Eye On The Numbers

Stock-car racing's sanctioning body has taken a beating this season - most of it rightly deserved. However, the one area the sport’s leaders can take solace is in the fact the concept of selling the rights to broadcast NASCAR events to just a handful of outlets has paid off.

Through last weekend's event at Richmond, viewership to NASCAR events is up a staggering 37 percent when compared to the returns for the same races a year ago, according to a RacingOne analysis of the Nielsen Media Research statistics.

Think about that for a second, 37 percent more homes are tuning into Winston Cup races than a year ago. And though it's early in the season, it's possible that NASCAR television coverage may be on track to its largest season-to-season increase percentage-wise. In today's super-tough television climate that's no easy feat.

So far this season, the Winston Cup telecasts are averaging 6.42 million homes tuned in each week, and it's easy enough to figure that more than one person is watching in most homes.

For comparison, at this point last season - when racing aired on CBS, TNN, ABC and ESPN - races were averaging 4.67 million homes tuned in.

More important, the year-to-year increase comes after a year in which NASCAR events recorded their first decline in a decade. Last season, the entire year was off nearly 10 percent from the previous year.

Though there was skepticism in the concept of one-network carrying racing being good - let alone FOX, the network of "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" - it does appear the idea of continuity week after week is paying off.

Fact is, continuity may be the only way to explain how cabler FX last weekend nearly drew as many homes as ESPN did in 2000 for the Richmond race.

FX is available in about 65 million homes, where ESPN is in 80-plus million. Likewise, FX isn't in some major markets, including parts of the New York area - the top market - including Manhattan.

Also, it was a Saturday night race, which while always exciting, can also present viewing issues, such as fans forgetting the race is on Saturday night until, say, 1 p.m. on Sunday when they can't find it in the television listings.

For FX to begin at a disadvantage, and to only fall 90,000 homes short of what ESPN did, is miraculous. (Disregard all reports of FX getting higher ratings than ESPN did for the Richmond race. Sure, the household rating was higher, but because of the difference in size of their respective subscriber bases, household ratings - promoted heavily by others - are not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison).

That said, it would not be a stretch to suggest that FOX' heavy promotion each week leads to higher viewership. It's a real benefit for Mike Joy and the gang to say this weekend where, when and on what
channel next week's race will air - especially in the case of FX, where the channel starts off at a disadvantage.

Now, these higher ratings don't mean a hill of beans to the folks in Manhattan and elsewhere who were unable to see the Richmond race. But those problems should work themselves out in the coming years.

FX officials have a full-court press going on with cable operators to pick up the channel, and certainly viewers are flooding their systems with requests for the channel.

The figures should matter to those running the sport, those sponsoring
teams, and anyone else involved with racing.

Overall, sports ratings have been declining each year - all sports. Until last season, NASCAR was immune to the woes of sports television. This season, though, racing appears to have bucked that trend.

Now, this doesn't mean everything is rosy here.

The truth is, a bulk of the NASCAR audience comes from the so-called C and D counties. In television, like life, everything is labeled. The larger portions of the country, often more affluent, are designated with either an A or B rating, and the others go down from there.

Of course, TV executives want to be a hit with the A and B counties, because that means they'll be able to sell advertisers heavily on the disposable income of their viewers.

Yet the secret to the NASCAR telecasts is that a big percentage of the audience comes from those C and D counties, which are less desirable to major advertisers.

Elsewhere: HBO's "Real Sports" on Monday at 10:15 p.m. (ET) profiles Indy Racing League driver Sarah Fisher. The young driver balks at the usual "Lady and Gentlemen start your engines" before the start of the Indy 500.

"I would rather have them say drivers' start your engines," Fisher says. "Because that's equal quality, it's not saying, 'Hey we've got a lady in the field and we're bragging about it… I'm a race car driver and that's what I want to be, not a lady in the sport."

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

Next MRN Broadcast

On Air Now
Dec. 19, 2017 7:00 PM ET

Upcoming Cup Broadcasts

© 2017 MRN. All Rights Reserved

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousLinkedInGoogle BookmarksYahoo BookmarksLive (MSN)

ISC Track Sites