FCC buys NASCAR ads to publicize digital TV

Published 7:37 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES – Hoping to rev up awareness for the transition to digital TV, the Federal Communications Commission is putting up $350,000 to sponsor NASCAR team No. 38.

Starting Sunday, racing fans will be able to see Yates Racing’s Ford Fusion whip around the track with the date of the transition — Feb. 17, 2009 — and the words “Are you ready for digital?” on its hood.

“It’s the leading spectator sport in the country. That is a great opportunity to get the word out about the transition,” said FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond.

The price tag covers a race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, another in Phoenix and a third in Miami and includes the posting of www.dtv.gov along the track, on the car’s sides and on the driver’s helmet and suit.

The market rate for the package is around $450,000.

Driver David Gilliland said he was honored to help support the digital rollout.

“The end result will be improved picture and sound quality and those are definitely important factors to NASCAR fans,” he said in a release.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin predicted the sponsorship will be “extremely effective” advertising. Congress recently appropriated $20 million in fiscal 2009 for the FCC to market the changeover.

All full-power television stations in the U.S. must turn off their analog signals by Feb. 18 to free up broadcast spectrum. Viewers who receive programming through an antenna and do not own TV sets with digital capability by the time of the changeover must buy a converter box.

The government is providing two $40 coupons per household to help defray the cost. Cable customers don’t need to make any changes.

Many people aren’t prepared, and The Nielsen Co. said Wednesday some 9.6 million households would be left without a signal if the transition happened immediately, while at least one television in another 12.6 million homes would stop working.

Each race is expected to have around 8 million viewers.

NASCAR is starting to worry that its fans, including “the millions tailgating at NASCAR events each year,” aren’t ready for the switch, said NASCAR spokesman Andrew Giangola.

It even enlisted the help of NASCAR icon Richard Petty to make an ad that will air Sunday urging fans now using “rabbit ears” to give their TV a tune up.