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Sounding the Alarm on Fox
by Steve Wingate
I have been accused of being an alarmist by more than one of my readers, so I try to think things through before I start blathering. Well, I've thought about today's subject long enough, and I can't keep my mouth shut any longer, so here goes...
First off, allow me to once again thank Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry McReynolds for the fine job they did calling their first major event together.
To be honest with you, I really didn't notice any of the oddities of Sunday's 2001 Bud Shootout. FOX is not offered on my DSS system, so I was forced to watch the Shootout on rabbit ears, and the reception was awful. As a result, it was rather hard to tell what was happening through a lot of the race, so I had no idea that there was some censorship going on. Then, when I made my daily stop by Jayski's yesterday evening, I was stunned by what I read.
I'm sure most of you know the situation I'm referring to, but if you don't, I'll run it down for you. When FOX aired the Bud Shootout Sunday and started the usual rundown of the starting lineup, people noticed that many of the sponsors were absent from the standard "car and headshot" graphics. One source even said that FOX actually blurred out the names of certain sponsors on cars during the race coverage. The reason? The "censored" sponsors didn't buy the advertising package from FOX, so producers elected to not mention those sponsors more than once an hour. This censorship was a complete surprise to Joe Gibbs, owner of the #18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac and the #20 Home Depot Pontiac. Home Depot had purchased the advertising package, yet Interstate had not. As a result, the #20 was allowed sponsor graphics, and the #18 was not. NASCAR President Mike Helton, president of NASCAR, was also surprised by the FOX decision.
What does this mean? For one, all sponsors except those with very deep pockets could possibly pull out. For years, sponsors have enjoyed the perks of sponsoring a Winston Cup car such as the car being identified as "the Dupont Chevrolet" or "the Valvoline Ford." Such things were considered valuable bonuses of sponsorship. Not to mention those times when the TV cameras linger on a specific car or when the winning driver (or any driver for that matter) talks to the cameras and says something like; "The Dupont Quaker State Monte Carlo ran real good today..." Will FOX try to sensor the drivers as well as the announcers? Will the winning driver be prohibited from putting on a hat when he climbs out of the car?
For many smaller sponsors, these "minor mentions" are very probably one of the biggest reasons for staying in NASCAR to begin with. Can you see Ralph's Foods continuing to sponsor Brett Bodine if they don't get any camera shots or even a small mention? No. If small sponsors don't get air time, they lose money. Every bit of airtime is worth money to a sponsor, and if they spend more in sponsorship than they get in advertising, there's no reason for them to be there. Sponsors with the smaller teams will start to back out because in addition to the money paid to the team, it will have to pay more money to get seen on national TV. The only options available to such companies would be to divert money from the team to buy advertisement from FOX, buy advertising on top of team sponsorship (which is not very likely), or to pull out of NASCAR altogether. Many teams are already struggling to secure sponsorship this year, and this development certainly will not help matters any.
On another point, the money FOX wants could be well worth it for the sponsors, considering the popularity of the FOX network and the extra exposure it could bring. The big players out there already know the value of exposure on FOX and are willing to buy the advertising. At this time, however, it seems unlikely that companies who are considering or wading into sponsorship will be willing to front that much cash for something that may not yield an immediate return. And with all the doomsayers predicting an economic downfall, non-essential expenditures like NASCAR sponsorship will be cut as quickly as their payroll will be.
We are facing a problem that could severely damage the sport we all love. FOX may indeed have a good reason for doing this, but for right now, it comes across to this fan as sheer greed. I've had mixed feelings about this FOX TV deal since it was first announced, but this is the first real hint of trouble I've seen. Perhaps this is just the beginning of new era for NASCAR, and we're all just feeling the growing pains. Maybe so. But for right now, I don't appreciate what I'm seeing..... What FOX is doing to the "little guys" in NASCAR is just plain LOUSY.
2001 Car Guy of Benchfield