Hank Williams Jr. should be free for some Monday night crooning after he was bounced from his Monday Night Football gig last October. Maybe the Shreveport, La., singer can rework "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" with an auto racing theme.
Monday Night NASCAR might not be far from becoming a reality, if the chatter is to be believed. After Monday's Dayton 500 drew a record 36.5 million viewers, gearheads have begun to wonder if prime time is where stock car racing belongs.
Sirius XM's Pit Lane and MRN radio were filled with talk Tuesday about moving a few races from NASCAR's green flag from its typical Sunday afternoon to Monday night. Decades ago, Major League Baseball used the same logic to shift its games to the nighttime, when more fans could attend or tune in to TV broadcasts. Geoffrey Miller of Yahoo! Sports noted that NASCAR was able to attract a massive TV audience for Daytona despite giving fans less than nine hours' notice of the scheduling decision.
The idea is enticing, but once NASCAR officials sit down to seriously consider the idea, they'll find a number of details that make weeknight racing troublesome to pull off.
The side note to that record 36.5 million viewers is the fact that the rating for the 2011 Daytona 500 was a 6 percent drop from 2010. Rating is an estimate of the percentage of viewers with their TV sets turned on who are watching a particular program. Since Monday night is a huge TV viewing time, the total number of viewers for Monday night shows are often high. So it makes sense that any program, particularly a live sporting event, who draw a large amount of viewers in prime time on a major network. The sheer volume of viewers is positive news for the TV side, but it doesn't mean NASCAR can own Monday nights the way it does Sunday afternoons in the spring and summer. And not even NASCAR can bank on challenging Monday Night Football once the fall rolls around.
While the rest of the sporting world focuses on massive TV contracts (think the Lakers' 20-year, multi-billion dollar deal with Time Warner), NASCAR still likes to brag about its attendance figures. It's popular for the sport to remind people that weekly NASCAR races draw more fans than either the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl or many World Series (if the series doesn't go longer than five games and both teams' stadia have very small seating capacities). Monday's race held true to that boast, drawing a (surely exaggerated) 140,000 people, according to NASCAR. Left unspoken is how that still left nearly 30,000 seats empty at Daytona International Speedway.
Those empty seats presumably represent people who had to, you know, work.
That's not a minor problem when an event is so dependent upon the weather. This year's event took place on a Monday after rain all day Sunday forced it to be postponed. What happens when daylong rain forces the postponement of a regularly scheduled Monday race? Does it run Tuesday or even Wednesday, running into race teams' typical days off? Will working fans (i.e. "those with money to buy stuff") need to plan to take a week off around their favorite weekend getaway to Bristol, Tenn., or Homestead, Fla.?
But the absolute biggest reason to hold off on basing any future business decisions off the TV success of Monday's race is the 20-foot fireball that erupted with 40 laps to go. A portion of Monday's record audience undoubtably came from viewers who saw something on Twitter or Facebook about explosions and jet fuel and Juan Pable Montoya and hurriedly flipped over to FOX to see what in the world was happening. If NASCAR is planning to blow up a jet dryer every Monday night race, the ratings should be reliably high, although that gimmick might wear off after a while.
Nighttime racing is cool, and the handful of Saturday night Sprint Cup races sprinkled throughout the season are a nice change of pace from lazy Sunday afternoons. A Monday night race here and there couldn't hurt, but before NASCAR goes all-in with a plan for weeknight racing, the logistics need some smoothing out.