NASCAR’s Ratings Take A Hit, Is There Too Much Over-saturation And Did The ‘600 Lose Some Luster?

I think we can all admit, that in the midst of the 2+ months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all starving to get back to some sort of normalcy. That’s why states around this nation of ours are trying to open up, albeit in modified versions of themselves. One thing that I think most of us have been craving for, is a meal out in a restaurant again. Home cooked meals and take out have sufficed just fine, but the atmosphere of casual dining away from our homes is what a lot of us our missing.

Now, imagine that coming back. Imagine being able to go out to your favorite restaurant to enjoy your favorite meal again. The excitement of just being able to be out of the house will draw large crowds to these establishments. But, imagine going to the same restaurant or even just one new restaurant seven times in the course of 10 days.

The novelty would wear off, especially if the meals were kind of bland. That’s what I think is happening with NASCAR right now. I applaud them for everything that they’ve done. The schedule made was one that had to be done in the way that they did it. The planning, the safety, everything has been a slam dunk. The problem is, the two tracks that they’ve raced on, well they haven’t exactly produced the best racing over the years.

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NASCAR action last Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600

The ratings were huge for the first race back on May 17 at the Darlington Raceway though. Over six-million folks tuned in that day, over a million more than tuned in to watch any other sporting event or sporting show that weekend. By comparison, an all-star golf event in Florida had 2.3 million tune in on NBC and while ESPNs coverage of UFC netted 1.2 million.

Then, a few days later, they were back for their first Wednesday night race in 36 years. The ratings were actually lower than what I expected with a little over two million people waiting out a 90 minute rain delay to tune in. While Fox Sports was ecstatic about it, since the race was on Fox Sports 1 and led all programming that night, I would have assumed more people would have tuned in. Maybe it was the rain delay. Maybe it was FS1 and their reach not being as broad as network Fox.

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 would get huge numbers though right? It was the only race of the “Big 3” on Memorial Day weekend as they had the spotlight to themselves. Yes, golf was on, but that was over before NASCAR really even got started. It was a holiday weekend with no major sports on besides NASCAR. Plus, the build up to this race was large. The last race saw NASCAR’s most hated driver crash NASCAR’s most popular driver. We also had a fox on the race track followed by an emotional story with Chase Briscoe winning the Xfinity Series race a day later.

The ratings? 2.4. 3.96 million people watched. Last year’s race without a pandemic turned a 2.6 rating with 4.26 million viewers. Less people tuned in this year. Why?

Maybe it’s because the Coke 600 has lost some novelty. The race has been in a downward spiral and 600 miles of racing isn’t alluring to anybody anymore. The attention spans of folks these days are vastly shorter. They don’t want to sit in front of a TV for hours on end. Plus, the cars and drivers aren’t tested in a 600 mile race like they used to be. They can easily make it that distance. Joey Logano spoke last Friday about how he’d love for NASCAR to leave the race alone, saying that if fans wanted a shorter race, there’s other alternatives to that throughout the year.

“I’ve always enjoyed the Coke 600 because there’s more racing to watch,” Logano continued. “There are shorter races to watch if you don’t want to watch a long one, but as far as the 600, you can’t shorten that race, you just can’t.

“It’s the Coke 600. No one calls it the Coke 300 or 400. It’s the Coca-Cola 600 and you cannot change that. It’s a crown jewel event. We must keep it the same and that’s what we’re doing.”

Logano notes the historical aspect of this race too.

“I was watching the (TV) special during the rain delay this weekend about the 600 and the history behind it and all, and it just got me excited to race in that race this weekend,” said Logano. “I’m glad we’re keeping it the same.

“I think fans will enjoy it either way. It’s a good race track and it’s gonna be intense out there from lap one. At this point, nobody saves their car and says, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make sure I have brakes on it. It’s 100 percent from lap one. We’re hammer down every lap, so the intensity is there the whole time.”

Denny Hamlin though, says maybe it’s time to adapt. Change is needed, even if it is for the ‘600.

“I mean, I think it’s right around the length of an NBA or football game, somewhere in that range,” Hamlin said who’s earned a top two finish in both weeknight races run. “NBA is about two and a half hours, football is three plus.  I mean, I think it’s good.  Obviously we’re really getting stung by the weather right now.  All these races have got delays and stoppages in the middle of it, so it makes it really, really tough.  It makes the nights and days really long.  But certainly you can look back on my quotes from two years ago; heck with tradition; you’ve got to advance with the times.  I think that keeping people’s attention span for three hours is a good thing.  It’s a very good thing.  These cars are different now than what they used to be.  It used to be a battle of machine, you’re going to wear out your tires and your brakes and whatnot.  They just don’t wear out anymore, so essentially it just becomes a long race after that.

“I certainly like the change, and on a weeknight time slot that we have, it’s got to be tightened up anyway, so I think this was a good taste of it, and they’ll gather the data and figure out what’s best for them in the future.  Maybe it’s keeping them long, I’m not sure.  Let the people that know a lot more about it speak on it.”

Logano’s Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski sides with Hamlin on this.

“NASCAR in my opinion has hit gold with this format, Keselowski said on Thursday night following the Alsco 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The limited practice, show up and race and the time window benefits both east and west coast. No qualifying, inversion is really good because it mixes the field up and creates some good storylines there.”

Now, maybe adjustments may need to be made. That numbers are far short from what I would have expected and they have been declining for years. Maybe a doubleheader race that weekend with shorter distances would be the way to go, or even yet, moving it to Memorial Day itself.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps even hinted as much earlier this week too.

“There are some things that we’ll look at both this year and the offseason,” said Phelps on Tuesday. “Typically, we practice three times. Do we need to practice three times? I don’t know. That is something we, as an industry, will determine.

“Having cars on racetracks, is that something that’s important with respect to a practice? Or isn’t it? Or frankly, do you have a better show when you don’t practice? And those are some of the things we need to look at.”

The Xfinity Series race drew nearly 900k on FS1 for their Charlotte race. What happens if that race is the ‘600? Would it get more viewers or did the ‘600 peak because it lost its novelty and the NXS drew a big number because it’s something new.

Now, throw in two NASCAR Xfinity Series races and a Truck Series race and you get a lot of racing in a short amount of time. It gets confusing for folks instead of a rare weeknight event, we’ve had five.

NASCAR’s President, Steve Phelps, even mentioned that on Tuesday, saying, “I don’t think we’re going to make a regular occurrence of it,” regarding weeknight races. “A lot of what NASCAR is about is kind of that sense of family, sense of community, the opportunity to go to a racetrack and go camping and be there for three or four days, and that’s something that important to our fans. It’s important to the community at large.

“But do I think we’ll have some one-day shows where you come in and race on a Wednesday night? Yeah, I think we’ll probably see some of that moving forward.”

Now, we have a race Sunday at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway and one on Monday for the Xfinity Series. From there, we get back to a somewhat normal with three of the next four races taking place on Sunday’s only for Cup and Saturday’s only for the NXS and Truck Series.

What is showing though is weeknight races work, but if utilized right. NXS with almost 900k on Monday night and the Truck earned almost 780k on Tuesday night. Those are big viewership numbers for them. For the Trucks, that the most viewed race at Charlotte in years and the best weeknight viewership in a long time. Would the Cup guys have gotten a big number on Wednesday night to follow that trend? We now won’t know since the race was rained out and moved to Thursday. How did that affect the planning for potential viewers?

We will see at the end of June where the numbers hit. That will tell the whole story. The sample size is growing and the future landscape of the NASCAR schedule will adjust to it.

 

 

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