Breeders’ Cup is departing from tradition by televising the 2012 Classic (gr. I) from 8-9 PM EDT. NASCAR’s latest running of the Daytona 500 inadvertently demonstrated the power of primetime television.

The 2012 Daytona 500 was scheduled to begin at 1 PM EST on Sunday (February 26), but rain forced postponement for the first time in its 54-year history. Had the rain subsided by evening, FOX would have televised part of the race opposite the Academy Awards on ABC-TV and the National Basketball League All-Star Game on cable channel TNT.

However, rain persisted throughout Sunday and into the next day, delaying the start time until 7 PM Monday, February 27.

The NASCAR telecast suffered more bad fortune when several popular drivers were either put out of the race or had their chances compromised by an accident on the second lap. Then, on lap 160, a freak crash and explosion stopped the action for two hours.

The race finally ended early Tuesday morning, 36 hours after its original start time.

The silver lining for NASCAR in the prolonged delays was the unintentional first-ever nighttime telecast of the Daytona 500. Fox obtained its largest Monday night audience since Game 5 of the 2010 World Series.

About 36.5 million people watched some portion of the weather-plagued and incident-riddled marathon race–nearly equal to the 37 million viewers for the 2006 edition and an increase of 22 percent over 2011. At the time the telecast was interrupted for two hours by the wreck, an estimated 14.2 million people were watching.

Breeders’ Cup can be encouraged by the boost that NASCAR received from primetime television, though there is a caveat. The Daytona 500 had no opposition from NBA games because of the League’s brief break before and after its All-Star game, whereas the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be contending for viewers with late-season college football games.

(Owing to the Academy Awards telecast, the TV audience for the NBA All-Star game plunged by 22% from 2011: to 7 million U. S. viewers, compared to 39.3 million for the Hollywood event.)

The World Series and the Super Bowl began as afternoon American traditions but were transitioned to nighttime for additional television exposure. A promising, albeit controversial, audience-building and advertising-enhancing strategy for Churchill Downs and NBC is to telecast the 2013 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) from 8-10 PM EDT.

The potential benefits are compelling and competition from televised sporting events is not overly intense in early May because the pennant races in Major League Baseball have not heated up and the NBA playoffs are just beginning.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.