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Volume 22 No. 19
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NHRA highlights attendance gains, sponsor renewals; TV numbers dip

The NHRA this season gave back some of the viewership gains it earned in 2016, but saw momentum elsewhere in the second year of its new deal with Fox Sports.

Season highlights

Renewed title sponsor Mello Yello and sponsor Papa John’s
Attendance increased 5 percent
Brittany Force won Top Fuel championship
Viewership fell slightly on Fox

The drag racing series aligned with Fox in 2016 in a multiyear deal after a 14-year relationship with ESPN. The new deal moved races off tape-delay and less desirable time slots in exchange for live broadcasts on weekends. Viewership went from an average of 513,000 in the last year of the ESPN deal in 2015 to an average of 634,000 across Fox and FS1 in 2016 — a 24 percent uptick. However, after setting that new benchmark last year, Fox said the series averaged 605,000 viewers this year — a drop of about 5 percent.

Still, the series in 2017 earned a renewal with title sponsor Mello Yello through 2023, a 5 percent attendance increase and a renewal with Papa John’s. Moreover, it got its in-house production arm on the path to profitability, according to NHRA President Glen Cromwell, after it went around $1 million over budget in its first year in 2016. And the NHRA got its second-ever female champion and first in 35 years in its premier Top Fuel class as Brittany Force, daughter of drag racing star John Force, took the title.

“We established our baseline last year [with an uptick in ratings on Fox Sports], thought we really need to keep our foot on the gas [in 2017] and did in all key metrics,” said Cromwell, who succeeded Peter Clifford this month as Clifford moved to the newly created role of CEO. “TV ratings, spectator admissions, the racing product and sponsor partnerships were all good.”

Cromwell said the 5 percent attendance gain included six events that saw a sellout at least one of the days during the weekend out of the series’ 24 annual events.

Cromwell said the series is investing a “significant” amount of money this offseason to build welcome centers at all of its events that will educate new fans about track layouts and sponsor activations.

NHRA races last just several seconds, and Cromwell said the series is looking to leverage that on social and digital media amid shortening attention spans for sports fans as it tries to gain more of a mainstream buzz.