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Dustin Long

This blog ended in November 2011 but will remain available as an archive.

Fox putting more emphasis on drivers this year & it's boss wants shorter races and won't stream races online

No matter what or how David Hill _ Fox Sports Media Group Chair _ says something, you want to listen. This is a man who is among the most influential in sports.

 

Monday night, Fox and Speed hosted an event during the Media Tour in Charlotte and Hill was his straightforward self. His networks (Fox and Speed) will put more emphasis on drivers this season. He would like to see shorter races. He's still against streaming races online and says noting is immiment in that area. And, he says that NASCAR needs to emphasize winning more with its points structural.

 

Here's more of what Hill said in an interview session with reporters.

 

“What this sport is all about is the driver. Everything else in NASCAR is an afterthought. People follow the sport because the drivers are heroes because that’s what the fans want to hear _ superheroes that can do things that only very, very few people can or will. Anyone can be a crew chief. Anyone can be a tire changer. Anyone with the technical ability. Just think about what it takes to drive a car 200 miles an hour. As Bill France Jr. kept reiterating (something Ernest Hemingway once wrote which was) there are three sports: Mountain climbing, bullfighting and auto racing. All the rest of the games.

 

(HOW DO YOU GET THE FANS MORE INTERESTED IN THE DRIVERS? YOU HAD SUCH A TIGHT POINTS RACE THIS YEAR AND THE (TV) NUMBERS SAY THE FANS DIDN’T WATCH AS MUCH.

 

HILL: “I believe what has happened, unintentionally probably, is that the emphasis, you guys (the media) are to blame as much as anybody else of moving the emphasis away from the driver. The Car of Tomorrow became the greatest red herring in the history of this sport. It took the emphasis away from the heroes. What we’re trying to do with our programming (on Fox and Speed) is to move it back. There were two things that the people fell in love with, the heroes that drove these cars at breakneck speed and risked death for glory and the car they drove their kids to church and school in. You were either a Ford man or a GM man. You followed these drivers, who were prepared to risk all for glory. It was the wonderful emotion that still resonates with people and I think that there’s been so much discussion about the car and this and that that the whole issue has been confused. What Speed will do this coming season is put the emphasis right back where it belongs and that’s on the driver.

 

"For heaven’s sake, we’ve got a situation where we’ve got Green Bay going to the Super Bowl, so the ghost of Vince Lombardi is coming down with what five Super Bowls. We have Jimmie Johnson. How many championships has he won? Five. It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen in world sport and everyone is treating it as if it’s ho-hum. You people are treating it as ho-hum. Oh yes he’s won again. You are so blasé. Honestly, what’s wrong with you? Don’t you realize what Jimmie Johnson has achieved?

 

(SO WHAT IS FOX GOING TO DO WITH ITS NASCAR COVERAGE?)

 

HILL: "Fox is going to concentrate on the driver, too. Right across the board. We’re putting the emphasis back where it belongs on the driver.''

 

(WHAT’S MISSING WITH THE DRIVER?)

 

HILL: “We probably haven’t utilized Darrell (Waltrip’s) inner knowledge enough. Darrell is the only one on our (announcing) team, in reality who is a champion. He understands the motivation and what goes on. I don’t know. Is it instinct or is it skill? This is something that I’ve talked to the Alain Prosts about and the Jackie Stewarts. What is it? There’s something that drives them. What we’re going to be doing at Fox and what we’re going to be doing at Speed is telling stories of drivers.’’

 

(WHAT ABOUT AN EXTENDED POST-RACE SHOW WHERE YOU CAN SHOW EMOTION THERE? WILL YOU HAVE MORE OF THAT?)

 

HILL: "No. We’ve got to get off air. (Speed does provide a post-race show, though).''

 

 

(WOULD SHORTER RACES HELP?)

 

HILL: “Oh yeah, definitely. Absolutely. Oh yeah. I think the races are far too long. Right now there are more diversions, I don’t want to use the word diversion, there’s more opportunity for stuff than at any time in man’s history. I think that a lot of the races are too long. I think probably three hours would be ideal.''

 

(IF THE NFL HAS A LOCKOUT THIS FALL, HOW WILL THAT BENEFIT NASCAR?)

 

HILL: “They’ll play. They will play.’’

 

(IF YOU HAD A THREE HOUR RACE, HOW LONG A BROADCAST WOULD YOU HAVE?)

 

HILL: “Four hours. I think that probably 30-40 minutes to set it up, do the race and then tell the story of the race in 15 minutes. That was the beauty of Speed to take the viewer across there to do that analysis.

 

(YOU WERE VOCAL LAST YEAR ABOUT THE MALE 18-34  AUDIENCE DECLINING IN NASCAR VIEWERSHIP)

 

HILL: “No. Someone asked me a question and I said yes. They’re gone. No one rang me up. None of you people picked the phone up and asked what did you mean. You took that one quote and I saw it amplified out of all proportion. The thing that worries me is where are the basic rules of journalism? Do you bother to pick the phone up and check or because a group of words exist does that suddenly become fact? So didn’t make a big song and dance. Someone said, you read the numbers and they’re there. The next thing, Hill says. You people took my words from an innocent and blew it up. Not one of you had decency or professionalism to call me up and say what did you mean?

 

(NOTE: Hill made his comments in late spring 2010 to the Sports Business Journal. I did a July 25, 2010 story looking at the issue and used Hill’s quote. I sought Hill for the story but Fox Sports President Eric Shanks was made available for the story. I interviewed Shanks and quoted him about the issue.

 

“You look at the figures (male 18-34 audience) that is down. I wasn’t screaming. I wasn’t tearing up. Someone said are they down? I said, yes they are.

 

(ARE YOU CONCERNED?)

 

HILL: “Of course you are concerned when any rating drops. Of course you are.

 

(HOW CAN IT BE FIXED?)

 

HILL: “I don’t know. They are trying desperately.’’

 

(ARE YOU SEEING ANY TYPE OF MOVEMENT THAT CAN INCREASE THE MALE 18-34 VIEWERSHIP IN THE TIME SINCE YOUR COMMENT?)

 

HILL: “I can’t really say that until we’ve been on the air for three races. I’m very, very proud of what (Fox producers) Barry Landis, Richie Zyontz and Artie Kempner and our announcers week by week. I think that all views on television obviously is subjective, and I think what Barry and Richie and Artie does is the best auto coverage in the world. I will be looking very closely at the figures for the first three weeks to see what’s going on. You look at the demographic breakdown and you see what happens. The main thing I’m going to be looking at is the weather and praying for warm sunny days.’’

 

(SO I SHOULD CALL YOU AFTER THREE WEEKS IN THE SEASON?)

 

HILL: “Absolutely.’’

 

(SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT THE POINTS AND HOW IT MIGHT CHANGE?)

 

HILL: “Of course you should. I think the points didn’t emphasize winning enough. I’ve been covering motorsports since I was 17. … The hero was the one who won, not three points here, seven points there. Listen, sports is about winning.

 

(DO CONSISTENT START TIMES WORK FOR YOU?)

 

HILL: “Oh sure.’’

 

(WHEN NASCAR PRESIDENT MIKE HELTON SAYS START TIMES NEED TO BE LOOKED AT THAT’S NOT ON FOX’S END?)

 

HILL: “Well, again, if they want to look at it. For me, I would have continuity. I would have truck race on Friday night, I would have the Nationwide race Saturday night and I would have the Cup on at 1 o’clock Sunday. Bang, so everyone knows when it’s on. Everyone knows the football games. Football games are 1 o’clock Sunday. Football games 4 o’clock Sunday. There’s a game on Monday night and game on Sunday night. There are too many other things going on in people’s lives.’’

 

(YOU’RE IN YEAR FIVE OF THE EIGHT-YEAR CONTRACT WITH NASCAR. HOW SOON DO YOU START TO TALK ABOUT A NEW DEAL AND AM I SAFE TO SAY YOU WANT TO CONTINUE WITH NASCAR?)

 

HILL: “Oh absolutely. In a kind of way you’re always working on a new deal.’’

 

(NASCAR IS STILL A GOOD BUSINESS FOR FOX?)

 

HILL: “Not as good as it was.’’

 

(BUT NOT SO BAD THAT THREE YEARS FROM NOW YOU’RE RUNNING FOR THE HILL)

 

HILL: “Three years is a long time.

 

(LOT OF TALK ABOUT ONLINE STREAMINING OF RACES. YOU SAID IN THE PAST YOU DON’T WANT TO DO IT TO PROTECT THE AFFILATES THAT CARRY THE RACE. IS THAT STILL THE FEELING?)

 

HILL: “Absolutely.’’

 

(WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO IN A DIGITAL SENSE WITH YOUR BROADCAST?)

 

HILL: “In reality. I think the enjoyment is still watching passively. I think that HD with 5.1 surround sound, I think the experience that we give to the home viewer is absolutely sensational. Watching it on portable devices, I don’t know if that’s got that much appeal.’’

 

(WOULD THAT NOT BE A WAY TO REACH THAT 18-34 MALE CROWD?)

 

HILL: “Just think about it yourself sitting and watching it. You’re going to sit down and and look down where are they, these little pins running around (on the smaller screen)

 

(SO THERE’S NO GOOD REASON TO DO IT?)

 

HILL: “We have no imminent plans.’’

 

 

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18-34 crowd

If they are not fans already, kiss the 18-34 group goodbye. I would not be interested if I were back in that age bracket.

Keep in mind

The comments made are from the company that brings you "Digger", the racing rodent. My plan for this year, turn on the race on TV, turn the sound off, listen to either my drivers scanner or the radio broadcast on Raceview. McReynolds, Hammond, Waltrip, Rusty (by the way its pronounced KENSETH) add nothing to the telecasts. It does not surprise me one bit that viewers are going elsewhere.

Not gonna get 18-34s with that attitude

I am a bit outside that age range nowadays, but I think that if Mr. Hill is going to simply dismiss any idea of online streaming/interactivity/etc., NASCAR on Fox is going to continue to bleed in that demographic.

He says the optimal approach is passive, but that just doesn't mesh with reality today.

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