Sunday’s race at Michigan won by Kyle Larson started after 3 p.m. Eastern and ended after 6 p.m. It was the second-straight race in the Eastern time zone that started after 3 p.m. and Fox pit road reporters Matt Yocum and Jamie Little expressed their frustration with those times on Twitter Sunday evening.
Another reason why I hate these late start times. Summer storms. This is a planes trains automobiles journey. Miss those 1pm green flags.
— Matt Yocum (@MattYocum) June 19, 2017
Yeah late starts, especially on Fathers Day, are ???????????????? https://t.co/HmBOQ0Ry7q
— Jamie Little (@JamieLittleTV) June 19, 2017
Fox’s broadcast crew has one weekend left and has been on the road nearly every weekend since February, so frustration and exhaustion about the schedule is understandable. But this isn’t Little and Yocum’s first rodeo.
And it’s curious why they would make their unhappiness with late start times known via social media. Fox has a massive say in when races begin, even if Yocum tweeted to tell Yahoo Sports it didn’t.
As NASCAR’s television ratings have fallen and Fox and NBC pay hundreds of millions of dollars to broadcast the sport, it only makes sense why start times would be later in the afternoon. The NFL, in concert with Fox and CBS, regularly schedules marquee games in its 4 p.m. timeslots because it knows more people will be watching than at 1 p.m.
The last pairings in the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday at Erin Hills in Wisconsin — broadcast on Fox — didn’t tee off until after 2:30 p.m. Central. Much like Michigan to the east, the peak daylight hours in the northern part of the country meant the event could be shown later in the day for larger television audiences.
Others who work for Fox tried to say that the late start time negatively impacts attendance at tracks. The grandstands at Michigan on Sunday appeared to be half-full at best, though that didn’t stop Joy from twice saying that it was a “very strong crowd.”
The "3:00/4:00 experiment" failed 10 years ago and the TV ratings needle did not budge. Hurts tracks more than anything… https://t.co/a5Q3pHQPhb
— Andy Jeffers (@AndyVJeffers) June 19, 2017
My theory is each hour later start time reduces effective ticket buying radius 60 to 100 miles.
Most fans must get to work Monday morning. https://t.co/zYu99TSNXv
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) June 19, 2017
Attendance at Michigan was struggling before Sunday’s race. Even if there was evidence that late start times negatively impact at-track attendance, the television benefits far outweigh the lost ticket sales. Tracks rely heavily on revenue from the NASCAR television contract and there are far more people watching at home than could fit into the grandstands at any given track.
Ahhh…there lies the great debate of attendance vs TV viewers. You would hope they could both work in sync but not sure that is possible? https://t.co/HX9WCObTXM
Part of the unhappiness with later start times may be because NASCAR tried standardized start times in 2010. As television ratings began their slide, NASCAR went to 1 p.m. ET starts for 28 of the Cup Series’ 36 races.
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) June 15, 2017
Those standardized start times have minimal impact if a viewer base continues to erode, however. NASCAR’s ratings slide continued since the move to standardized starts and the initiative was shelved when NBC replaced ESPN as a television partner before the 2015 season.
Of Fox’s 10 daytime races that weren’t in the Mountain or Pacific time zones this season, four started after 2 p.m. Eastern. That includes the Daytona 500, which was run in front of a packed house. Yeah, the capacity of the speedway is far less than what it used to be, but neither is Michigan’s. Perhaps the lack of fans there has more to do with the quality of racing and economic factors than anything else.
And if many NASCAR fans aren’t going to as many races as they used to because of economic factors, the griping about later start times from those who are paid very well to travel to those races is even more awkward. Late afternoon starts are NASCAR’s current and future reality thanks to the companies that pay NASCAR television personalities’ salaries.
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