were an attempt to “artificially goose the figures, [and] it wasn’t doing us any good with the core fan.”  

NASCAR ratings are down 4.5% in ratings and 6% in viewers through last month’s race at Dover (N.H.), according to NASCAR Website

While France, who admitted “we haven’t been as consistent as we can,” is hoping the more consistent times will improve ratings quickly, executives believe it will help the sport long-term.

“I expect the ratings to probably drop next year and I think what we’re all interested in is long-term rather than short-term growth,” Fox’s Hill said.  

ESPN’s Executive VP of Content John Skipper agreed that the changes might not show immediate growth but quickly added, “Not anyone on this call is satisfied until the ratings go up.”