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TV: Would less mean more for NASCAR?

Overnight television ratings for Memorial Day weekend are out, and it appears that the NHL Stanley Cup Finals outpaced the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte.

The NHL telecast of Monday's Game 2 between Chicago and Philadelphia on NBC pulled a 4.1 rating, slightly edging Sunday's races at Indy and Charlotte, both of which received a 4.0 rating.

While the NHL is trumpeting its ratings success -- the highest-rated telecast for the league since records were first kept in 1975 -- one thing to keep in mind is that this was a game from the NHL championship round. This was not a regular-season broadcast; this was a championship game of a series featuring two major-market American teams. That's a ratings jackpot.

Nonetheless, it caused me to consider television. Many fans do not have access to NHL games throughout the season because they are broadcast on Versus, which is not in as many homes as ESPN's various platforms. As a result, hockey fans are hungry. Monday's Stanley Cup Finals game was broadcast on NBC, a broadcast network with strong reach.

What if NASCAR fans couldn't see their races every week? Would it cause ratings to jump when a race is broadcast? Interesting to ponder.

Television has been credited with causing the boom in NASCAR. When ESPN "discovered" the sport in the mid-80s, only a handful of races were broadcast.

ESPN, which was filling programming much of its programming time with Australian Rules Football, billiards, bowling and the like, essentially served as a four-hour commercial every Sunday as it introduced the sport to America. Before long, only the NFL topped NASCAR in the Nielsen ratings.

It was much the way television served the barnstorming, seat-of-the pants, incredibly unprofessional world of professional football, the NFL. In the late '50s, boxing dominated the airwaves and Major League Baseball continued its decades-long stranglehold as the national pastime. NFL games were televised in a variety of ways -- through local TV contracts and on the old DuMont television network.

But the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants put the game on the mainstream American conscience. The game went into overtime with the Colts winning a thriller, 23-17. The country fell in love with the game and it soon would pass baseball as the country's biggest sport.

Is television today hurting attendance at NASCAR races? With high-definition TV, in-car cameras, the ability to eavesdrop on radio communication and more, should the sport consider -- dare I say it -- a change in the way fans watch the sport?

I'm talking about a blackout.

TV executives bridle at the thought. Fans call it heresy. It should be right there in the United States Constitution. Americans have the right to have the premiere sporting events in the world piped into their living rooms. It's why Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Blackouts, of course, are wrong.

So let's look at history.

According to the book, "America's Game," by Michael MacCambridge, after winning the National League pennant in 1948 the Boston Braves sold the rights to televise their games from 1949-1952. Despite having a contender in three of those four seasons, attendance dropped by approximately 80 percent. The Braves soon left Boston. And while television certainly hurt Major League Baseball at the time, it all but killed minor league baseball. In 1949, minor league baseball enjoyed an all-time high of 42 million fans but saw attendance drop to 13 million by the end of the '50s. Why would fans go to a minor league park when they could turn on the TV and watch the big league boys?

The Los Angeles Rams averaged 49,854 per game in 1949. The next year, the Rams' games were televised for the first time by Admiral Television in the Los Angeles area, and attendance dropped to 26,804 people. In 1951, home games were blacked out, and Los Angeles' attendance spiked back up to 43,818 per game.

It was a good while before the NFL would compete with themselves on television and, to this day, games are blacked out in the home market unless a sellout is achieved by Thursday on the week of the game.

So would blackouts of NASCAR races help at the gate? What if some races simply were not broadcast on television? Would the ratings increase for those that are broadcast?

History says yes.

But relax, gearheads. The TV networks won't hear discussion of the subject. NASCAR chairman Brian France would not consider a blackout. Nobody in the sport is calling for one, either. Nor are they suggesting that some races not be televised to benefit those that are broadcast.

But you might want to get out and attend a few races. And if you can't go, definitely turn on your television. It wouldn't hurt.