Is it time to move the Daytona 500 back to Noon? NASCAR could soon be in a battle with networks, my 3 takeaways

How long are we going to keep doing this? I wrote about this topic in my Daytona 500 recap this past weekend in fact. How long are we going to keep appeasing the west coast viewers before enough is enough? Is the 2.8 rating for the Daytona 500 going to be it?

It’s a record low by the way.

I get why some may say, ‘well the race drew a 4.7 initially before the rain delay. I get that. But, last year’s race was a 6.26 during the same Sunday slot and the 2019 and 2018 races were a tick above a 5. I guess you could credit last year’s race to President Trump being there and all the hype and build up to why it opened at a 6.26 for the start of the 62nd Daytona 500, but this number is disappointing for a number of reasons.

First, only 30k were even allowed into the track this year. Last year, all 101,500 grandstand seats were sold out and there were thousands in the infield. You could argue that almost 100k less fans were at this year’s race than last and the number still went down.

Then you had a ton of buildup for this year’s race too. It wasn’t as strong as 2020 but it was stronger than 2019 and before. There’s a lot of positive energy in the NASCAR world and for this race to flop on TV like it did, well it doesn’t bode well.

So what happens moving forward?

Move Start Time Back To Noon

The obvious is moving this race back to a Noon start. That’s the best option for everyone involved. I don’t know why I need to keep saying this and I hear their reasoning on why it’s later, but this is getting ridiculous. Yet again, a later start time costs us a scheduled race. If the Daytona 500 started at Noon ET, then by time the lightning then later rain got here, we’d be almost done with the event.

The estimated time of this race is around 3-hours and 38-minutes. If we pushed the green flag up to 12:05 p.m. ET, then this race was going to end somewhere around 3:45 p.m. ET.

We went red for the lightning delay at…3:26 p.m. ET.

While I get the notion that the race could end early due to rain, at least we’re close. I mean, we all know the intensity levels ramp up to new levels with weather in the area. This could have been another chaotic ending to the checkered.

I know that they say that they do this for the west coast viewer because it’s an afternoon start not morning out there, but if that was to truly increase ratings and viewership, then why aren’t the numbers higher? Cater to the west coast viewer and even without a rainout, the rating is still between a 4-5? They weren’t hitting 10 million viewers for a non rainout this past Sunday. If west coast viewers were truly to add to the ratings, then we should easily pick up 10+ million viewers for a race like the Daytona 500.

We’re not because west coast viewers like their morning start times. Almost everyone that I’ve talked to or know from out west like the morning races or football games because they have the rest of their days to do whatever they want.

It’s time to move the start times back up, because this is just yet another example.

Pulling The Plug Sooner

If the TV time doesn’t change, then one thing is that I can see NASCAR and Daytona maybe doing then is just pulling the plug earlier and just moving the race to Monday. I think a lot of people tuned off at the rain delay and had a difficult time turning it back on.

First off, what about those fans that don’t have social media? How were they to know updates on the weather and the track drying process? How were they to know the race was going to restart a little past 9 p.m. ET? That turned some people away.

Also the late start time did as well. How many casual fans were going to watch a race that ends shortly after midnight?

I know the fans in attendance drastically dropped from the initial start to the restart. There was a big chunk of people that left and didn’t come back.

I think NASCAR doesn’t let this drag on in the future. They may just pull the plug early and allow people enough notice that they’ll be back the next day. I can point to the race got a 4.2 on the Monday rain out. It was a 2.8 in a rain delay to resume on the same day.

In hindsight, I bet NASCAR and Daytona would have been better to just postpone this past Sunday’s Daytona 500 to Monday by the looks of it rather than ride out nearly a 6 hour rain delay. The ratings could have been higher.

It’s not ideal to the fans that are actually there, but TV stats prove otherwise for viewers at home.

Battle On With TV Networks Now

This is going to create a friendly battle with the TV networks moving forward. I’d assume NASCAR and Daytona would prefer an earlier start time moving forward. It used to be that way and it worked. Rain in Florida doesn’t usually ramp up until late afternoon on most days. Occasionally, you’ll get those all day wash outs, but if you notice a trend on when rain delays occur for the Daytona races, it’s the ‘400 when it got moved from a day race to a night one and the ‘500 when it got moved from an early afternoon to late afternoon start.

The earlier the better for Daytona.

But, TV most likely will still want to keep later start times. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for NASCAR and their TV partners.

The contract is up in a few seasons and there’s reason to believe NASCAR could get more than the $8.4 million that they’ve received on the last contract. They’ve proven to be pandemic proof and the only sport you can successfully know that can compete just in case something like COVID hangs around or new variants develop in the future.

You can rest assured TV networks know that.

But, when the Daytona 500 is only drawing a 2.8 rating and Darlington just a 3.7 out of the COVID break, TV execs may pump the breaks at the monetary value for NASCAR. They can be pandemic proof but the ratings aren’t going where they should.

Maybe instead of $8.4 billion is $6 billion.

NASCAR doesn’t want to lose what could be billions on the next TV package, so in turn, they may have to bring practice and qualifying back as a result. The TV exec boardrooms could point to these TV ratings and say I’ll give you billions but not more than we’re already paying you as is. They could also say we can stay in the ballpark as of now but you need to bring back more practice and qualifying too then to fill the gap that we’re losing.

See, NASCAR showed last year that we don’t need a bunch of practice and qualifying sessions to put on a good show. They did just fine without them. It also saved a bunch of cost for the teams as well without the need for extra tires, fuel and equipment. In turn, they didn’t need to bring backup cars which as a result, meant less manpower needed at the track too.

All that combined for significant savings for these teams. I’m on the side that we should just get rid of them all together.

TV wants them back though. They see a value to them for their networks. Steve Phelps said that they’ll bring them back for the most part next year, but only doing so because of the addition of the new car. They’ll need on track time since you can’t simulate that without turning any laps on the track yet.

But, what about 2023? That’s the final year of this current contract. If you want billions again for a new TV package, but the ratings are slipping for big races like Daytona, the common thing as a negotiating chip is practice and qualifying then.

“The great news for us is they can’t get enough of our content,” Phelps said of the TV networks during his state of NASCAR address with the media last week. “As far as the practice and qualifying, the reduction in P and Qs, we decided to have more iRacing pro invitationals. We decided to create new content with them or work with them to create new content, which that part isn’t ready to be announced but will be announced soon.

“We’re excited that our partners want more NASCAR. We had on NBCSN and on FS1, 60 of the top 100 programs for each of those networks. That’s important. The cable companies want to have programs that are going to drive ratings. That’s what we do.

“Do they want to have more practice and qualifying? They absolutely do. I think for 2022 we will go back, my feeling, back to more practice and qualifying.”

How does this play into start times and ratings? It’s absolutely going to play a role.

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