My take on the INDYCAR ratings for season finale

Ratings. We get to talk about them again. While I get the fatigue on this topic, I also have to remind the readers that this is a highly relevant discussion for the NTT INDYCAR Series for obvious reason – money. It’s what drives this series forward. The better the ratings, the more growth, the more money goes their way in their next TV contract negotiations.

Look at NASCAR. They’re getting billions on their TV deal. That’s has to be what INDYCAR strives to be. I’m not saying that they’re ever going to get that kind of deal, but why not strive to be the best? Emulate them.

The TV execs look at ratings in two schemes. A race-by-race comparison and a yearly overview. You obviously want to be growing week by week but you also want to show growth year over year as well.

For Year 1 of this new TV contract, it’s a win. The 2022 coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES delivered the most-watched INDYCAR season in six years (since 2016) and NBC Sports’ most-watched season on record, an increase of 5% compared to 2021.

Now, for 2023, you want to build off 2022 and grow. However, when looking at the TV results of the final 2 races, it leaves you wondering if the series should make some adjustments to their schedule.

First off, you have to look at Portland. I wrote about this last week.

I was skeptical when the NTT INDYCAR Series was adding a Labor Day weekend event back to the schedule. For some reason, outside of Memorial Day weekend, the series just doesn’t pull strong ratings on a holiday weekend. This year’s Labor Day weekend was a crowded one. Between the US Nationals for the NHRA, the Southern 500 and the opening weekend of College Football, how much attention would be put on a race in the Pacific Northwest?

By the looks of it, a lot.

This past year’s Grand Prix of Portland averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.011 million viewers on NBC and Peacock. That’s up 49% vs. last year’s race on NBC and up 6% vs. NBC’s 2021 race average, excluding the Indianapolis 500.

That’s a strong number and one that further proves that ending the season when they do is the right one. There’s no real reason to go deep into the Fall when you know your numbers are going to take a drastic hit.

Just take a look at the season finale a week later.

The series lost 500k in viewers in a weeks span and the race that they lost the viewers for was their championship deciding one. I mean think about it. You have 5 drivers eligible for a championship with the closest margin between them in 19 years. It’s a race on NBC between the big names of the sport.

Only 507k people felt like tuning in. The why?

NFL and NASCAR is why. I get people want to race further into the Fall, but this past Sunday’s race proves why that’s not the best decision.

F1 raced on cable TV last Sunday morning and nearly drew 1-million viewers. That’s telling.

The NFL is the juggernaut and going to pull the afternoon ratings. Going against them isn’t wise, especially when NASCAR does too. Between those two, having an INDYCAR race on USA in the Fall isn’t going to move the needle.

So ending in early September is the right call, especially with what these numbers are showing. Most races aren’t gaining as much year over year like Portland did. That’s because Portland’s date last year was going head-to-head against the NFL. Hence the 49% increase for their weekend and a 50% decrease a week later for the same cars in a championship deciding race that took place at the same time of day.

Alexander Rossi Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Are Venues To Blame For This?

It also makes me ponder on if this is two-fold. Are these the right venues to end on. Maybe they’re not moving the needle.

If you do want to go deeper into September, then it may be wise to find new venues. I mean Long Beach is a great example with it being that last year, that race drew 1.078-million viewers as a season finale. It ran against the NFL too but was a more iconic race than Laguna Seca.

Do you think casuals tuned in last year for the championship clincher or because it was Long Beach?

I think we all know that answer.

So maybe moving tracks around is more relevant than ending earlier. I wondered last year if Long Beach was a more viable season finale option than running it in its traditional April date anyways. It was a big event feel for a place people have heard of. Packed grandstands are a good thing. For Monterey, nothing against this facility, but you see more sandy hills than people on the telecast. There’s not many grandstands that are visible on television.

There’s a nice crowd, but not one that visible to the ones not there. People want to go where it looks like a party. I’ve heard from people wondering if anyone even attended Portland and Laguna.

Long Beach you don’t have that problem.

Maybe Best To Just End On Labor Day Weekend

I also wonder if the series should just end on Labor Day weekend in general. Last week was Week 1 of NFL and the home team for the INDYCAR community, the Colts, played at 1 p.m. ET. NASCAR also went green around the same time as the INDYCAR race. It was a losing proposition from the get-go. By ending a week earlier, you avoid both conflicts.

I know it may not be a popular statement, but I’d actually not be opposed to ending the season before all of this kicks off (Labor Day weekend) and going out on a high note.

By going too deep into September and October, that average will drop. By keeping the average higher, it means more TV money on the next contract and more TV money is a very good thing…

If not Long Beach, then I almost say end the year on Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis. Run the 2nd road course race then. Make it a big event. Utilize Georgia Street downtown for fun weeklong events, do concerts, pep rally’s the whole package. Do a parade for the drivers eligible for the championship and get folks interested.

The NASCAR weekend makes the INDYCAR race feel like they’re not wanted. It’s almost a weekend of going through the motions. How much is INDYCAR truly getting out of it? Moving that race to the season finale?

It’s big.

You can tie it in with the US Nationals over at IRP and offer 2-for-1 GA prices and plan your schedule around each other. It would be a great lead in to the Southern 500 too.

Even if that doesn’t happen, I feel like something does. While I don’t expect changes to how 2023’s schedule will end, maybe it’s time to look at 2024 and beyond and spice it up because this rating shows that once mid September hits, INDYCAR is the one that gets recorded and watched at a later time. It’s football season and you lose a majority of your fan base unfortunately.

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