My take on the Belle Isle viewership and why it’s not as bad as you’d think

INDIANAPOLIS — The ratings are in. Like how Texas was arguably one of the better races that no one in person cared to show up for, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in Belle Isle last Sunday was one of the best street course races that no one decided to watch on TV. According to Adam Stern of the SBJ, the final NTT INDYCAR Series race at Belle Isle only drew a .23 rating with 354k watching.

That simply can’t happen. A week after your biggest race of the season, to have a drop off of that magnitude is inexplicable but easily explained too. NBC Sports had 4.836 million viewers for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. To lose 4.5 million viewers in a span of a week is glaring but not unprecedented.

Before I get to why it’s not as bad as you’d think, let me first get to why it’s a problem.

The amount of people that nationally watched on Sunday was nearly the same amount of people to witness the Indy 500 IN PERSON. The big question most have each year is how can the Indy 500 draw so many people to watch in person and on TV but none of the other races do. How do you up that percentage of people to come back?

I mean Belle Isle is less than a 5 hour drive there from Indy. If 325k showed up at Indy, how come no more than 20k don’t show up to Belle Isle? If 4.8 million people watch the Indy 500 1 Sunday, how come only 354k watch the same cars and the same drivers race 1 Sunday later?

Where do these people go?

It’s not for a lack of effort. The series has the best most accessible drivers in the world. The racing is the best product in the world. The media covering is constantly pushing content and storylines. The people in charge are bar none the best in the business. Everything is in place to succeed. It’s just not getting the numbers people want.

I wrote last week wondering if having a race 1 week after the Indy 500 wise and if so, is Belle Isle the right spot? I mean wouldn’t it have been better to take the week off and get on network NBC at either Belle Isle or somewhere else a weekend after?

Lets dig deeper.

Will Power came from 16th to win Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in Belle Isle. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Most years INDYCAR got it right by having the race after Indy on network TV. Having Belle Isle in this spot wasn’t a big detriment because you’d get the common fan flipping channels and finding it easier on NBC than say NBCSN or CNBC. When ESPN/ABC had the 5 race contract to air races that htey had, they always saw the value of the race after Indy and placed it on ABC.

So some wonder, why didn’t NBC. Well simply put, they couldn’t.

If you raced a week after Indy, Belle Isle is contracted to be in that spot. Roger Penske isn’t going to let that go. NBC has the French Open and a women’s golf tournament the weekend after Indy. Finding a window for network TV is tough.

INDYCAR and TV execs were also likely having nightmares of the French Open running long and bumping the start of the INDYCAR race to CNBC in 2021. It didn’t finally move over to NBC until the race was halfway through.

This time, NBC left a window for the French Open until 2 pm ET. With the TV deal in place, 3 races won’t air on network NBC in 2022. 1 is Toronto which will be put on Peacock. Another is Gateway in August. This was the 3rd choice because of the window.

So, women’s golf aired after the French Open on big NBC and INDYCAR, a week after all the natural momentum from Indy, was shifted to USA.

Belle Isle didn’t move the needle. With this race being on USA, you have to have a big race a week after to make people want to find it to watch. Belle Isle on USA didn’t move the needle for the non common fan.

So why not move it back a week then?

That’s easier said than done. Yes pushing Belle Isle back to this coming weekend could get the race after Indy on network NBC but you miss a week between races too and you then affect Road America. I mean you really can’t move that race back due to the contract already in place and also because of the Cup date for the 4th of July weekend. I doubt Road America wants INDYCAR on Fathers Day weekend then NASCAR 2 weeks later.

So in knowing that Belle Isle is contracted to be the 1st race after Indy and that Road America can’t go much later than they have this weekend, you’re kind of stuck.

Unfortunately it was a perfect storm it seems to have Belle Isle the weekend after Indy and to do so away from network TV and they couldn’t start any earlier either.

However, this isn’t as bad as you’d think either though.

The reason on why this isn’t as bad as a viewership is because it’s right on par with NASCAR actually. What I mean by that?

The Daytona 500 drew 8.868 million viewers for their February race on FOX. A week later they still got 4.57 million people to watch Fontana. That’s nice right? However, they too lost 4 million folks in a span of a week. Same as INDYCAR did between Indy and Belle Isle.

The difference?

INDYCAR went from NBC to USA where NASCAR went from FOX to….FOX. The fan bases are largely different though in the amount of numbers. I almost wonder if NASCAR doubles the amount of INDYCAR fans right now.

It sure seems like it and not one to tuck your tail and walk away. It shows that there’s at least 4-5 million more people you need to figure out a way to get in front of. Fontana still drew almost the amount of viewership as the Indy 500 for their 2nd race of the season.

The glaring thing now for INDYCAR is, how to continue to grow this fan base. They’ve grown a lot over the years but as they have, it’s showing that the work is still not done. There’s far more to do and I almost wonder if it needs to be radical.

NASCAR has gone to new tracks, football stadiums, turning tracks to dirt, brought out a new car and is constantly thinking outside of the box. That’s helped improve their once dropping annually numbers. Is it time for INDYCAR to come outside of the box now?

While I get traditionalists will whine and scream, this line of thinking to appease the “traditionalists” is getting INDYCAR to its ceiling too.

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