Fox's Solid Daytona 500 Primetime Could Drive NASCAR Ad Sales Growth

Given the impressive ratings performance of the season-opening
Daytona 500 telecast on Fox in primetime, NASCAR seems to be continuing a TV
viewership revival path that began last year.

After two rain delays, Daytona finally ran on Monday, Feb.
27. The telecast drew an average of 14.1 million viewers and a 4.6 18-49 rating.
While that 14.1 million was less than the 15.6 million average for last year's
Sunday Daytona 500 daytime telecast, it was up over the 13.3 million drawn two
years ago, and it reached some new viewers in primetime. It was also a
bit of a blessing in disguise, stealing viewers away from most primetime

Still, Daytona is its own animal-the sport's most popular
annual event-and numbers for the Phoenix race that followed will help indicate
whether Fox will continue building on its 2011 NASCAR regular season totals, which
averaged 8.6 million viewers (a three-year high for the network).

Neil Mulcahy, executive VP of Fox Sports sales, talked to B&C contributing editor John Consoli
about the numbers, the current season and how some advertisers are returning to
the NASCAR telecast ad fold.

Over 36 million watched all or part of the recent Daytona 500 race
telecast, according to Nielsen data. What was the reaction from advertisers?

We had a bunch of inquiries the next day asking if we have
plans to televise the race in primetime again. And we also heard from two or
three advertisers not currently in our NASCAR telecasts who want to buy in
based on what they saw Monday night. We were able to reach some new audience
with the telecast being moved into primetime and that was a good thing for
all the advertisers in the telecast. It's always good for advertisers to get
new eyeballs.

One of the new features you used in the later portion of the Daytona race
was a split-screen during commercials:  half the screen showed the ad while the other
half stayed with the race. How was that received by advertisers?

We tested it last year in the last four races, doing it for
just one commercial break so we could evaluate it. In the telecast Monday we
had scheduled it for four breaks but due to the delays we wound up using it
more than that. All the advertisers were excited to be part of it.

There were about a dozen advertisers who participated in the split-screen
commercials. Among them were Coke, Sprint, Toyota, Lowe's, Subway, Anheuser-Busch,
Goodyear and DirecTV. How were they selected?

We went to our largest advertisers first and pretty much
they all wanted to be there.

What type of ad rates are there for the split-screen vs. full-screen
during commercial breaks?

The ad rate is the same, but with the half-screen the
advertisers get additional billboard branding and we will continue to modify
those branding enhancements on-screen as we go forward.

Between the softened economy and NASCAR not only losing TV viewers but
also attendees at the tracks over the past few years, Fox had also lost some
advertisers, correct?
We certainly lost a few advertisers, including some of the
auto companies, but they have come back in a big way-companies like Chrysler,
Ford and Toyota. And for a few years, the insurance companies had cut back on
advertising and a few dropped out. But some of them are back.

So where does Fox stand with its overall NASCAR advertising compared to
the past few years?

In the past year we've evened out the number of ad accounts
leaving and the number of new ones coming in. Once at the even point,
we have now started to increase the number of advertisers over a few years

Which NASCAR advertisers are new for this year?
Geico, Farmers Insurance Group, 5-hour Energy and Aaron's
are among the new advertisers this year. We also have many long-time major
advertisers with us like Anheuser-Busch, Pizza Hut, General Motors, Subway,
AT&T and Sprint.

What are the ad sellout levels for the NASCAR telecasts to date, and
with viewership last year up from the previous year, what kind of rate
increases have you gotten for this season's telecasts?

We have sold about 5% more inventory this year at this point
than we did last year-we're 75% sold out of our NASCAR inventory this year
compared to 70% last year right now. And we've gotten mid-single-digit cost per
thousand price increases.

The Daytona 500 telecast was sold out days before it aired. What is the
outlook for selling the rest of your regular season NASCAR inventory?

Well, we are running ahead of last year slightly, but a lot
of sales going forward depend on the viewership of the Daytona 500, which
advertisers usually look at to make decisions about putting additional money
down. Advertiser feedback after [Daytona] was good and as I said, we have
already gotten inquiries from potential new advertisers. We have four more
primetime races during the regular season, three on Saturday night and one on
Sunday night so they could wind up being very attractive to advertisers based on
the Daytona 500 primetime ratings.