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Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Blackout threat would sell tickets


CONCORD, N.C. -- Blackouts.

I probably shouldn't suggest this, since this directly impacts the mother ship, but this might be what NASCAR track promoters need to get back to sellouts, or at least near-sellouts.

If it's good enough for the NFL, as Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith said Tuesday during NASCAR's media tour, then it certainly is good enough for the Sprint Cup Series.

I agree. Tracks are a huge financial benefit to their local communities. If the community doesn't do its part in selling out the event, it should forgo its right to watch on television.

"That's exactly what should happen," Smith said of blackouts. "It would be beneficial to the speedways. If you blacked out and people are sitting in Cabarrus County or Charlotte, maybe they think, 'I'm going to sit home and watch it.'

"They wouldn't be too happy [if it was blacked out]."

The NFL has been implementing blackouts since 1973. If a game is not sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, it is not seen within a 75-mile radius of the stadium. If the organization is within a few thousand of the sellout, that time period may be extended to 48 hours.

The same thing should happen in NASCAR. Yes, times are tough on the fans. But they are tough on the tracks, all tracks, even those that used to routinely sell out. They're reducing ticket prices and offering special packages, practically begging fans to come watch.

There's a good chance the Daytona 500 won't be sold out next month.

"Nobody wants to have a blackout," said Smith's son, Marcus, the president of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "You want to sell all of your tickets and be able to turn the TV on [and] see the race in the home market as well."

NASCAR had a blackout rule that some tracks took advantage of before the television package was renegotiated in 2001. LMS actually lifted a blackout for the October 2000 race even though the track was far from sold-out.

"We realize there is a segment of race fans who are physically or financially unable to be here with us, and we wanted them to be able to enjoy all of today's actions," former track president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said at the time.

To make blackouts work, that can't happen. It has to be the same for all tracks in all markets.

No amendments.

"A blackout is something TV never wants, and it's something ticket-sellers always want," Marcus said. "It's a natural motivator that you'd rather not have your event for other people out there to see if you don't have a sellout."