Both the NTT IndyCar Series as well as the NASCAR Cup Series pulled off strong TV ratings last weekend in their respective races. As both got some heat from their fan bases for starting each race near the same time the weekend prior, the St. Pete-Talladega combo for both paid off last Sunday.
In fact, I can make a strong case that both were signs of how the fan bases feel about them. Lets start with INDYCAR.
Over 1-million fans tuned into the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete. 676k tuned into that very same race last October in what was the season finale then. More people tuned in for the second race of the season on the same track than they did for the championship decider just six months prior. Part of that I get can be attributed to the Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean effect. But, a large part of that could also go to the fact that they weren’t going head-to-head against NASCAR and that they also were on network TV at Noon ET.
That’s a gripe among many fans across this country. We’re being told later start times are better for everyone when in reality, the normal earlier start times seem to be what fans actually want. I get the notion that you don’t want races in the morning on the west coast, but that’s exactly what most west coast racing fans want though. They do want their coffee with a side of racing. They prefer to get the races in by lunch and have the rest of their days to do what they want to do.
I’ve not heard of many west coast fans that preferred their racing to start at lunch. I mean, if they did, wouldn’t the numbers be higher for later starts? Instead, they’re not.
INDYCAR just pulled off their most watched afternoon race outside of the Indy 500 ever for their NBC Sports content. The Indy 500 is the bread-and-butter but the race was moved back to a later start last season and the ratings weren’t very high. Their best ratings are the 11 a.m. ET pre race coverage before the green flag flies a little around Noon.
With a green flag at 12:42 p.m. ET last Sunday, INDYCAR showed the racing world that Noon TV starts are where it’s at. It’s something that INDYCAR will do more of this season actually. Six of their eastern time zone races has coverage that begins at Noon ET. Then the west coast races also do the same for 12 PT and 3 p.m. ET.
There’s a reason for that.
For NASCAR, they started at 2 p.m. ET and had 4.7 million viewers. There was 4.5 million in 2019’s race and that’s also up an astounding 1.4 million over last weeks race in Richmond which started just after 3 p.m. ET. There’s a reason for that large jump in numbers over a 7 day span too.
While they too could also benefit from earlier start times, when they’re not going head-to-head against INDYCAR, the main factor in this rating is the track and it’s type of racing itself. I mean, the gain from Richmond to Talladega in viewers was the same amount of fans that tuned into the INDYCAR race in general. Was it INDYCAR fans switched over to the NASCAR race after?
They split the fan base when they go against each other, so it pays to have one run before the other. That’s a big factor. You have to have one of them start at Noon and the other right after and you will instantly get a big ratings increase.
For NASCAR’s case too, the other factor in their number is that it shows that danger still sells. Following Joey Logano’s frightening crash early on in the race, a lot of people are calling for changes at Daytona/Talladega. While I agree changes need to be made to help keep these cars on the ground, the calls to take away the restrictor plates or tapered spacers or even alter the tracks to go away from the pack racing isn’t going to happen any time soon. These ratings reflect that.
4.7 million people tuned in to watch. That’s because of Talladega and how the races are there. Change the type of racing at Talladega, you risk losing a chunk out of that 4.7 million.
That’s a lot of people for the year 2021 to watch a race. That’s a very strong number. That’s one that shows us that you can’t do anything to the racing on these tracks but you do have to continue to make these cars safer and safer. We can’t allow them to lift off the ground and we also have to do everything in our power to ensure that the drivers inside the cars are stable and not affected by impacts from other cars.
NASCAR has done a great job so far, this is the top of the list moving forward on how if Logano did get his after flipping, how they can keep the driver inside safe and also figure out how to just not allow that car to get airborne in the first place.
So, while some may look at these numbers and applaud them, you have to take the time to break it down and see that these numbers reflect where these fan bases sit today. Racing fans don’t want INDYCAR-NASCAR racing at the same time. Racing fans also want Noon starts. That’s a huge sign.
The other is that Talladega and Daytona sell based off how the races playout there, so the only thing that you can do to them is to just make the cars safer and safer.