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Random Lugnuts: The NASCAR Xfinity Series

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR Xfinity Series
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: The NASCAR Xfinity Series

Bill Crittenden
September 5, 2014

NASCAR announced this week a 10-year sponsorship contract with Comcast, providers of Xfinity cable and internet services, and rename the second-tier national series the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

And while the rest of NASCAR Nation is making "to Xfinity and beyond!" jokes, I'm wondering what this will do to the broadcasts, the way in which most NASCAR fans watch most NASCAR races.

Consider the Nextel/Sprint Cup deal. In the early days, it was just sponsors like Cingular that were run out of their deals, but since then it's expanded to include blocking other cell phone providers from setting up signal boosters at NASCAR races to ensure that Sprint users had a superior experience, hoping to convince non-Sprint users to switch carriers.

Sure, this is all just business, but as Sprint left my wife stranded over the same billing error that they had made for three months in a row and we've never had a problem with Verizon in 8 years, I'm not going to switch because of a NASCAR sponsorship.

But that also left me out in the cold when it came to the Sprint-exclusive stuff: apps and (before smartphones) driver-themed phones. Nope, still not going to count on Sprint in an emergency, I guess I'll just have to miss out.

Well, now we're dealing with something a bit different than a cell phone service provider. Xfinity is owned by Comcast, which also owns NBC. Did you think it was a coincidence that NBC just pushed out ESPN for its expanded Sprint Cup broadcasting last week? Look back at it now in the context of this announcement. And that means that Fox could be in jeopardy of not getting a contract renewal. I know a lot of fans prefer the Fox broadcasts, myself among them.

Comcast isn't just a cable provider, it's a cable provider that has made plays in the past for exclusive control of some sports content. So imagine the non-Sprint phone problems you save at the track and apply it to whether or not you'll be allowed in future years to watch the Xfinity Series on your non-Comcast cable or satellite provider. Is it enough to convince you to switch cable companies? If the answer is no, you may be missing out on a hell of a lot more than posting to Facebook from the track under this deal.

Of course, signing these sponsorship deals is great for the content and service providers, since they get special access to NASCAR and can use it to get exclusive content that will draw die-hard fans to come to the new service so as to be in on every new video and broadcast possible.

But what of the casual fan? The kind of person whose life includes things other than NASCAR? We're screwed.

Actually, we (the casual fans) may be getting off lightly in this, as the die hards and the people that work in the business (who by job requirement need access to all the broadcasts) have just been dragged into doing business with a real championship-quality company, and by "championship" I mean the 2010 and 2014 winner of The Consumerist's "Worst Company in America" distinction.

Their lack of customer care was recently part of a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where he had this to say:

You can't reduce competition when nobody is competing. You could not be describing a monopoly more clearly if you were wearing a metal top hat while driving a metal car after winning second prize in a beauty contest. Maybe it’s because of their lack of competition they get away with providing such shitty service.

We pay more for our Internet service than almost anybody else on earth and yet the download speeds we get lag behind Estonia. Estonia, a country where, from the looks of it, they still worry about Shrek attacks.

Is it any wonder that in a massive recent customer satisfaction survey, Comcast and Time Warner cable came in dead last. And when you look at the companies that scored better than them: people were basically saying, yes, Bank of America took away my home. Yes, Taco Bell gave me diarrhea, and, sure, GM tried to kill me, but Time Warner and Comcast are the worst. They are the worst.

Now, think about that, and just remember the role NASCAR has in all of this. For a company that needs a positive fan experience to survive, they're cashing a huge check and in the years to come either forcing its fans to do business with Comcast or probably being left without access to a lot of broadcasts.

Fans, who, in many cases, probably just left Comcast for various reasons: Comcast Cable has lost customers every quarter except for one (4Q 2013) since its peak in 2007. And that's just the customers who are allowed to cancel service, as the "customer service call from hell" made news last month when a recording surfaced of a Comcast representative giving a canceling customer a seriously over-the-top run-around.

Oh, and it isn't just about race broadcasts, either. Stream your video highlights from NASCAR.com? Comcast is also a huge internet service provider, increasingly important as more and more of is go to the internet for video entertainment instead of the cable box. Under upcoming changes to net neutrality, where companies can drastically slow down content for business reasons, you also may find yourself unable to stream NASCAR content from official sources (NASCAR.com, NBC Sports) if you're using a different ISP.

Comcast actually has set precedent in this area, another point touched on in John Oliver's segment where he refers to Comcast playing with Netflix access speeds during contract negotiations as a "mob shakedown."

Male: When you say fast lane and slow lane, it's a good illustration. But what you really should be talking about is a fast lane for everybody and a hyper speed lane for others.

John Oliver: Bullshit. If we let cable companies offer two speeds of service there wouldn't be a Usain Bolt and a Usain Bolt on a motor bike. They'd be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolt-ed onto an anchor. And telecom companies will say, they would never slow down a website's speed in order to get more money out of them but let me tell you a little story. Recently, Comcast was negotiating with Netflix. This graph shows Netflix download speeds on various providers. That black line plummeting downwards was their speed on Comcast during the negotiation. See if you can guess when Netflix agreed to Comcast demands. I'll give you a hint, it's right there.

That has all the ingredients of a mob shakedown: Now Netflix, nice show about life in a ladies prison. Such a shame, if there was going to be something happen to your connection there. So frustrating that would be.

And yet, in all of this, I'll mention again: NASCAR has determined that doing business with Comcast is a good thing. They're likely trying very, very hard to coerce you to do business with Comcast with the consequence for those who don't likely being to miss out on some form of racing content. And somehow, this is what's best for the sport going forward?

But if that's all very depressing, a little bit of John Oliver's humor will make even bad news laughable, like a spoonful of sugar for the bitter medicine that is the "NASCAR Xfinity Series." (the referenced text about customer service starts just after the eight-minute mark and the referenced text about net neutrality starts at about 3:40)

Video is at http://youtu.be/fpbOEoRrHyU

Transcript is at http://www.upworthy.com/john-oliver-goes-off-on-an-epic-fact-checked-mic-dropping-rant-for-13-minutes-that-you-need-to-see

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