DIRTRACKR Daily Podcast - Episode Transcript

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Dirt racing and traditional TV: why it just doesn't work | Daily 4-1-2024

Dirt racing and television. It's something that hasn't happened much, but what are the reasons why? We'll dive in today, and talk about the challenges, recent comments about it from a key racing figure, and even some rumors. Let's go!

It's Monday, April 1st, I'm Justin Fiedler. This is DIRTRACKR Daily presented by Kubota Genuine Parts.

A quick note right off the top. This show was pre-recorded, so if anything crazy happened over the weekend, we will cover it on the Tuesday show. I just don't want you guys to think I'm ignoring something big that happened. Also, no April Fools jokes here. I don't play that game, so you don't have to worry about that with me.

If you haven't had a chance yet, don't forget that DIRTRACKR t-shirts are back in stock at shop.dirtrackr.com. This new design is 100% cotton, the color is heavy metal, and they feature the "Your Daily Dose of Dirt" art and the established year. It's pretty wild to think we've been doing DIRTRACKR since 2019. If you ordered a shirt over the weekend, everything will get shipped later today. Or, if you haven't ordered one yet, grab one now with a sticker and I'll get them out to you ASAP. Browse the merch store any time over at shop.dirtrackr.com.

The topic I wanted to dive into today, is something that I don't think we've talked about much in the history of the Daily show, and that's dirt racing on television. I have the ability to search my past show scripts, and I couldn't find any past episodes where we had gotten deep into this. As we think about ways to grow the sport, you always get comments from fans about television. Why doesn't ESPN or FOX Sports make a move to get dirt racing on their channels. It's a conversation that's been happening for many years, maybe decades at this point. What got me thinking about all of this here in the last few weeks, were recent comments from one of dirt racing's main players on a podcast. If you might remember from a few weeks ago, World Racing Group CEO Brian Carter was on the Dale Jr. Download with Kelley Earnhardt Miller and her Business of Motorsports series. One of the topics they discussed was live streaming, obviously specifically around DIRTVision, which is owned by WRG. They talked about why streaming was so important to WRG's business, the World of Outlaws, and their other racing properties. One of the things that stood out to me in that interview was Carter talking about how streaming allows them to adapt the broadcast to the racing, instead of adapting the racing to the broadcast, which is what needs to happen for traditional television. And what he really means by that is two things. First is the live product. Any television broadcast, even live, has to fit into certain windows, and dirt racing just isn't conducive to those types of constraints. Track work, cautions, extra divisions, etc. are all factors that can slow down a race program. Motorsports like NASCAR and Formula 1, under most circumstances, fit much better into those windows, because there are just far fewer variables. And the unpredictability of a race night is just one problem here. Another is the cost of production. Camera people, trucks, producers, satelite feeds, etc are all incredibly costly. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce a single live event. So if we forego live television to try and save some money, and instead go for tape delayed or pre-recorded, you still have challenges. Obviously tape delayed means racing won't hit the airwaves until well after it's over, and we've seen this model used in recent years. The Outlaws have been on CBS Sports Network, and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series is on MAVTV. But often races don't show until weeks or months later. And what you get is a six hour race night, condensed down into a one hour timeslot. So that doesn't mean 60 minutes of action, it's actually much less with commercials. You might get a shot of the quicktime, a few heat race highlights, and then dive into main events. So again, you are adapting the on-track product for the broadcast platform. Not a great experience, especially for dirt racing purists.

Over the years, especially all the way back to the Ted Johnson days, into Boundless, and later the transition to World Racing Group, TV was tried on several occasions. There was the Outdoor Channel deal, and live broadcasts on Speed Channel, among others. When Jeremy Elliott interviewed Carter for his weekly Sprint Car Unlimited Deep Dive show on YouTube back in January, one of the mistakes Carter alluded to that he made as CEO of World Racing Group was spending too much money over the years trying to be on television. He said WRG spent tens of millions of dollars on productions and fees to try and make it happen. It was an investment that just never brought back any sort of meaningful return, whether that was in audience or added marketing and sponsorship dollars. The much more recent transition to streaming though has become a significant revenue driver not only for WRG, but for dirt racing as whole. We've obviously documented a lot of that here.

So will we ever see a proliferation of dirt racing on more traditional TV networks? I'd say the answer is likely no. As I mentioned a little bit ago, we've seen scattered World of Outlaws events on CBS Sports Network in recent years, and Lucas late models on MAVTV. But there are some important things to understand here about those deals. First, MAVTV is owned by the Lucas Oil Company, which also owns the late model series. The barrier to entry there is much smaller when your parent company has it's on TV channel and production. But, don't forget that Lucas and MAVTV shed much of their production of those Lucas races when they swapped to the FloRacing deal a few years ago. The Lucas Oil Company owns one of the key dirt racing series and their own TV channel, and they couldn't make the economics work in their favor. The TV schedule for Lucas and MAV in 2024 will be Flo broadcasts repackaged for TV, with 13 events on the slate and most airing at least a week later. As for the Outlaws on CBS, World Racing Group pays for that air time. They have to produce the races on their own, and then on top of that pay for the time slots. Unlike the mega deals we hear about for NASCAR, and more traditional stick and ball sports, there is no TV money flowing into dirt racing.

As we've worked through the last several months with the rise of High Limit, one of the rumors that's gone around is that there have been discussions with Fox Sports about putting High Limit races on FS1. If you remember back to 2023, FloRacing produced the DIRT documentary series around Kyle Larson, and that eventually made its way to FS1. So there are already connections between the sides. But would this be a situation where High Limit could earn TV rights fees for their events, like NASCAR or IndyCar do? I think that's highly unlikely given the current climate. High Limit might eventually get some TV time, but they would have to pay for it like World Racing Group does with CBS. If you think that sounds crazy, even with Kyle Larson attached, consider this... Even the NHRA doesn't earn rights fees for their events. The NHRA has been on television regularly for years, including live action, but even they pay for their deal with FS1. Recent pieces in Autoweek point towards the NHRA being hopeful that they can get the money flowing in the other direction for their next deal, but it's not guaranteed. So if a series like the NHRA, with manufacturer support, corporate sponsorships, massive crowds, and an existing place on TV doesn't earn money from their broadcast deal, I think dirt racing series like High Limit or the Outlaws shouldn't be hopeful. Even with as strong as the sport looks at the moment, those of us who are deep in it often forget how small it really is. Dirt racing is a small niche, inside of motorsports, which is already a niche in and of itself. NASCAR is massive compared to dirt racing, and yet it is dwarfed by leagues like the NFL and NBA.

In saying all of this, I'm not trying to be negative, or shoot down the hopes for TV deals. I just think we need to be realistic about what is possible and also not overlook the current situation we are in. I know streaming isn't cheap, but there has never been a time like this in dirt racing where you can open an app on your phone, TV, or computer and watch dirt races almost every night of the week during certain stretches. Streaming is still very much a new thing, and the ground continues to move and shift, but we have it pretty good right now. Traditional television is a pipe dream and something that we shouldn't allow ourselves to be distracted by. There is still a lot to learn and improve with streaming, but as Brian Carter talked about, it allows for the series like the Outlaws, High Limit, Lucas, etc. to not be constrained by the broadcasts, and instead make the streaming fit the racing.

That's it for the daily show today. We'll be back tomorrow to talk current events.

Hope you guys have a great Monday out there, we'll see you back here tomorrow!