By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
February 16, 2012
The lead up to Sunday, February 26 is a confluence of sports and entertainment like no other. Stacked on top of each other are signature events from the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and golf, as well as the Academy Awards, often referred to as “the Super Bowl for women.”
If you’re a sports fan, what do you watch live and what do you entrust to your DVR? Or when do you just wave the white flag and head to your nearest multi-mega-screened sports bar?
Here’s a look at the Must See-Ability of the slate of events, based on ratings, trends, and celebrity cachet. This week, we’ll cover the three events whose lead-up to February 26 is the longest: NASCAR’s Daytona 500, the NFL Combine, and the WGC Accenture Match Play Championships. Next week, we’ll take a look at the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando and the 84th annual Oscars.
Time to clear those DVR caches.
2012 Daytona 500 (Fox, 1:29 p.m. ET)
Even though the Daytona 500 is still over a week away, we’re well into Speedweeks, NASCAR’s annual fortnight-long kickoff to the long NASCAR season.
After a 2011 finale at Homestead that saw Tony Stewart barely edge Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup Series title, the intense competition between the two, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, and wild card Kasey Kahne should bring NASCAR fans out in droves well before the green flag a week from Sunday. Kahne closed out his one-year stint with the Red Bull racing team (which shut down after Homestead) with seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races and joined Hendrick Motorsports soon thereafter; other Red Bull resources have migrated to start-up BK Racing, which owns Burger King franchises and will likely sport a big burger on the hood.
The biggest NASCAR story in 2012, of course, revolves around Danica Patrick and her full-time jump to Tony Stewart’s NASCAR team from the IndyCar circuit. NASCAR insiders such as Doug Demmons of Inside Racing News feel that if Danica is going to win a Sprint Cup race this season, Daytona International Speedway is where it will happen. Patrick has close to half a million Twitter followers (Johnson is second among drivers with close to 127,000, Kahne has roughly 111,000), and racy national TV ads for GoDaddy.com. Should she become the first-ever female winner of a Sprint Cup Series race, at the Daytona 500 no less, the ensuing buzz would be off the charts.
While the 2011 Daytona 500’s live broadcast reached 30.1 million viewers, NASCAR executives want to significantly better those numbers this time around the track: NASCAR’s TV rights come up for renewal within months, and they are hoping to in turn better the TV rights revenue they currently get from Fox.
NFL Scouting Combine (NFL Network)
Beginning February 22, close to 300 top prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft will participate in the NFL’s annual showcase in Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium. There, the college football standouts, under the scrutiny of executives, coaches, scouts, and doctors from all 32 NFL teams, will bench press, vertical jump, and run cone drills, and the marquee 40-yard dash. If that’s not exhausting enough, they’ll also be required to undergo hour-long team interviews, pass physical exams and drug tests, and take the Wonderlic, a 12-minute, 50-question aptitude test. Average football player’s score is 20, with only one guy from Harvard ever nailing a perfect 50 – and no, it isn’t Jeremy Lin.
While Lin-less, the Combine will have lots of People to Watch, including top quarterback prospects Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Brandon Weeden, who leads the pack on Twitter with 25,000 followers (Luck has no Twitter account; his beard has 347 followers). DVR Sunday will see quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers running their drills from 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m. ET.
The Combine is also a major gathering place for football business folk. “It’s the Who’s Who of the NFL --- the networking capital of anyone interested in working in the business,” says Sport Management Worldwide’s Dr. Lynn Lashbrook, who convenes his annual Football Career Conference there.
WGC Accenture Match Play Championship (Golf Channel, NBC)
The first World Golf Championships event of 2012 returns to The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, near Tucson. The 32 first round matches begin Wednesday, February 22, with Official World Gold Ranking (OWGR) No. 1 Luke Donald looking to defend his title in the final round Sunday the 26th 2:00-6:00 p.m. ET.
While Donald has quite a following (over 206,000 on Twitter), he’s hardly the only reason to tune into the desert dunes. Also leading the list of the 64 golfers who qualified for the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship is charismatic OWGR No. 3 Rory McIlroy in his first U.S. round of the year (backed by 844,000 Twitter followers), and Tiger Woods (1.765 million followers), playing in the first event after his meltdown at Pebble Beach last Sunday. Woods has won the Accenture three times.
Last year, NBC Sports and Golf Channel generated significant viewership increases for their combined 28 hours of live coverage. Despite Tiger being eliminated on Wednesday, Golf Channel’s three-day average viewership was up 84 percent from 2010, while weekend viewership on NBC rose 71 percent.