NASCAR has, for the most part, had the sports world all to itself since its return to action on May 17th from the conronavirus pandemic shutdown. And with significant occurrences such as the attention surrounding Bubba Wallace and the Black Lives Matter movement, the banning of the Confederate flag at its tracks, some exciting finishes, some heated tempers, and a couple of unexpected winners, NASCAR has garnered numerous headlines and highlights over the past two months.
During the months of May, June and July it appears as if a number of new fans have been added to the roster of supporters for the sport as people looked to any source of sporting entertainment they could find on television or otherwise and NASCAR filled that void for some.
But all of that undivided attention will be coming to an end in the very near future.
Within the next two weeks Major League Baseball will finally commence its 2020 season while the NBA and the NHL will resume after having to pause back in March as each of those sports neared the end of their regular seasons. NASCAR will no longer have virtual exclusivity in the sports world as networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports will suddenly have an explosion of live events and highlight material to show on weekends and weeknights.
So what will become of those new fans who discovered NASCAR during the pandemic break? Will NASCAR be able to hold the attention of a die-hard Yankees or Dodgers fans once those teams begin play? Will an airing of a race take precedence over the upcoming NBA and NHL playoffs for basketball and hockey fans?
Television ratings have been somewhat mixed since NASCAR’s return to action. While some races have done quite well in terms of the numbers of viewers, others have simply held steady or even dipped in year-to-year comparisons although those comparisons have been difficult to truly access in this strange year. And more, weather has not done NASCAR any favors with several of the rescheduled events delayed or even postponed due to rain.
One thing that can be said no matter if those new fans stick around or not after their favorite “stick and ball” teams begin or resume play is that NASCAR and its leadership have shown other sports how to properly stage events in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. Only one competitor- Jimmie Johnson – and a very limited number of team members have tested positive since the resumption of racing. That is due in no small part to the safeguards put in place by NASCAR back in May.
Furthermore, NASCAR and its participants demonstrated great compassion and understanding as racial divides within the country became vividly apparent earlier in the summer. That was clearly evidenced as drivers and crew members pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the grid prior to the running of the race at Talladega Super Speedway.
Weather interruptions aside, this sport has absolutely put its best foot forward during these difficult times.
This Thursday night in the Super Start Batteries 400 at the Kansas Speedway, NASCAR will have direct competition from a major sports league for the first time since March as the MLB will throw its first pitch with two games being broadcast on ESPN at the same time NBCSN will be airing the NASCAR Cup Series.
Have those new fans been intrigued enough to continue watching how this sport that is new to them plays out or will they return to those they have been invested in for longer periods of time? In other words, were new fans truly made or were there just a few passers-by who tuned in for lack of other things to watch?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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