Volume X, Issue 2, Page 34

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Looking at the NHRA TV Numbers

We all love drag racing here, right? 

Lately there have been changes to the tried and true NHRA formula that many of us grew up with.  Many have complained by writing Letters to the Editor and endless postings on Internet bulletin boards, and some fans have signed Internet petitions and spent hours trying to figure out what could have gone through the sage minds in Glendora to screw around with a system that had always worked.  Whose great idea was it to change to the Countdown Playoff Format in 2007?

This year, in early January, NHRA responded without much hoopla: “NHRA has announced modifications to the NHRA POWERade Countdown to the Championship designed to build upon the excitement and success generated from last year's inaugural season.  Few would argue with the drama that unfolded in 2007, which concluded with all four NHRA POWERade world championships decided on the last day of the season, and two categories on the final run of the year," said NHRA President Tom Compton.

So, do you think maybe the online fan petitions achieved their purpose to make NHRA change the Countdown?  Did the sponsors bond together to demand a change in the format?  Was there a New Year’s Eve sit-down between John Force and Tom Compton to point out why his driver Robert Hight should have won the 2007 POWERade Funny Car Championship?

Well, I think I’ve discovered the Watergate-era Deep Throat, the Smoking Gun, the Bird’s Eye lowdown on this caper.  In my opinion it was as simple as the dismal ESPN2 Television figures that were the catalyst for change. 


NHRA 2002 - 2007 TV Viewership
Event 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 07 vs. 06
% Change
Pomona 1 2,971,661 2,303,840 1,255,680 1,701,120 1,460,800 1,468,800 0.5%
Phoenix 1,700,520 2,599,520 1,393,600 1,842,880 1,460,800 1,468,800 0.5%
Gainesville 1,984,800 1,638,880 557,440 1,134,080 1,313,280 1,468,800 11.8%
Houston 1,856,960 1,077,760 1,258,650 1,706,880 1,313,280 1,468,800 11.8%
Las Vegas 1 1,724,320 1,212,480 1,811,680 1,706,880 1,751,040 1,321,920 -24.5%
Atlanta 2,271,200 2,825,760 1,886,800 1,422,400 1,605,120 1,615,680 0.7%
St. Louis 2,543,730 2,310,560 1,532,960 1,564,640 1,605,120 1,321,920 -17.6%
Bristol 2,000,496 1,886,080 2,528,320 1,290,160 1,896,960 1,615,680 -14.8%
Topeka 1,626,400 1,091,200 978,880 1,422,400 1,167,360 2,203,200 88.7%
Joliet 1 2,008,800 2,174,880 1,538,240 1,137,920 1,751,040 1,615,680 -7.7%
Englishtown 2,432,640 1,614,720 1,681,920 1,706,880 1,605,120 1,615,680 0.7%
Norwalk 1,740,960 1,753,440 1,680,000 1,564,640 1,459,200 1,615,680 10.7%
Denver 1,070,080 1,915,200 1,811,680 1,849,120 1,751,040 1,615,680 -7.7%
Seattle 2,590,720 2,306,080 1,951,040 1,991,360 1,751,040 1,909,540 9.1%
Sonoma 1,464,050 2,304,320 1,951,040 2,136,480 1,751,040 1,909,440 9.0%
Brainerd 1,863,680 1,493,600 1,393,600 1,867,840 1,605,120 1,321,920 -17.6%
Reading 1,348,530 822,240 786,720 1,306,080 1,314,720 2,478,480 88.5%
Indy 4,985,280 2,586,880 1,830,400 3,192,640 4,085,760 3,772,000 -7.7%
Memphis 1,505,280 1,525,760 1,672,320 1,436,800 1,896,960 1,655,680 -12.7%
Dallas 945,280 1,517,920 704,000 1,451,200 1,751,040 1,806,560 3.2%
Richmond 1,483,680 1,095,680 1,408,000 1,306,080 1,314,080 2,084,320 58.6%
Las Vegas 2 2,049,920 2,480,960 2,255,360 1,886,560 2,337,280 1,631,680 -30.2%
Pomona 2 2,869,920 1,671,680 1,691,520 1,741,440 1,899,040 1,631,680 -14.1%
Total: 47,038,907 42,209,440 35,559,850 38,366,480 39,846,240
40,617,620

Avg. per race: 2,045,170 1,835,193 1,546,080 1,668,108 1,732,445 1,765,983

On the positive side, viewer households have slightly increased each year since the crashing low point of 2004, which is absolutely a good trend since most other motorsport racing series have declined; even NASCAR has lost viewers for some of their events. But NHRA drag racing is still nearly 7 million viewers down from the 2002 totals.

Looking at individual NHRA races showed that Richmond was way up over 2006 household numbers due to a rainout/postponement in ’06.  The Reading event was way up -- could that have been from the last race to get into the Countdown?

When the final Countdown guillotine dropped the blade down to two professional finalists at Vegas, that same fan lost interest with the households slipping down 30.2%.  The exciting 2007 World Finals at Pomona fell back to 2003 viewing levels, so the Countdown didn’t really work its magic spell, did it?

There are a million PR spins to explain the sad news, Hockey Playoffs, late inning Baseball games, late starts for the TV show, good weather in most of America meant fans who didn’t want to sit in front of a TV and, of course, the dog ate my homework. 

The bottom line is that the National Hot Rod Association is satisfied with paying $9,297,671.00* to ESPN to produce their yearly TV shows with the lead on-camera announcer fumfering through the telecast after his years of exposure to drag racing. (You know, Paul Page did the same thing when he covered Open Wheel Racing, that's why ESPN was forced to move him over to drag racing.) Remember, NHRA pays ESPN to produce the show, so NHRA should have some control, right?

The Golden Goose Wally Parks left to us is sick… it’s not on life support yet, but now there’s no HD Partners we can hope will bail out the ESPN2 TV show; they are long gone!  There’s a fundamental change needed in the ESPN2 TV show and it needs to come from within NHRA’s offices.  They need to attach some strings to that nearly $10 mil, demand a better show, move David Rieff into the lead position with Mike Dunn and stop waiting for a “magic wand” to come in and fix the show. 

Have we all forgotten about finding the next level?  

*Source 2006 NHRA Federal Tax Return Form 990 filed 11/13/07 The NHRA also paid $216,517.00 for Satellite Uplink Expense in 2006.