Tuesday, February 22, 2005

25 years ago, Today...

The sweetest image that the sports world has ever shown me turns 25 today. Happy Birthday, Team USA, for on this day, February 22, 1980, you shocked the world, and became the #1 sports moment in my life. I can say without hesitation that there is no possibility that day will ever drop to #2.


I had a tough time deciding what to write this week’s Dallas Sports Page column on. After rejecting the urge to write about the NHL (yuck), I settled on an essay regarding the rise of NASCAR. Enjoy, if you can take me writing about it two days in a row…

It happened. Finally, a sport predicted as the next big thing might live up to the hype! I know, I know, this has happened before. The false alarm has sounded a number of times as we were assured that the MLS, WNBA and NHL were going to be the next big leagues to challenge baseball, football, and basketball for sports supremacy in this country, but I think we can honestly suggest that NASCAR has almost reached that level.

If you watched the Daytona 500 on Sunday, you could almost see it all happening simultaneously. Hockey was lowering itself 6-feet under ground into a depth known as irrelevance. Basketball was staging an All-Star game on cable TV, as the numbers since Jordan have steadily declined. “America’s Pastime” was busy assuring those who would listen that steroids are under total control, and don’t let that affect your allegiance to our game.

Meanwhile, there is racing. With nearly 19 million viewers strong on Sunday, staging a huge race with massive excitement and appeal sweeping up those who are disenfranchised with the traditional sports. This is not to say that the glory days of the old reliable sports are passed. But rather to suggest that those who believe that NASCAR is a fad similar to the WWF’s quick run in the 1990’s may need to recognize the reality. America digs auto-racing.

And do you want to know what is extra amazing about the whole thing to me? It would have to be the fact that in this particular situation, the media played almost no role. That includes yours truly, who followed racing back when it wasn’t so cool (Jeff Gordon still had a mustache) and treated it as something I was ashamed to admit. Sure, I watched racing, but what would my friends say?

The Media seldom was guilty of denying it’s viewing of NASCAR, but rather ignored it altogether. They would start with the tired diatribes about “who is the athlete – the car or the driver?” or “what is so exciting about 4 left turns?” Then it was on to the theory that the only people that followed the sport were the original cast members of the Dukes of Hazzard. Perhaps if the media could make the public think that the only people who followed the sport were slack-jawed yokels, then they could justify the ignoring of the sport.

But through it all, it kept growing. It grew at a rate that many found simply unbelievable. And it grew the whole time with almost no help from the media. Think about how many times you felt that the media forcing the WNBA down your throat. It was nauseating at the time of the launch of that league how NBC (who at the time carried the NBA) felt compelled to make us like Rebecca Lobo. But we saw through it, and the WNBA has a following small enough to fit in Lake Lewisville.

But NASCAR did most of the growing on its own. With its loyal fan base and solid marketing plan they realized that to grow the sport, they had to expand it to new lands, but only if it made total sense. Get to Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, but pass on the less worthy places like Edmonton or Boise.

Now, as you look at your sports page, you wonder if it is quickly moving up the list to a level similar to the NBA. Is that possible? The scoreboard says it is. Subtract the Super Bowl, and the other heavyweight spring/summer sports television event is the Daytona 500. With a 5-year average of 10.5, it edges the NBA Finals (10.3), spanks the Masters Final Round (9.6), and obliterates the Kentucky Derby (6.9). I won’t even suggest the NHL Finals. This suggests that like those other sports, its fan base is broad and powerful. This is not the cast of Hee-Haw watching, this is America.

Will it continue to grow? You would sure think so. I feel like the stars are decent right now, but the sport had perhaps its greatest star appeal in the early to mid 90’s when you had the late Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Ernie Irvin, Bill Elliott all in their prime (or close to it), with a young Gordon on the move. Now, none of the above besides Gordon remains a viable contender in this sport and all approach retirement if they are not already there.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is maybe the sports most visible figure, and along with Gordon, the man on the street likely knows them. But what about Jimmie Johnson, last year’s champion Kurt Busch, 2003’s champion Matt Kenseth, or even bad boy Tony Stewart? My point is the talent is there, but maybe the sport still has plenty of room to grow with its stars on the rise.

Maybe the funniest part of this whole rise of NASCAR is the scrambling of the journalists to catch up. Now, restrictor plates, Pit road speed limits, and drafting partners are terms every sports pundit is quickly and quietly trying to learn. They realize that this is no longer a fad as much as it is soon to be part of their job description. Soon, they will need an opinion on whether Chevy has an unfair template advantage over Ford and Dodge, or is it just the drivers they have.

Look on the bright side, fellow journalist: At least it wasn’t the WNBA that the public wanted to buy!


Rumors and the Cowboys

The other side of the Miracle on Ice

Vescey on the trade deadline …And for once, I really am not worried about the Mavs doing anything…

Brewers count on Doug Davis

Ratings great for Daytona 500

Initial tune-in for the Daytona 500 was the highest in history. The first full half-hour of yesterday's race posted a 9.9/23 (2:30-3:00), beating last year's 9.7/23, which was helped by an appearance by President Bush as Grand Marshal. Ratings growth during the race was steady through the first half — then explosive from 5:00 through the dramatic conclusion. FOX notched an 11.6/24 at 5:00, a 13.0/25 at 5:30, and a 13.5/26 from 6:00-6:20 as Jeff Gordon captured the race in the first-ever "green-white-checkered" finish in Daytona 500 history. The 13.5/26 from 6:00-6:30 is the highest rating for any portion of a NASCAR race ever on FOX.

Over the last five years the Daytona 500 has established itself as one of the biggest events in sports. The last five Daytona 500s have averaged a 10.5 rating nationally, which is better than the average rating of the last five NBA Finals (10.3 on ABC and NBC). Compared to some other major Winter/Spring events, the last five Daytona 500s also beat the average of the last five final rounds of The Masters (9.6) and the last five Kentucky Derbies (6.9).

Murray Chass on the kid-napping of ballplayer’s familias

Families of baseball players become targets when players' salaries become public information.

"The day after I signed my contract, they put in the paper everything, especially how I'm going to get paid," said Silva, who signed a two-year, $5.05 million contract with the Twins this month. "That's one of the problems. They put in the paper how much money we're going to make. After I sign, everybody was talking about it. That's scary. I have people at my house asking for money."

Asking for handouts is one thing, demanding ransom is another. Villarreal's kidnappers, the authorities said, sought $6 million but received nothing. Urbina's mother was fortunate that she didn't suffer the fate of Urbina's father, Juan, who was killed by robbers a decade ago.

Chris Rock makes the Oscars mad

"I really don't know any straight men who aren't in show business that have ever watched the Oscars," he said.

The Emmy-winning comedian has taken some heat for an Entertainment Weekly interview in which he called the notion of giving awards for art "idiotic" and added: "what straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars?"

Falwell in hospital

NHLFA – the fan’s association

Sportsradio, 1310, The Ticket …what a great idea to rip off!

A P1 hockey column


X-factor said...

Is that site for real? Man, that is nearly a direct replica.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Team USA - this day will never suck. Nice shot of Broten joining the melee on the ice.

The ESPN stations here in Austin have co-opted the P1-B1 bit as well.

Rob said...

Regarding the Miracle on Ice...I am not a jingoistic flag waver. I am a proud American but I do not have an American flag plastered on my Japanese car.

However, every time I see the last minute of this game on my well-worn video casette, I get chills down my spine and I have to bite my lip. Nothing created in Hollywood can touch that moment for its outpouring of drama and pure euphoria.

And one other thing. I have never heard before or since an announcer convey the joy of a moment so truthfully than Al Michaels did on that day.

What a wonderful, wonderful moment.

JIM said...

Bob says: And do you want to know what is extra amazing about the whole thing to me? It would have to be the fact that in this particular situation, the media played almost no role.

Jim Says: So Fox picking up half of the NASCAR season and Broadcasting Sunday's Daytona 500 has nothing to do with the latest ratings increase.....
Are You High, Bob?!?
That's crazy...

You even sighted it yourself later in the blog that the ratings at last year's Daytona 500 which was broadcast on NBC, did worse in the ratings with President Bush at the race.

Are you willing to tell me that Matthew McConaughey
was the big draw for viewers watching the Daytona 500?

I might need to bring a drop of Ralph and Razor on this one. NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NO!, Unless they all the viewers were the PS2, pot smoking listeners of your show......(I listen to BaD Radio, and yet I don't have a PS2 or smoke pot)

In my opinion, Fox puts on a better show then NBC when broadcasting a NASCAR race. Their announcers do a better job at not only educating the neophyte, but entertaining the expert from his or her living room.

The FOX attitude also does a better job then NBC in presenting the race, the graphics, the technology in disclosing why the driver is performing well or poorly on the track (Norm's Technology Rant Yesterday), the replays of the race and the explanations of those replays (Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond are two of best commentators in the business) and the pit reports are outstanding (Jeanne Zelasko is one of the best reporters in Sports Today, regardless of Sex)

I wish FOX could present NASCAR for the whole season, but that would cut into their NFL and MLB presentations (Jeanne Zelasko is the studio host for MLB on FOX).

If FOX could broadcast the entire NASCAR season, then I would be hooked for the whole season. When NBC picks up NASCAR, I'm tempted not to watch NASCAR and turn the dial to baseball (I Can't believe I'm saying that...)

Where's Jose Canseco?
I need some juice for the new Baseball season on Fox!

Jay Callicott said...

Bob, you're such a sports nut that you seem to be entertained by anything that resembles sport.

Nascar is a bunch of fat dudes driving in circles. It's boring.