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Bud Shootout gets racing fans back up to speed
By Rudy Martzke USA Today
Five years ago the NFL's Pro Bowl dominated this weekend.
Its 8.6 rating (percentage of TV homes) on ABC more than doubled the 3.8 rating on CBS for the weekend's NASCAR race.
But with Sunday's Pro Bowl now on cable (ESPN), Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout on Fox figures to be this weekend's ratings king.
NASCAR has seen a surge in popularity on television since it moved most races to broadcast networks, and Saturday's race is expected to continue that trend.
ESPN received a 3.9 broadcast network rating for last year's Pro Bowl. The Bud Shootout got a 5.5 in 2003 when Fox moved the race to Saturday night. Fox alternates showing the race with TNT, which got a 3.6 last year.
"NASCAR viewership has been amazingly consistent since we acquired it," Fox senior vice-president Lou D'Ermilio said Thursday. "It is the dominant nationally televised sport in the winter and spring."
Fox studio analyst Jeff Hammond said, "I've got to believe it is all the fans who have found NASCAR in new venues such as Texas, Kansas City and Chicago. And this is the first big show (before next week's Daytona 500). NASCAR fans have been chomping at the bit. It's like opening day in baseball."
Despite NASCAR's rise, though, Fox/FX, which televise the first half of the season, and NBC/TNT, which carry the second half, have yet to show a profit. The rights fees quadrupled to $200 million a year after the networks outbid ABC/ESPN and CBS.
NASCAR likely will extend Fox's two-year option through the 2008 season. But the NBC/TNT deal expires after the 2006 season, and ESPN/ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer said at his company's marketing seminar Oct. 27 that NASCAR topped the list of additional properties he would want.
Coincidentally, ESPN has stepped up its coverage of NASCAR for SportsCenter this year.