NASCAR’s new stage-based race format is kind of a big deal, with some close to the sport applauding the forward-thinking structure and others decrying the break with decades of tradition.
But it doesn’t sound like the purists were the ones NASCAR CEO Brian France and the sport’s TV partners were looking to appeal to anyway.
In an in-depth look at the format change, USA TODAY’s Brant James provided lots of insight into how much input the FOX and NBC networks, which share NASCAR race coverage, had in the decision. And the answer is, “quite a bit,” from the sound of it.
“I think the TV guys have really put their foot down that they want more action, because of the money they’re committing to the sport over a long period of time,” Team Penske owner Roger Penske told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, via USA TODAY.
This was a busy offseason for NASCAR, which signed energy drink brand Monster Energy as its new title sponsor. Then, in late January, NASCAR announced several rule changes, most significantly the separation of every race into three segments. Beginning in 2017, drivers will now be able to earn points for how they perform in each stage, as well as at the end of the race.
Fans have also noticed other changes, such as the arrival of the new Monster Energy Girls, replacing the previous Miss Sprint Cups. The scantily clad Monster Energy Girls drew some tweeters’ ire on social media during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
To an informed viewer, it all appears to be part of the same plan to keep fans from turning away from their TVs.
“Knowing that we have points in the race that are really valuable, if we just get a few more people to hang on and watch, when the ratings are being scored and judged, it’s going to completely change the landscape of where things are going with the financial model, from television right on through sponsorships,” Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson told James.
It remains to be seen whether these efforts are successful. Still, it seems clear TV is taking a larger role in NASCAR’s future than simply pointing a few cameras at the track.
Thumbnail photo via John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports Images