By admin | May 14, 2009
By Richard Allen
In the initial years after NASCAR entered a major television deal with two exclusive networks(Fox and NBC), the sport experienced a ratings boom which reached its peak around 2003. Since then, the sport’s ratings have been in a decline.
So far this year, that decline seems to have accelerated.
Through the first ten races of the 2009 season ratings have dropped by 11.5% compared to the same time period a year ago. Viewership is down 10.8%. The last seven Sprint Cup races on Fox have been particularly poor.
The averages for 2009 are a rating of 5.4 with 8.9 million viewers per race. In 2008, those numbers were a 6.1 with 10 million weekly viewers.
It should be mentioned that even in the midst of this decline, NASCAR Sprint Cup broadcasts are the weekend sports ratings leader more often than not. However, there is obviously a problem.
The networks paid for the rights to broadcast NASCAR races with expectations of having a certain, predictable audience. Needless to say, the amount they can charge their would-be advertisers depends on high ratings numbers and strong viewership.
It seems likely that with this precipitous drop off the networks are not getting what they paid for. That in turn means NASCAR will not get what it hopes for the next time the television contract comes up for renewal.
In the future NASCAR could also face another major problem in terms of viewership and bargaining power with the networks. The NFL is considering a change that would move the date of the Super Bowl back to coincide with the date used by NASCAR for the Daytona 500 for decades.
No other sporting event, Daytona 500 or otherwise, could withstand the massive hype of the Super Bowl. So, some sort of change would be required. Thus, the networks would play a major role in determining exactly what that change might be.
This week, NASCAR will run its made for television Sprint All Star Challenge at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. This race’s format has been tweaked numerous times and this year is no exception.
A ten lap final shootout, which had been a favorite among fans if not drivers, will return. One has to wonder if this change, announced earlier in the year, came in response to the lower ratings experienced so far.
NASCAR has to be more than a little concerned with the ratings decline. This problem, unlike attendance, cannot be blamed on the economy. For that matter, if the economy is in the midst of a downturn then theoretically ratings should rise as people are forced to stay home.
Just this past week NASCAR officials announced they were going to look into the situation. For an organization that rarely admits to any problems, such an announcement is a major step. Although it should be pointed out that a spokesman for the sanctioning body tried to spin the situation as a non-NASCAR related issue.
NASCAR developed ‘The Winston/ Sprint All Star Challenge’ as a fun, made for television spectacle designed to draw in an audience that might not otherwise dedicate the amount of time necessary to watch a 500 mile race. Based on the viewing audiences so far this year, they better hope this race does just that.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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