NASCAR Considers Idea Of NFL-Style Blackouts?

I think we can all agree that one of the most asinine things in sports is the NFL’s TV blackout rule, which prevents a home game from being shown in that team’s local market unless the game is sold out. This is supposed to encourage people to go to the game instead of staying home to watch, but mostly it just alienates people who live 60 miles away and can’t make the trip and/or people who don’t have the $80 sitting around to pay for a ticket.

empty NASCAR track

(This race? BLACKED OUT!)

Now, the operator of eight NASCAR tracks is touting the idea as a way to fill the stands. Speedway Motorsports’ Bruton Smith has proposed this in response to weakening ticket sales. But instead of embracing the NFL’s concept, NASCAR is basically throwing Smith under the bus for suggesting it.

In fact, the response from NASCAR is that a blackout isn’t feasible because it would hurt the organization’s relationship with its fans. What a novel concept.

From the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER’s David Poole:

Paul Brooks, the NASCAR senior vice president who oversees its broadcasting efforts, said such blackout would create too many problems.

“Event attendance is a priority for NASCAR and our television partners,” Brooks said. “However, there are many significant issues, unique to NASCAR, that arise around the concept of local TV blackouts.

“TV partners, advertisers, ratings, team and event sponsors would all be negatively impacted. However, the most significant issue is the negative effect this move would have for our fans.

 Of course, NASCAR’s TV partners aren’t about to let this happen, either. Poole writes in another article:

Why blackouts won’t work these days is that the television networks won’t stand for it. First off, two races a year would be blacked out in the Los Angeles market because California Speedway isn’t about to start selling out its races. Texas has so many tickets it’s not going to have many sellouts, either, and Dallas-Fort Worth is another huge market that Fox, TNT and ESPN/ABC don’t want to lose from their ratings.

The money television pays into the sport now is so important to NASCAR’s financial structure the sport isn’t going to do anything television would hate that bad.

There’s also the question of how to determine what constitutes a sellout. The FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM’s Michele Vincze chimes in on this:

If Texas Motor Speedway prez Eddie Gossage insists it’s a sell out (wink, wink) does NASCAR believe him? And at what point do you impose the blackout? 72 hours, 48 hours, 24 hours? What about walk-up ticket sales the day of the event?

Smith figures if blackouts work for the NFL, they can work for NASCAR. Seriously? Hey, Bruton, this isn’t a good time to make NASCAR fans mad. Many of us can’t afford your $100-plus tickets.

The NFL’s policy has been in effect since 1973, and requires a game to be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to be broadcast locally. This is considered a blessing for folks in the Detroit area, who don’t have to watch that nightmare unfold. The deadline is sometimes fudged (as evidenced by this year’s wild card games, when Arizona and Minnesota were struggling to sell all their tickets), but everyone within 75 miles of a team’s home city is subject to the blackout.

The NFL says their system works (over 90% of NFL games sell out), but NASCAR is often playing in venues that seat well over 100,000 (and sometimes as many as 200,000) fans. You’re really going to start blacking races out if 5,000 out of 150,000 seats aren’t sold?