Making sense of the 4th of July weekend racing TV ratings and a breakdown of why it’s important and what can be done

INDIANAPOLIS — The ratings are in… Adam Stern of the SBJ shared the motorsports ratings for the Fourth of July weekend on Wednesday and unfortunately, they’re not great. They’re solid, but not great either.

The NASCAR Cup Series drew a 1.15 rating with 1.930 million viewers for Sunday’s race at Road America. INDYCAR drew a .57 rating with 643k viewers for the race at Mid-Ohio. While I get some folks may wonder why we’re talking about ratings again and feel like it’s a moot point, those folks couldn’t be more wrong unfortunately.

I wish ratings were a non story each week. I truly do. However, in this day and age that we’re in now, TV ratings are everything. It’s what drives each series forward or catapults them backwards Think of it this way, ratings are money to these series. Better ratings = higher demand. More demand = more money. Lower ratings = less demand which means less money.

Too many bad weeks, the next contract will not be as big which means the portion of the pie is smaller for everyone involved and when that happens, you see subtraction across all sides. Less cars on grids, less tracks wanting to be involved which means less sanctioning fees able to be charged, less marketing programs and the downward slide begins.

The opposite is true when things are on the rise.

That’s why ratings are the biggest determining factor of not just the right now health of the series, but the future too. One could say ratings mean more than attendance.

An example. 1 track owner told me a few years ago that they make more money off the NASCAR weekend just strictly due to the TV contract check that comes to them within 15 days of the completion of the event, than they do at the gates. If no one shows up to the race, the track still make millions. That’s because NASCAR shares a portion of their TV contract with the tracks themselves.

It’s no secret, NASCAR has had a very large TV contract and with them proving they can race in a pandemic plus get consistently millions of viewers, they’re an attractive series to put on TV for the all 3 seasons that they run during.

They’re clearly attractive to tracks too.

Need something to go against the NBA or NCAA basketball in the spring, NASCAR will deliver. Need something to go against the NFL in the Fall, NASCAR can deliver. While some may wonder why anything would go against the NFL, well what do you want the other network not named CBS or FOX to do on Sunday afternoon’s in the Fall? They’re not just going to air informercials or re-runs.

They know NASCAR can bring 2+ million viewers even on a bad day on network TV. So they’re valuable. Hence why ratings are big for them because they can get even more money on their next TV contract.

In turn, it means more money to the tracks and the teams which means more of a market to jump in.

With INDYCAR, this may very well be the number they’re at now. It seems to be leveling off. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a hard sell to NBC Sports and any other network interested when this contract runs out to get a bump in TV money. It may also be hard to convince a network to air races on network TV too.

Which is why my takeaway for NASCAR this past weekend differs from INDYCAR.


Scott McLaughlin leads Alex Palou in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

INDYCAR

They reupped last summer with NBC Sports. In turn, they got 14 races to air on network TV this season. It’s a sizeable number when you factor in they run 17 races in total this year. Seems like a win right? Well, what if said network doesn’t like getting less than a million viewers on that network for races?

I mean in this day and age of INDYCAR race, they should easily eclipse the 1 million viewership number on a prime Sunday afternoon slot on NBC. However, this past weekend they didn’t. That’s why this means something to not just now, but the future.

This is a prime weekend for viewership and unfortunately, it didn’t deliver. 877k is strong but for a Fourth of July weekend in the nation’s heartland, that’s not good enough I fear. Again, this number isn’t about the now, it’s about the next contract.

F1 somehow beat INDYCAR with garnering 1.239 million viewers early in the morning on ESPN 2. That’s not good. How does an inferior series to me like F1 with worse racing and less talent beat INDYCAR?

Yes, I get F1 has great drivers. I’m not saying they don’t. But the talent and competitiveness between the two isn’t that close from top to bottom. INDYCAR is vastly better and far more entertaining.

However, the ratings don’t reflect that though. Just look at the TV deal F1 just got here as a prime example.

That’s why ratings like Sunday matters. INDYCAR’s growth is because their attendance and TV ratings were growing each year. This year, in Year 1 of a new contract, they’re showing some signs of slowing up.

Attendance isn’t a problem. It’s the ratings.

So, what do you do then?

For years INDYCAR avoided most holiday weekend’s outside of Memorial Day weekend obviously. It just never seems to work for them on Fourth of July weekend or Labor Day weekend. Well, they’re racing on both this year and I almost wonder, what if they move the races to the actual dates themselves.

Race day last year at Mid-Ohio was July 4. That race drew 1.303 million people. That’s where you’d want this number to be around. What happens if you make this race unique and race it on the Fourth of July no matter what day it falls?

Daytona used to always be at 10 am or even 11 am on July 4th no matter the day of the week. If the Fourth of July was a Tuesday, then the Firecracker 400 was run on a Tuesday. Can INDYCAR do something of this nature?

It would separate itself from any other racing series. Hell, there’s absolutely nothing on TV during this holiday. Nothing. Unless you want to watch a hot dog eating contest, Friends re runs or superhero movies, there’s nothing to watch.

So, why not try an INDYCAR race at Noon. Hit the early window. Leave the race at Mid-Ohio because it’s close enough to this fan base to where they can still drive home and be home in time for a cookout/fireworks and take hold of the date itself and not just the weekend.

INDYCAR is to a point they have to think outside the box now. They’ve brought the series back from the dead. It’s revitalized now. However, they’re stalling out. This idea could help bring a spark back and continue the push forward.

Again, big ratings equal big TV paychecks.


Alex Palou scored his 13th career podium on Sunday in Mid-Ohio. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Both Races Were Well Attended

Another thing is, both Road America (NASCAR) and Mid-Ohio (INDYCAR) were very well attended. These dates clearly work for these tracks. It’s just that the TV numbers just didn’t reflect that. It’s hard to take a date away or move dates from a track that’s producing people.

That plays in the TV number too by the massive amounts of people at each. Which is why I wonder for the NASCAR side, how much does this play into a decision on Road America not only coming back, but maybe on a different date.

The in person crowd suggests to leave it alone. The TV crowd says otherwise. NASCAR has always thrived on this holiday weekend in Daytona and you know NBC Sports doesn’t want to see a flop. Do we see a new venue on this weekend next year for NASCAR or does INDYCAR move their race off and maybe to my idea above leaving NASCAR back on NBC.

At this rate, INDYCAR would likely be the one getting bumped to USA next year and we’ve seen what that does to their numbers.


USA Not A Good Racing Option

I never thought I’d say this so quickly but NASCAR and INDYCAR are missing NBCSN. That network was shut down and as a result, when their races aren’t on NBC, they’re bumped to USA. So far, USA has been a humongous flop.

INDYCAR didn’t even get over 400k for their race at Belle Isle, 7 days after the Indy 500. NASCAR didn’t get 2 million on the Fourth of July weekend.

USA just isn’t it for a sports network and it’s showing in these racing numbers.


INDYCAR/NASCAR Need To Get Younger Market

The most glaring thing of all is, both series paled to F1’s numbers for the 18-49 age group. F1 drew 643k for that demographic. That’s almost as much as INDYCAR had watching their race for all age groups combined.

In order for both NASCAR and INDYCAR to grow, this is the clear area they need to start in. It’s what’s driving F1 numbers up and their popularity here in America. It’s single handily why F1 topped INDYCAR in ratings this past week.

Grow in this area, grow your TV numbers which helps grow the sport which helps the cash flow. That’s why I mentioned INDYCAR needs to get radical here in some areas. They’ve been teetering the line for years not to piss off the traditionalists. However, the traditionalists are holding the series back.

I agree you can’t turn your back on your loyal supporters, but there’s got to be a balance somewhere to cater to them and also gaining the 18-49 crowd. Whatever that balance is, will be the reason the series grows or stalls over the next 2-3 years.

One comment

  1. Hi Eric, this is how I see it. When a series is on one of the big networks it’s easier for that series to have bigger ratings than a series that has to go from network to network trying to get their events on. You actually have to search to find what network will be showing what events for Indy Car. I have no idea how to promote Indycar but I think every race this year has been so exciting. I remember going to a race at the Kentucky Speedway which is a shorter oval track and I was blown away. Our drivers go so fast and drive so close to each other that it’s mind blowing. I think with the right advertising campaign the ratings would go up.

    Like

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