If it seemed like there were more ads than usual during Saturday night's NASCAR race at Kentucky, that's because there were.
According to numbers posted on the website Cawsnjaws.com – which keeps track of commercials during NASCAR races – TNT's broadcast of the Kentucky race contained the highest percentage of ads so far this season.
A total of 31.7 percent of TNT's race broadcast was devoted to commercials – none of which aired in a side-by-side format and plenty of which occurred during the green flag.
In the 13 races Cawsnjaws.com has evaluated this season, viewers have been subjected to the largest percentage of commercials in the past two weeks. While ads take up an average of 31.4 percent of TNT's broadcasts, FOX's broadcasts averaged 23.6 percent during its portion of the Sprint Cup Series schedule.
None of FOX's races flirted with the 30 percent mark, even if you count side-by-side ads. And FOX's broadcast of the 500-mile race at Darlington – which was exactly one hour longer than Kentucky – had fewer ads than Saturday's 400-mile race on TNT.
While everyone can understand the need for TNT to make money off its telecasts – that's the point of airing them, after all – the amount of time it spends showing commercials is excessive and unacceptable.
Saturday night's race was virtually unwatchable because of the ads. Some fans like to dissect everything about NASCAR broadcasts – from the camera angles to the analysts – but the avalanche of commercials is of far greater concern than anything else.
In fact, after watching the Kentucky race at home, I'd say the overwhelming amount of time spent showing ads is the single greatest problem facing NASCAR today.
Look, I like racing. I enjoy it to the point I'd still watch it even if I was "off-duty," so to speak. That's why I wanted to cover NASCAR in the first place: It was entertaining to watch.
But on Saturday night, this scary thought crossed my mind: As much as I enjoy racing, I would have probably turned off the TV – or at least switched the channel – if I wasn't required to watch for my job.
If I feel that way, how many longtime, loyal fans of the sport might be thinking the same thing? How many have acted on that thought? And furthermore, what casual fan would be willing to sit through a broadcast like that?
It doesn't matter if the on-track product is good or bad if viewers can't see the racing and can't get a feel for what's happening. Crucial moments go unseen, all while fans sit and watch Danica Patrick's Nationwide Series commercial for the millionth time or plug their ears as Kyle Busch sings "Working For The Weekend" in that oft-seen Toyota ad.
Heck, KFC aired the same commercial – the one in which a kid and his grandpa argue over whether to order mashed potatoes and gravy or macaroni and cheese – a whopping seven times during the Kentucky race, according to Cawsnjaws.com. That's once every 26 minutes.
Yes, I know there's an online component to the TNT broadcasts – NASCAR.com's RaceBuddy – that shows a few extra camera angles. Believe me, I tried using it during the numerous ads. But RaceBuddy is like seeing clips of a movie without any context; it's tough to tell what's going on.
And yes, I also know there are driver-specific channels without commercials on DirecTV. But I don't have DirecTV at home, so that doesn't do me much good.
Is it too much to ask for a watchable race broadcast? You know, like without having to use extra tools to figure out what's happening?
Frankly, if TV is the best way to spread the word about NASCAR, then NASCAR is in trouble. It's disheartening and discouraging for viewers who devote their precious time to supporting the sport, only to be taken advantage of with a bombardment of ads.
So what's the solution? Here are two options that might work:
1) Side-by-side ads: All race, every race. NASCAR's TV partners like to put the onus on the advertisers for the lack of side-by-side commercials – "But they're not willing to do it!" the TV execs say – but that's a cop-out. Someone with courage at one of these networks needs to step up, put their foot down and decide side-by-side ads are what has to happen for the good of the sport.
You can't tell me KFC would refuse to pay full price for a side-by-side ad. Obviously, it wanted to promote its product so desperately that it bought time for seven commercials; surely, it would still be willing to shell out the mashed potatoes for a shared screen.
2) Optional pay-per-view for commercial-free telecasts. As an alternative to the standard broadcasts – which would still exist – fans could pay $5-10 per race to watch a commercial-free version either online or on a pay-per-view channel. Subscribers would see the regular broadcast most of the time and then be shown the Sprint Vision feed while the non-subscribers were in a commercial break. More than 1 million subscribers pay $199 per year for DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket; wouldn't NASCAR fans pony up a similar amount for ad-less viewing?
There has been progress over the last year – FOX and ESPN added side-by-side ads at the end of races – though it seems to be moving at a glacial pace. And there's no great turn of events on the horizon, either.
But perhaps at some point, given the emphasis placed on pleasing race fans these days, the voices of NASCAR Nation will rise up and get loud enough to force real change when it comes to excessive commercials.