Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why LIVE Television MUST happen for Dirt Racing

I have to imagine that the communication earlier this year between the World Racing Group and the former SPEED Channel (now Fox Sports 1) must have been extremely frustrating on both sides.  On one side, there's a company that had a signed and sealed contract for event broadcasting, and on the other, a new company that more or less did not want any part of the previous owner's agreement.
And so it was that the powers that be in Charlotte, headquarters for the aforementioned World Racing Group, were most likely thrown into a chaotic state for some time trying to find a way to keep their product on TV with very little in the way of motorsports dedicated channels left to broker a deal with.
Enter CBS Sports Network.  The multisport broadcaster which formerly made it's living as CSTV a college sports channel, stepped to the forefront and signed on to broadcast several World of Outlaws events, signature ones nonetheless, such as the National Open, Super Dirt Week, and the World Finals. 
So far, the quality has been tremendous. The pictures are terrific and the assortment of camera angles (including the Arial shots with the robotic camera) and announcing have taken the standard set by SPEED and raised it some.  Of course, it was tragic that Dave Despain wasn't involved in any way but we don't always get what we want.
Most dirt racing fans have already set their DVR's to record the whole series of tape delayed broadcasts which appear at 9 pm on Sunday through December 22. Since NFL football is the beast of that particular time slot it's likely that most of us will record these and watch at our convenience. Hey, it's not like we don't know who won right?
That's just it. We do know who won, and it takes some of the edge off to be honest about it.
It's probably nobody's fault that none of the races were shown live this year.  It was an eleventh hour deal. CBS Sports Network had other commitments and it probably had to shift a lot of weight to fit the programming in. I think almost every dirt fan out there is completely grateful that we had some kind of  programming available to us in 2014 following the SPEED channel's demise. But going forward EVERY effort should be made to get as many events to air live as possible. Even if it's only a few in the beginning.
I must have heard every possible excuse why it's a bad idea too I must admit. Take your pick. Bad lighting at many tracks, weather interruptions, too much dust, too costly, too many variables (cautions, red flags) to keep in a rigid time slot, I could go on...
But if the coverage of the highly successful Mudsummer Classic, the high quality of live PPV broadcasts via DIRT on DIRT and XSANTV, or even the previous productions of the live/semi-live World Finals tells us anything, it's that it can be done to a high standard and that further broadcasts would only improve with more opportunities to learn from mistakes.
Not every track/event would make great television, but we all know the places where it could work and the events too. World 100, Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal, Williams Grove, Dirt Track at Charlotte etc.
And it would be a lot to ask of any promoter or sanction to possibly forego some dollars from the pay per view pot, but at the same time other revenue sharing arrangements to cover any gap can be approached and implemented successfully.
The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl will for the first time air the final night on television (Lucas owned MAVTV), and it's a good bet that ratings relative to the potential viewing audience will be more than respectable.  What did it cost them to give up the final night of PPV?
The point is, that tape delayed dirt racing programming so far has accomplished one thing. It has served the fans who wanted to see the event and couldn't be there. At the same time, it likely made very few if any NEW fans.
For dirt racing to grow in the future, it will need to be relevant, to be cast in the light of the here and now, not a leftover for only the most passionate fans. If the backbone of dirt racing is it's fan base, the industry has to look deep within itself and honestly look at where the fans have come from in the past. It's come from families of drivers and crew members and those who had family members take them to the track when they were young. And that pool of potential fan base probably isn't going to grow by leaps in bounds, it will need to be augmented by new fans in waiting that have never been to a race before. Those new fans are out there, and live TV in the primetime hours will certainly catch their attention.  
Tape delayed races are great for current fans, but it won't do much to help the future growth. The technology to do high quality live dirt racing on TV is here, now, and needs to be used for the benefit of the sport. The excuses need to come to an end.
I encourage every dirt fan out there to express, tweet, message on facebook, to CBS Sports Network the need for LIVE coverage next year. Folks, they're learning about dirt fans as we speak. Finding out about what how much interest we have and how to get our complete and undivided attention to see if we're worth it. We need to show them we are.



1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with what you're saying here. I think they also have to pick a market to serve - existing fans or new fans - not just on the scheduling side but also on program format and presentation. I wasn't able to catch last night's broadcast but the Williams Grove programming was a mix of information that was either inaccurate or too basic for the existing fan and not relevant to a potential new fan. I would not have been able to follow most of what they were trying to 'explain' to new fans if I didn't already know about racing. I don't want to see them turn off both markets by trying to be everything to everyone.