By admin | April 21, 2014
By Richard Allen
The 2014 edition of ‘The Masters’ golf tournament drew its lowest television ratings since 1957, but the reasons for that were easy to see. Tiger Woods wasn’t there, Phil Mickelson was a non factor, and there was very little drama during the final round on Sunday. If there is drama and the most notable players are back in action next year, the ratings for the tournament will recover.
Conversely, television ratings for NASCAR in 2014 are at or near all time lows, but the big stars are doing well and the racing has been quite good. So what’s going on?
One factor that has hurt NASCAR this season has been the hostile attitude of Mother Nature. Weather has plagued several events, causing long delays and even a one day postponement in Texas. But the television audience has even been down for the races not impacted by rain as well.
I often use the Jayski.com website’s TV ratings page to keep track of how NASCAR is doing in terms of ratings and viewership. One thing that has been pointed out of late is the fact that the worst rated racing broadcasts often air on Saturday nights. Six of Fox’s seven lowest rated Sprint Cup broadcasts ever have occurred on Saturdays. The Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway drew its lowest ratings ever. Oddly enough, however, there was an increase in the number of viewers for that same race. It was the first time all season that either ratings or viewership increased for NASCAR in comparison to previous seasons.
During one of his recent Twitter question and answer sessions, Fox broadcaster Mike Joy was asked what track he would like to see install lights for the purpose of adding another Saturday night race. He answered, “I think we have enough night races now.” He was then asked about the possibility of scheduled Sunday night events, to which he replied that there would likely be a shrinking of the radius in which tracks could effectively sell tickets due to the difficulty of fans to get to work and school the following Monday.
The respected lead announcer also went on to say that NASCAR on Saturday nights hurts local short track attendance, but I would argue that such is not really the case. Based on my experience over the last several years, I might even assert that the opposite is true. I know it is with this writer. The only NASCAR races I miss are those that are run in conflict with the dirt races I cover for my other website, InsideDirtRacing.com(shameless plug).
This is not to imply that Mike Joy is setting broadcast policy for Fox or NASCAR(although that might not be a bad idea). But perhaps the broadcaster has taken a look at the same ratings chart I and many others have.
Maybe it’s time for NASCAR to move away from Saturday nights on some of its tracks. Those tracks that traditionally have raced in the daytime but have moved to nights over the past decade or so might need to be moved back to traditional Sunday afternoon dates. Bristol’s August race and the events in Richmond would be examples of races that need to remain at night. But perhaps the Darlington event as well as the fall 500-miler in Charlotte could be examples of races that should move back to sunlit events.
Night racing is likely best for most tracks. However, ratings numbers don’t lie, they are not best for television. And with the big money the networks are now paying for the broadcast rights of NASCAR, television audience is one case in which size does matter. Fox and NBC(coming on board in 2015) are going to want to show their advertisers the highest ratings possible.
While “under the lights” might be a good selling point for the tracks in terms of tickets, NASCAR has shown a tendency to side with their broadcast partners of late. With all the money they are bringing in, who wouldn’t?
Sunday afternoon has always seemed to me like the time for NASCAR. Apparently, TV audiences feel the same way. Some races, especially the short tracks, are best suited for the night but it would seem as if some are not. Maybe it’s time to move the traditional daytime locales back to the daytime if TV ratings are to serve as a guide, and they almost surely are.
Selfishly, I’d like to see more Sunday afternoon races because I almost never watch those held on Saturday nights. I have other things going on. It would seem as if that’s true of many others in America as well.
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