SBJ/June 9-15, 2014/Media

Weathering a storm: Rain dampens NASCAR ratings

NASCAR’s TV ratings dropped 10 percent on Fox this season, following a stretch of races that experienced the circuit’s most weather-related delays in seven years.

Fox averaged a 4.3 Nielsen rating and 7 million viewers through the first 13 Sprint Cup races of the season compared to a 4.8 rating and 7.8 million viewers last year.

Rain delayed the start of the Daytona 500 in February, one of several rain delays this year.

Fox and NASCAR executives blamed poor weather for this year’s decreases. The sport got off to a particularly bad start when rain delayed the start of the Daytona 500 more than six hours and forced it to air opposite the Winter Olympics’ closing ceremony. Not surprisingly, the Daytona 500’s TV ratings dropped 43 percent from last year, earning a 5.6 rating and 9.3 million viewers.

Subsequent rain delays at Bristol Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway (delayed until Monday) and Kansas Speedway made it difficult to build the type of momentum that typically drives viewership. But even with the 10 percent drop, NASCAR still ranked as the most-watched sports event of the day for nine of its 12 weekend races.

“Between the rain and having to face the Olympics, [it] made it very difficult for us to get our traction,” said Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports senior vice president of programming and research. “We didn’t have a point at any time this season where we had more than three consecutive races run without a rain postponement or significant rain delay.”

Ad buyers said that NASCAR offers enough inventory over the course of its season to make up for any ratings declines advertisers experienced and said that this year’s ratings results shouldn’t affect advertising interest in the sport next year.

“It’s important to note that even though we’ve been experiencing some ratings erosion on the NASCAR front, it’s still pulling huge numbers when compared to other sports properties as well as what is available in the general market,” said Jeremy Carey, managing director at Optimum Sports, a sports marketing and media agency that works with Gatorade, Lowe’s and other NASCAR advertisers. “Not too much out there right now that delivers NASCAR-size numbers on a regular basis.”

Even through the overall viewership drop, NASCAR saw increases in key demographics. Hispanic viewership rose 12 percent, building on last year’s increase of 40 percent in that demographic. Plus, viewership in the 18- to 24-year-old male demo rose 6 percent.

NASCAR also changed the way it determines the field for its postseason Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, as well. After determining the Chase field based on points for the last 10 years, it now will be made up of the drivers with the most wins. The field then will be narrowed from 16 drivers to four drivers over the final 10 races of the season.

“We like our chances for a really good late first half into second half of the season,” said Steve Herbst, NASCAR vice president of broadcasting and production. “As we get into the summer months and there are guys out there looking for wins and the Chase approaches, [viewership and ratings] will rise.”

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