What would Speedweeks be without a big controversy? by Rich Romer - special to Motorsport.com It seems that every February in Daytona Beach is plagued with some great over riding controversy. There are a lot of reasons for it. There has been...
What would Speedweeks be without a big controversy?
by Rich Romer - special to Motorsport.com
It seems that every February in Daytona Beach is plagued with some great over riding controversy. There are a lot of reasons for it. There has been no racing since the season ended in February, and the entire circus is getting together after a three month layoff. Speedweeks and the Daytona 500 are the biggest event of the year. It is a new season and everyone is starting out even and looking for an advantage. And a number of teams show up at Daytona without their sponsorship deals put together wanting to do well. Speedweeks is the first time the new rules for the season are being applied and no one--NO ONE--likes change.
Last year's big controversy was NASCAR's imposition of new rules and regulations on the media and anyone else with a pass to come into the garage and pit areas. When you applied for your pass and signed the application, in addition to requiring that you sign a standard liability release, NASCAR added a separate statement that they owned the rights to all images, sounds and data recorded at the event. This included photographs, film, videotape, broadcast footage, and the increasing amount of information sent out of the media center on the internet. This was interpreted by the members of the media as an attempt by NASCAR to control what was written, said, and broadcast. The concern was that if anyone wrote of broadcast anything which met with NASCAR disapproval would lose his or her access to future races. At its most extreme, the new rules were alleged to be a violation of the 1st Am endment to the U.S. Constitution, censorship, and a violation of the racing public's right to know.
After the 2000 Daytona 500, David Poole, the highly respected motorsports writer for The Charlotte Observer, took a leadership position on behalf of the motorsport media and went one on one with the senior NASCAR officials responsible for the change. By explaining the media's concerns, the issues involved, and the difficulty NASCAR was going to have enforcing the new rules in an increasingly intense information age, Poole negotiated a compromise which held for the rest of the season. The situation never completely returned to what it had been before but the compromise was one that everyone could live with and has remained in force into Speedweeks this year.
The controversy for 2001 had to do with television, virtually everything to do with television. This is the first year, of five, of the FOX/NBC contract with NASCAR to be their broadcast outlets at a cost of $400 million per year. There are a lot of inside games being played which are transparent to the average race fan, but at least one which fans all over the world could see has dominated the news coverage and virtually all the talk in the garage area. All last week, buttoned down FOX advertising executives on cell phones were calling the companies that sponsor race teams such as M&M Candies, Motorcraft: and Interstate Batteries with the message, "If you want to see you sponsor's logos on the TV coverage, you will have to buy into our advertising package at a cost of $400,000." And sure enough, when FOX broadcast the Budweiser Shootout last Sunday, most of the sponsor's logos were deleted from graphics of the race cars and were technologically blurred from live television shots of the car. The announcers only mentioned the sponsor's on cars which had bought into the advertising scheme. The uproar in the garage could be heard over the sound of the race cars.
One of the sponsor representatives whose company has sponsored Winston Cup for more than 20 years told me that if things did not change immediately, he was prepared to pull his company out of racing completely and that he wasn't alone. Individually and in groups, team owners stormed into the NASCAR trailer and demanded that the situation be fixed--immediately. It was. First, NBC released a statement that distanced them from the FOX situation stating that they would not demand that sponsors advertise to get their logos shown and their product mentioned. And then on Tuesday, after meeting with NASCAR, FOX announced that they would no longer blur any sponsor's logos.
That is only the most visible problem of the television transition. FOX has announced that they will not be releasing any videotape footage of NASCAR racing to any other network so ESPN, ESPN2, TNN, Speedvision will have to do without any Winston Cup or Busch Grand National coverage for their racing and sports new shows and their studio shows. Since NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series is going to be shown on ESPN, FOX will be showing no Truck racing, footage, or reports. For the past several years ESPN2 has broadcast its RPM2Night program from the Daytona International Speedway for the week leading up to the Daytona 500. This year they couldn't even get credentials to get onto the property. They are in Daytona Beach and have set up a temporary studio at a marina on the Atlantic Ocean, but the extreme demands on all the drivers during Speedweeks is making it difficult for them to get the best guests given their distance from the track.
Two time Winston Cup champion Ned Jarrett is no longer one of the media inside crowd. It was almost sad to see Ned standing on top of his motorhome parked in the back 40 by the northern edge of Lake Lloyd with everyone else during Sunday's Budweiser Shootout. Ned doesn't have a TV deal with FOX. According to Michael Waltrip, Speedvision's very popular Inside Winston Cup Racing studio show which also features Allen Bestwick, Kenny Shrader, and Johnny Benson is not going to be resurrected. Among other things, the inability to get race footage doomed the show.
The FOX racing program plans to broadcast NASCAR races on a variety of their outlets including FOX Sports Net and FX. The Gatorade Twin 125s on Thursday are scheduled to be broadcast on FX which isn't even carried on one of the two cable TV providers in Daytona Beach. So one of the changes is that fewer people are going to be able to view NASCAR races. This is very clear to the companies who sponsor races for whom it is a business decision. They require reports from the race teams they sponsor about how many "impressions" the team made the previous month. Only 43 Craftsman Trucks have shown up at Daytona and 46 Busch Grand National teams. As many as 15 teams have folded up or not shown up for the biggest race of the year because they could not attract sponsorship. Why? Because the sponsors see that the increasing price of sponsorship is going to get them less coverage,
The situation is going to improve. The media is on the story and is reporting it. The team owners are irate and are telling NASCAR what needs to get fixed. FOX seems to be listening, at least to the logo blurring issue, but much more needs to be fixed and fixed quickly. This will be a continuing story as the 2001 race season plays out and the final decision about what happens truly rests with the race fan who votes with his or her pocketbook when they chose products because they sponsor race teams or don't.