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Saturday Night NASCAR: Good for tracks but bad for TV?

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 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, 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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9 Responses to “Saturday Night NASCAR: Good for tracks but bad for TV?”

  1. Brian C. Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I’d be interested to see if they’re much better for the tracks financially, after the cost of lighting, longer work day cost, other odd n end cost are figured are counted against increased ticket sales. To me they were fascinating when the new lighting systems came out at Daytona and Charlotte, now they’re just another race on the schedule. i only did 1 night race, it was cool to be at, but the timing of the day really screwed me up.

  2. Russ Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Something about the Darlington numbers doesn’t add up. In fact on the Jayski site the matrix for ratings and viewers over a multiple year period doesn’t match the text.

    That aside, the rumor has been around for years that the “Plan B” was for a respected promoter to launch a series that would provide prime time racing during the week, i. e. M-F.
    If they could do it Nascar certainly could.

  3. Tony Geinzer Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    I think Richard, the issue is presentation. If say, the Knoxville Nationals was appropriately produced for ABC and that drew a 5.0 National Television Share, that would be having a Better than the Postmodern Family Share. I think FOX’s future with NASCAR is not going any further beyond 2014, and I have to say why not make TV and Night Racing a Friend, not a Enemy and I don’t want to see Monday Afternoon Races or unplanned Night Races due to the Tennessee Titan.

  4. Brian C. Says:
    April 21st, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Tony G, Fox and NASCAR are married till ‘22, they ain’t going nowhere, and the ESPN night numbers aren’t better than the day numbers either.

  5. GinaV24 Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Unless it is extraordinarily hot during the day, I prefer the races to be run during the day. If I’m traveling any distance to and from a race, I want to be able to catch a flight out either that same evening or early the next day to get home.

    The “only night race in the chase” at Charlotte in late October is a case in point. It is cold in those stands when the sun goes down and it impacts my enjoyment of attending the race. I stopped going last year and watched it from my living room, where it was warm. After the race was over, I walked upstairs and went to bed, no fighting race traffic. Works for me. If this race was run in the daytime, I would probably still be attending. It is nice during the daylight hours in NC in October.

    So I agree with Mike Joy that there are probably enough night races on the schedule. Considering the difficulties of the weather, it almost seems that Saturday would be a better day to run the races in the daytime - that would give them Sunday, if there were weather problems. But what do I know? I’m just a fan.

    One other reason that the ratings are down is because of Fox’s broadcast team. The past 2 years I’ve watched the race with the sound off. Now, I don’t bother to watch the tv broadcast at all unless I hear on the radio that there is something I might want to “see”, rather than just hear described.

  6. John Cooke Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I don’t care how good the lighting system is, you just can’t see as well at night as in the day. Maybe the sparks are highlighted more, but that’s about it. I agree with GinaV24, the Charlotte fall race would be a whole lot better in the afternoon. Also, the Twins at Daytona this year were not as good to me as in the daytime. Another bonus for daytime racing is there are a lot less drunks in the stands!

  7. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Count me in with those who prefer daytime racing for NASCAR, though I prefer dirt anyway.

  8. Bill B Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I guess I am in the minority. I kind of like night races. It’s nice to have the day freed up to do outdoor things, at least when the weather is nice (April to October).
    It also provides NASCAR a window late in the season to avoid competing with the NFL head to head (a battle NASCAR will never win).
    I find it perplexing that there isn’t a spike in viewership for night races. If there is such a thing as a casual fan you would think night races might be more attractive. Except for baseball there isn’t a lot of competition in the sports world at the national level.

  9. KY1WING Says:
    April 22nd, 2014 at 8:40 pm


    Be careful using those ratings and numbers in your articles.

    Hate to see you threatened to “be lawed” by the Nielsen Company like another NASCAR web site was recently.

    I understand they had to change their name and remove much of their excellent content, greatly reducing their presence and impact.

    Just be careful.