Not sure if Mr. France was ill or just plain nervous with his constant wiping sweat off his brow and nose, but he appeared that he wanted to get this over and done with as quickly as possible, even cutting off Bob Pockrass and Dustin Long from their questions.
My personal thought from the overall press conference was that this didn’t need to come across as a “me versus them” atmosphere, which it did appear in my eyes. The initial thought that came through my head was that if he was more available throughout the year to the media, rather than a few times during the year, the atmosphere may be different. Instead, we saw the media being aware they have a limited amount of time with him and tried to get many things answered from him.
As I reviewed the transcripts from the press conference, there were a few things that stood out from it.
First, was about Daniel Suarez winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, which Mr. France commented about this being a victory for the Drive for Diversity program.
“I would tell you, without the Drive for Diversity program, with certainty, Daniel Suarez is not in NASCAR,” France said. “We’re very pleased with that program.”
The question now comes is this, who is the next D4D driver in the pipeline ready to be the next Daniel Suarez?
I don’t think many will argue that Suarez earned his way to that championship. He had victories in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and in the NASCAR Mexico Series and recently won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. He beat Kyle Busch at Michigan to earn his first XFINITY victory and had to win the race at Homestead to secure the title.
But like professional wrestler Goldberg says, “Who’s next?”
Where is the NASCAR Media machine to promote and showcase the next up and coming talent? Why isn’t NASCAR Hometracks being used as a constant vehicle of promoting the local and regional talent on almost a daily basis?
The talent starts at the local NASCAR Hometracks and with the efforts made to promote the top three series, an equal effort needs to be done to find that next driver like Suarez.
When I worked for ASA Racing from 2009-13, one of my duties was to stay in constant contact with the Member Track promoters and PR reps reminding them that we want to share their stories. Whether it’s a feature on a local driver, community involvement, special race event, etc. the sanctioning body had their website and media resources available to help them get the word out. Local names became national names, especially around the time of deciding a national champion.
Mr. France was asked about the decline in attendance.
“Attendance has been fine,” France exclaimed. “We’ve come off weather issues like we did at Phoenix a year ago. We don’t have Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. Needless to say, there’s going to be a little impact there.”
Yes, weather is always a factor with attendance. Just ask your local short track promoter on race day if they see rain in the forecast.
But, to say there is a little impact because Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt isn’t there makes me scratch my head. Jimmie Johnson was there and was going for a seventh title and look at the reaction from the crowd when jumped out of his car on the frontstretch.
I may be wrong, but this almost appears as if someone was looking at the sport from a myopic point of view, from the outside looking in, not from being in the trenches, sitting in the suite surrounded by “Yes” people and not sitting in the stands with the fans.
If you listen to the Sirius-XM NASCAR channel, you constantly hear that when a driver retires, the fans go and seek a new driver to follow. The fans don’t go away because a driver retired, they go away for many different reasons from interest, economy and more.
Some will go away because of the politics and negative talk on social media and message board platforms available today. They don’t have the time to deal with the BS they read or listen.
France’s reason, in my view, are the same excuses you hear from lazy promoters who just feel that we have a track and people magically should come like in “Field of Dreams.”
The need to build interest and excitement are some interests and excitement is part of the evolution of “The Chase” format we see today. Last weekend had three series titles come down to literally the last lap. They have something going, now the key is to build from that going forward, especially to capturing the young fans.
I found this quote interesting when France was talking about ratings being down.
“I want to tell you a little something. I watched the other day, as an example, I’m a sports fan, so I watched the Duke Blue Devils game, after they had played, in like a six- or seven-minute recap of the game. It was pretty good,” France explained. “Maybe it was a little longer than that. I didn’t watch the game on TV, but I watched it fairly intense with my laptop.”
Does this mean that we will soon see a NASCAR television app on our Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromcast, and other devices like these? If not, may not be a bad idea to start and be transparent with those numbers to the media. How many viewers subscribe to the channel? How many view the website?
“I would tell you some other leagues that have 30% drop-offs, they didn’t lose 30% of their audience from one moment to the next, that audience is just sliding and consuming in some different ways,” France said. “Our digital consumption is off the charts.”
In my opinion, he is right. Today’s society is going from a watching television during primetime to watching on Hulu or Netflix when the consumer has their own time to watch it whenever they want to watch it.
But when he was asked if NASCAR is ahead of the game in all of this, his answer left a question mark.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. They been working on their things, too. I think there’s a lot of changes going on. A lot of changes in entertainment period, right?” France admitted. “Prime time is very different then it was ten years ago, five years ago. You’ve got Netflix as an example. You’ve got all kinds of things that are changing in the media world.
“The interest level, sports in general, is still the best of anything that’s available as it was five or ten years ago. Maybe it’s changing world, but it’s still the best. We’re in there in a significant way.”
This, my friends, may be the root of the entire problem that NASCAR is facing today. They are not keeping up with the pace of the ever changing technology and if they don’t this is a big area that will draw fans away from the sport. When the leader of the company says “I don’t know” and “I don’t think so. They been working on things,” this is where we need to look carefully at the leadership and advice the leader is receiving from their advisors.
Want an example of how they are behind? NASCAR introduced their first official iPhone app on September 13, 2012 in a joint venture with Turner Sports. (Click here for announcement)
On August 26, 2011, the ASA Racing app was introduced for both the iPhone and Android phones (Click here for announcement). As far as I recall, it was the first app out from any sanctioning body. Something to this day that I take personal pride in creating on my own. It wasn’t that difficult to do.