Ratings vs. attendance, the slippery slope that INDYCAR’s race at WWTR uncovered

INDIANAPOLIS — Saturday’s attendance at the World Wide Technology Raceway for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 wasn’t ideal. It’s not for a lack of effort however. The track is arguably one of the best on the schedule in promoting their event. They do things big and they do things right.

They have the right people in place to make this event succeed and in the 6 years that they’ve been hosting the series back, they’ve done as good of a job as any track in America.

Most years, this place tucked just east of the Gateway Arch is very well attended. A massive crowd comes out to witness the NTT INDYCAR Series stars race under the lights. This year, that race was moved from Saturday night to a late Saturday afternoon start time instead. A scheduled 5:30 p.m. local green flag was moved up to 5:06 p,m. due to the impact of threatening weather.

Without rain, this race would have ended before a full on sunset. While some may say the weather impacted attendance, I do think that did play a role, I also think the time slot did too.

Now in saying that, the easy decision would be to just move it back a few hours to under the lights. It was a pretty common theme within the paddock that most would prefer a night race there. However, TV ratings paint a far different story.

NBC Sports unveiled that Saturday’s race delivered a TAD of 586k which was up 31% over last year’s race that was under the lights on NBCSN. It’s even higher than the pair of day races from the 2020 doubleheader weekend.

This was the most viewed INDYCAR race to take place at WWTR on record. With TV money paying the bills, while the track and their fans would certainly like a later start time to put butts in seats, if TV is happy with these ratings and by the sounds of it, they are, then why would a start time adjust for 2023?

This race is a massive win if you look at the ratings. USA aired another race this season at Belle Isle. That was the race immediately following the Indianapolis 500. The TAD that day?


Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden do battle on the final restart of Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Over 200k more people watched the same series on the same network on a Saturday evening than they did the race after the Indy 500. Think about that for a second.

To me, this is a very good number which means the folks at WWTR and INDYCAR did a great job of promoting this event. There’s no better build up than to have the race following the Indy 500. It’s natural.

This one had more ratings than that. This one delivered.

Which begs the question then, to whom do you cater to? The at track crowd or the at home watching on TV crowd?

Back in the day, it used to be the in person crowd. But as TV and their money has evolved that philosophy has shifted. Empty grandstands but higher viewers is seen more of a win so long as the TV network is happy. The check is usually bigger that way.

Which in turn makes me feel terrible for the tracks and why I don’t hold them necessarily liable if they’ve done all they can do and trust me WWTR did.

So while a night race is ideal for INDYCAR at WWTR, a late afternoon race gave NBC Sports everything that they were after.

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