Take it easy folks. There won't be any local blackouts of NASCAR telecasts. At least not for a while.
Bruton Smith was asked a question Tuesday. Actually, it started when somebody asked him if race tracks maybe got a little too aggressive in adding seats when times were booming in stock-car racing. Smith said he didn't think so, which should come as no surprise because he's built more seats than anybody in the last 15 years or so.
In saying that, Smith said, "Maybe television has become too good." He meant that the quality of racing coverage on NASCAR makes it harder for people like him to convince people to get up out of their recliners and put up the money and energy it takes to actually come to the track.
That question was then followed up by one about whether NASCAR should consider mirroring the NFL policy of blacking out games in a team's home market if the seats aren't all sold.
"That's exactly what should happen," Smith said.
Well, no, it's not.
When you do something, there needs to be a good reason. About the only reason to go back to the practice of local TV blackouts for races is to help the race track sell tickets to people who live nearby. Given all the drawbacks to the overall picture such blackouts would bring, that's not a good enough reason.
It's no surprise that fans would hate that idea. The reason fans hate it is the reason Smith thinks it makes sense. Fans want the option of not going to the race closest to where they live and still being able to see it.
Fans, in fact, feel like they have a God-given right to see it for free on television at their homes. Fans, in fact, think they ought to be able to see it for free with no commercials.
They don't care if that makes no economic sense. They don't have to. They're fans.
Why blackouts won't work these days is that the television networks won't stand for it. First off, two races a year would be blacked out in the Los Angeles market because California Speedway isn't about to start selling out its races. Texas has so many tickets it's not going to have many sellouts, either, and Dallas-Fort Worth is another huge market that Fox, TNT and ESPN/ABC don't want to lose from their ratings.
The money television pays into the sport now is so important to NASCAR's financial structure the sport isn't going to do anything television would hate that bad.
It'd also be hard to come up with a policy on blackouts. The term "sold out" is rarely applicable for races. Grandstand seats can all be sold, but aside from short tracks that have limited or no infield tickets available, tracks will keep selling infield tickets as long as people are willing to buy them, just about.
What constitutes a sellout for the purposes of determining a blackout? It's just too messy.
Blackouts weren't that rare before NASCAR got its first comprehensive television deal in 2001. Charlotte race blackouts were almost always threatened up until the last minute to lure the last few ticket-buyers out of their homes, and some blackouts were never lifted. Indianapolis race fans hardly ever get to see a race live because the speedway there thinks blackouts work the same way Smith thinks they would.
This whole thing is one of those little "media tour moments" that will cause a ripple and quickly go away. Don't lose any sleep over it.