A deep look at the racing ratings from last week and why these numbers are significant for each F1, NASCAR and INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS — And the numbers are in…On Tuesday, we got a full look at how each of the top three motorsports series in the world did in terms of TV ratings here in the United States. Where this report is rather significant is, it honestly paints a clearer picture on where the racing landscape truly is at the moment and where it’s also evolving to for the future as well.

What I mean by that is, everyone is jockeying for position in motorsports supremacy. For whatever reason beyond my realm of possible thinking, there’s actually fans out there that bash other forms of motorsports and won’t support it. There’s NASCAR fans out there that think they are truly king and will point to how much bigger that their TV ratings are. There’s INDYCAR fans who say well our number is growing while yours are dropping and we won’t watch “taxi cabs.” There’s F1 people out there who think that they are above everyone in general.

Each aren’t the right way of thinking. Why can’t we just all support each other and help all grow at once? Why does it have to be one or the other in some fans’ eyes?

Here’s why it all helps.

Last weekend was the first time during this early season that all three series’ have held races on the same day on three separate time frames on three different channels. All three are actually positive numbers. But, the old pecking order of:

  1. NASCAR
  2. INDYCAR
  3. Distant F1

Well that’s changing. NASCAR is back on the up, while so is INDYCAR, F1 is closing a gap to them quickly and doing so in key demographics. In fact, F1 passed INDYCAR last weekend and they were on cable (ESPN) with INDYCAR on network (NBC).

Formula 1

An average of 1,353,000 viewers tuned in on ESPN as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc won the season opener, the largest audience for an F1 race on any of ESPN’s networks since the championship returned to ESPN in 2018. The previous high was 1.2 million for the 2021 United States Grand Prix, which aired on ABC.

Viewership for the Bahrain race, which started shortly after 11 a.m. ET, peaked at 1.54 million between 12:30-12:45 p.m.

The race also was the second most-viewed on both cable and ESPN on record, exceeded only by the 1.74 million average audience for the 1995 Brazilian Grand Prix, and falls among the top 15 most-watched F1 races of all time in the United States.

The telecast viewership also set an event record, becoming the most-viewed Bahrain Grand Prix ever, surpassing last year’s mark of 927,000 on ESPN2.

The Bahrain audience comes on the heels of the record-setting 2021 season that saw F1 races on ESPN networks average 949,000 viewers, making it the most-viewed F1 season ever on American television.

That’s great for F1 and one could say that their uptick is a direct result of their Netflix series. Why I say that?

The telecast averaged 656,000 viewers in the Persons 18-49 demographic, a substantial increase over the 486,000 average for last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the largest of the 2021 season.

Plus, if you use their number of 1.353-million viewers, almost half of them were in this key demographic. By comparison, NASCAR drew 4.003-million people which is a massive number for a late afternoon Atlanta race that ran right in the middle of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Newgarden bests McLaughlin in a photo finish on Sunday at Texas – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

However, they only had 716k of the demographic of 18-49. While that’s more than the 656k from F1, it still goes to show that their main fan base is over 50 years of age. Over 3 million viewers for the NASCAR race weren’t in the 18-49 demographic while it was nearly 50% in F1.

How this ties to INDYCAR?

INDYCAR

They got 954k for the entire viewership in Texas. NASCAR nearly had as many 18-49 year olds watching them as INDYCAR had for all viewers combined. That’s basically saying among 18-49 year olds, INDYCAR ranks last among the top three series’.

See the issue here?

Part of F1’s growth isn’t just DTS but it’s also the conflict and intense rivalry of Max Verstappen vs. Lewis Hamilton. That’s what sells. What landed NASCAR on the map in the 90s wasn’t just the open wheel split but it was also heightened of Jeff Gordon vs. Dale Earnhardt.

NASCAR has the new car that’s drawing interest with some fresh young talent ie. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, etc. F1 has DTS and a rivalry. INDYCAR?

They have great racing, the best there is actually, but is starting to reach a point to where they’re nearing a ceiling on a fan base now. This 954k is arguably the diehard fans. While some may laugh at that number, I say kudos. That was in the lower hundreds of thousands just a few years ago so they’re growing and doing so the right way.

The thing is, INDYCAR right now has the right people in place to succeed. I don’t think it’s as good as it’s ever been personnel wise and I don’t see any way it could get any better.

Roger Penske running the show is phenomenal. Mark Miles and Jay Frye are the best there are at those positions. They also happen to be the best humans and hardest workers I know. The teams and drivers in the paddock are great. The communications department is as good as its ever been with Dave Furst, Kate Davis and Arni Sribhen. SJ Luedtke leading the marketing charge was a great get a few years ago.

What I’m basically saying is, the folks that are in place now are the right ones for this to succeed for INDYCAR. The problem is, to grow, there’s got to be something to sell to non fans now to want to watch. Something is missing and it’s got to cater to the 18-49 demographic.

Is it a new car? Is it much needed conflict between top drivers? Is it their own Netflix series? Something beyond my paygrade and my brain power has got to be done to get more 18-49 year olds interested, because not only are they the future, they’re the ones holding this number back from growing further.

One way is to tap into that NASCAR fan base and show them that we can all coexist. Look, I cover both series and can assure you that INDYCAR’s racing package is far superior than any other out there. So that tells you that it’s not about the on track storytelling that’s lacking. It’s off the track that has to appeal.

These are great, smart people in place and they’re trying to figure this all out. They’ve done a phenomenal job so far but some times, there’s factors out of their control here too. A lof of that responsibility resides in the fan base itself. I hate to call out fans, but part of the problem is the actual people that are fans of the sport.

What I mean by that is, INDYCAR has given you all great storylines, great racing, sexy cars, great venues, great entertainment, hospitality, everything you could possibly need. It’s just for some reason fans pick and choose what they want to pay attention to and whom they want to pay attention to.

If you take what INDYCAR offers, the numbers should be what NASCAR has now if not bigger. Truly. But, with fans leaving during the day of the split and not coming back, plus the lack of full support from the fans now, mixed with trying to appeal to new fans, it’s hard to grow.

A great example is Iowa and that situation surrounding it. They are doing everything right in coming back to the schedule by adding a festival type atmosphere. They brought in a huge concert lineup and there’s literally fans out there complaining about it. Like somehow a concert affects their fandom. Fans are bitching about concerts. Concerts. Like come on now!

“How dare they not cater to my type of music?” How dare you make this anything but racing? How dare you?

News flash, it’s not about you.

There’s fan out there that are so stubborn that feel like it should be about them that they leave. “It’s not like the good ole days so I’m out.” I’ve seen it. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But how can you grow a fan base when whatever decision INDYCAR makes, some fans get so mad that they leave? What kind of message does this send to new aspiring fans?

Texas last weekend is another example. Fans bitch and complain about wanting more ovals. Well here’s an oval. No one shows up and 954k watch on TV.

Where were you?

Their argument was Texas wasn’t going to be what they feel a great race. Well, the Colts play the Jacksonville Jaguars twice a year and you still watch them. Jags are a terrible team but you make it appointment TV viewing. Why can’t INDYCAR be appointment viewing for, you? Why?

Like what do YOU want? What’s driving you not to watch? INDYCAR is offering everything to you on a silver platter and for some reason it’s just not good enough. So, what is it?

That’s what they’re trying to figure out. It’s an edge of a knife teetering feeling that these INDYCAR execs are dealing with because instead of applauding and following their leadership, we question and scrutinize every move and if that said move isn’t to your liking, you bitch. You take it personal.

If you want INDYCAR to grow, stop complaining, show up, support it and trust the ones in charge. They’re good folks and aren’t making decisions to take INDYCAR backwards. It’s the opposite. Stay involved and make it appointment viewing, there’s only 16 weekends out of 52, you’ll be alright by missing a pool party or two and invite some friends.

In order to grow, sometimes you have to get out of the way.

NASCAR

The other part of this is NASCAR and how they’re likely not only going to get a new deal soon for the TV package, but as recent years have shown, they may get a raise. For several years, we all figured they’d not get anywhere close to the multi-billion dollar TV contract on their next one. How could they?

Now?

They’re owed a raise.

Think about it, NASCAR has almost moved into a spot where they’re the second rated sports TV program each weekend. They’ve won most weekends this season with the exception of the rare week of the NCAA Tourney.

During NFL season, NASCAR is almost always No. 2.

So think about it this way, CBS and FOX have Sunday afternoon TV programing. NBC has it at night. ESPN has Monday. With the 2nd half of the season going head-to-head with the NFL, CBS and FOX would much rather have football. I get that. However, why would NBC, ESPN or others just punt their daytime Sunday schedule for cornhole coverage or tag? NASCAR has proven they’ll get millions of sets of eyeballs on them even during NFL.

With NBA not yet starting and MLB wrapping up, NASCAR makes a ton of sense and very valuable to these network in the Fall. Then, in the spring/summer, this is peak sports coverage too.

With NASCAR proving they can now be pandemic proof and can still effectively race during it, don’t you think they’ll get a bump in pay on this next contract as NBC and ESPN would certainly love to have them fill Sunday afternoon’s in the Fall? Wouldn’t FOX love them in the spring/early summer?

That’s why this past weekend’s numbers were relevant.

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