I do a weekly NASCAR segment on Long Island’s My Country 96.1 FM. The station opened earlier this year after a decade of no country radio on LI, and New York City still has no terrestrial country station.
A few years ago I asked a couple of folks who worked in the radio industry why country formats in the New York area that had existed didn’t last. They explained to me that the stations actually had good ratings.
Only problem was, the stereotype of country fans as trailer park hillbillies who buy wire hangers exclusively to improve their TV reception was alive and well. Media buyers brushed off the ratings as coming from people who have no money to spend, so stations couldn’t bring in any income.
As much as corporate America has invaded NASCAR over the last 15 years, the sport isn’t immune from the same problem. For all the TV ratings (which may have dipped over the years but are still impressive when compared to other sports on weekends) and verified sponsor exposure numbers by companies like Joyce Julius & Associates, there are still umpteen companies that would rather put their marketing dollars into stick-and-ball sports.
As hard as sponsorship is to come by these days due to the economy, there are some advantages to NASCAR. As Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi put so eloquently during Coke Zero 400 weekend, as opposed to the NBA and NFL you’ll never have a work stoppage.
The NFL looks like it’s getting its act together, but the NBA situation is so screwed that top players are already exploring options overseas.
A company that was planning to spend marketing dime with the NBA or its member teams now knows that money’s going to be unspent for awhile, quite possibly a whole year. What better time to take that money down to the race shops outside Charlotte and look for a good deal? Teams are willing to take less these days and offer more, after all.
I just hope the people who swing these deals had a hot date Saturday, so they weren’t at home to watch thousands of the most passionate fans in sports displaced thanks to the much-publicized traffic disaster outside Kentucky Speedway. Many never could get to the track, and some of those who did were turned away because there were no parking spaces.
Look, things happen. NBA games have been postponed and the fans sent home because condensation from the hockey ice below made the floor too slick for play to continue. Hundreds of fans showed up at the last Super Bowl with valid tickets, only to be told that no seats existed for them.
But historically NASCAR has faced the same problems that country music has faced in New York. The sport has to do it better and cleaner than the next guy, or face 10 times the scrutiny when something goes wrong.
It’ll be a shame if NASCAR and its teams are unable to grab some low-hanging fruit because of one incident. SB Nation had a few suggestion for post-Kentucky damage control. One was to immediately refund displaced fans’ money.
If only track owner Bruton Smith could also send checks to NASCAR’s team owners, because he likely just cost them some cash.