The ratings for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race wasn’t good. The race per Adam Stern of SBJ, which aired on USA, got a 1.07 ratings with 1.776 million viewers. That’s down 500k in the viewership category over last year which drew a 1.20 rating with 2.2 million viewers.
Now, before people start freaking out over this, the main point here is simple – racing in primetime may be good for ticket sales and in track experiences, but for those at home, they’re just not watching.
It’s also why NASCAR and their TV partners have closed the door on more primetime races. Why schedule them when those folks not at the race track won’t watch?
Last year Ben Kennedy spoke on his vision for the NASCAR Cup Series schedule and he grew up with NASCAR on TV on Sunday afternoon’s. He and the TV partners at Fox Sports and NBC Sports agree with this philosophy.
2021 was a shift from Saturday night primetime races to Sunday afternoons. This 2023 schedule further exemplifies that shift in philosophy. Just 2 of the 36 points paying races in 2023 will be on Saturday night with 2 more on a Sunday night.
Yes, Sunday night.
NASCAR knows that it can be hot in the south in the summer. Letting fans roast in the grandstands in Atlanta isn’t wise. So instead of a day race in July, it’s a night race. The caveat? It’s a Sunday night race not a Saturday night event.
Same for Richmond. A shift up to the end of July can make fans swealter. Also they wanted to differentiate between the 2 stops. A day race and a night race. The summer races makes more sense to utilize the lights. Like Atlanta, they’ll race on a Sunday night.
This is all by design and one that the TV ratings show that racing on Sunday is way better for the viewer than on a Saturday night.
Martinsville’s race this pasts year was further proof on why NASCAR has went forward with more Sunday races than Saturday night. A week prior to that race in April, NASCAR raced at Richmond on FOX. The Richmond race was a Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Martinsville race a Saturday night on FS1.
Nearly 4 million (3.958-million) people tuned into the Richmond race. The Martinsville race didn’t even get to half of that total.
From 3.958-million to 1.8-million. That’s a stark drop. Hell, the Truck race on dirt almost had as many people watching than the Cup race at Martinsville a week prior.
While some could say a race on FS1 will naturally drop off than one on FOX, you don’t lose 3-million people because of that and the Truck race was on FS1 too.
Early in the season, Atlanta had 4 million tune in, Phoenix had 3.991 million, COTA had 3.7-million. Richmond was 3.9 and now Bristol Dirt of all races got 4.5 million. Each race on FOX in an afternoon start.
Primetime TV for sports is declining in general. It’s a fundamental shift that NASCAR is working on again and they’re not hiding behind that fact either. Richmond and Atlanta as an example next summer will race under the lights on Sunday night instead of Saturday night. Kansas will be a day race against the NFL this Fall. Why Sunday’s and not utilizing Saturday night’s anymore?
“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing,” Ben Kennedy said last year on this topic. “For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.
“I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.”
In both 2009 and again in 2010 we had 10 scheduled night races on the schedule. They were at Phoenix, Richmond (x2), Darlington, Charlotte (x2), Daytona, Chicago, Bristol and Atlanta. This year, that number is down to six (Martinsville, Bristol (x2), Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona). Out of those 6, half will take place on a Sunday night at that. That’s down from 8 of 10 in 2010.
Plus, among the past tracks with lights, Phoenix and Atlanta doesn’t use theirs anymore for Cup with both visits now being day races. Chicago is also gone.
The shift is clear. Lights are basically a backup plan now for tracks for the event rain pushes them to night to complete. However, they’d prefer not to have to use them and get them all done in a Sunday afternoon window.
When Bristol Dirt on Easter Night gets over 4-million viewers but the night race that everyone boasts about gets less than 2 million, it goes to show the gap here.
Bristol dirt was up 28% over last year and the highest rated Bristol spring race since 2016. The number peaked at 4.5-million which at the time was the No. 2 watched race this season behind only the Daytona 500.
What’s that say?
Sunday night can do better than Saturday night which is why these ratings were kind of expected.
Chase Elliott hinted at this possibility last week in his press conference saying that he doesn’t see any value to racing against the NFL in the Fall. While he’s not wrong, this race wasn’t against the NFL being a Saturday night. If they ran it on a Sunday, the ratings would be higher, but not as high as they’d be in the summer.
It goes to what I’ve been saying lately that the only viewers of NASCAR races once the NFL season starts is just that, the fan base that’s already been established. You’re not going to get those casual fans anymore. They’ve tuned out and are into their NFL team.
In the summer, there’s not a lot of other options on so you get that casual fan, especially when you can get on network TV like FOX or NBC and not FS1 or USA.
So some may ask, why go so late in the season then? That’s what Elliott is asking too. The takeaway from that is, NBC or even other networks not named FOX or CBS don’t want to punt on the 1-7 p.m. ET window.
Yes, the NFL on FOX and CBS are going to produce massive ratings for each game. However, NBC doesn’t want to air 6 hours of infomercials.
A NASCAR race during the Fall on Sunday’s can still get you upwards of 2 million viewers if aired on NBC. If aired on USA, you see the drop off, even more so on a Saturday night.
Which is why I’m not worried at all by these ratings. It’s just the name of the game in the 21st Century. No one wants to be inside watching TV on Saturday night’s like they would on a Sunday afternoon or even at Sunday night….