Audience for Daytona 500 could be racing's biggest
Posted: Friday February 18, 2005 12:50PM; Updated: Friday February 18, 2005 1:00PM
Fox is predicting that Sunday's Daytona 500 will be one of the most-watched races ever.
Greg Biffle/Getty Images
Fox drops the green flag at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, and the bet here is that its broadcast will top NBC's 10.6 national rating for last year's race. The 2004 Daytona 500 was seen by 33.5 million viewers, the second-highest TV rating since live broadcasts of the race began in 1979. Such impressive numbers reinforce NASCAR's emergence as one of the nation's Big Four sports. The last time a hockey game drew similar ratings in the States was Canada's victory over the U.S. in the Olympic gold-medal game at Salt Lake City in 2002. That game drew a 10.7 national rating on NBC, making it the highest-rated hockey game on American television since the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Why should we expect a huge audience Sunday? On a conference call this week, Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip surmised that the momentum from last year's thrilling Chase for the Championship -- which concluded less than 90 days ago -- would carry over to this year's race. He predicted the 2005 Daytona 500 would be one of the most watched ever. (NBC drew the top all-time rating for Daytona two years ago with a 10.9 rating and 35 million viewers tuning in.)
"The story of NASCAR and its recent success really has nothing to do with Fox or NBC," Fox Sports chairman David Hill said. "It has everything to do with the decision by Bill France Jr. back at the end of the last decade when he decided that he wanted to move his sport from cable television to network television. With the dedicated following it had, he knew that he had a great product. He realized if he got it exposed to the broadest number of viewers that the sport would grow exponentially. And that's exactly what happened."
This is the first of 15 Nextel Cup races on Fox. NBC picks up the season at the Pepsi 400 on July 2. Last week at the Bud Shootout, Fox introduced the "Cablecam" -- a camera on the front stretch that moves between pit road and up to the start-finish line. It also can go 150 yards between Turn 4 and Turn 1. "This camera gets you to places that no other camera has ever been able to before," said NASCAR on Fox director Artie Kempner, who directed the Super Bowl two weeks ago.
Notes from Around the Dial
Yes, he sometimes utters preposterous things. Alright, it's probably more than sometimes. But I love Charles Barkley on TV, if only for his inability to censor himself no matter the subject, even when the subject is his employer. After TNT announced Barkley signed a three-year extension with the network -- his new role will expand to a presence on CNN and HBO Sports -- Barkley wasted no time promoting himself for a CNN show.
"CNN is obviously struggling," Barkley said. "I told CNN two months ago they should say 'unbalanced and unfair.' At least half of the country would listen to them and they'd have a better chance against Fox and those crazy religious Republicans. I'm hoping they give me a show on CNN called Unfair and Unbalanced."
That won't happen, but I've always thought Barkley would be perfect as a once-a-week guest host on a social-affairs show such as the recently canceled Crossfire. His weekly talk show, Listen Up! Charles Barkley with Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, fell flat when it turned into little more than a stop for actors promoting a film.
We'll see plenty of Barkley this weekend during TNT's 15 hours of All-Star coverage from Denver. Along with the usual fare (the Rookie Challenge airs Friday night; Saturday night offers the 3-Point Shootout, Slam Dunk and Shooting Stars competition), TNT will air a special one-hour program on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET featuring its staffers interviewing All-Stars. Perhaps swayed by his interview with Steve Nash, Barkley says the Suns guard and Shaquille O'Neal are his co-MVPs at this point. In terms of production elements, TNT will feature "Total Motion," a camera technique that can pull frames of live action and paint a visual map of a player's (or the ball's) path toward the basket. The network also will debut its "Magic Cam," a high-tech virtual camera that will show images of live game action, logos and the players on various buildings in downtown Denver.
With the 25th anniversary of the 1980 U.S. hockey team's win over the Soviet Union coming up this week (Feb. 22, 1980), ESPN and CSTV offer some interesting Miracle On Ice-related programming. This weekend, ESPN will dedicate 11 hours of programming on ESPN and ESPN Classic to the iconic event beginning Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN with Pardon The Interruption Special: Miracle On Ice 25th Anniversary. That will be followed by Miracle On Ice -- 25th Anniversary, which will feature the game with limited interruptions. ESPN Classic also will air encore presentations on Tuesday of ESPN25: The Headlines; #1 (7 p.m). and Classic Big Ticket: Miracle on Ice (8 p.m.). Best of all, ESPN Classic will broadcast the gold-medal game against Finland on Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. ESPN says it's the first time the game has broadcast since it originally aired 25 years ago.
CSTV gets into the act tonight with its The 1 College Sports Show, which will feature interviews with 1980 U.S. team member Dave Silk and Alexei Kasatonov, a member of the Soviet squad who later starred in the NHL. On Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET, CSTV will re-air Coach: Herb Brooks, a documentary hosted by Mike Eruzione.