Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Are NASCAR's Ratings On The Rise?

After more than two years of steady decline, ratings for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing are suddenly on the rebound. Ratings for Sunday’s ESPN broadcast of the “Sylvania 300” from New Hampshire Motor Speedway were up 19 percent over last year's New Hampshire race, averaging 4,235,000 viewers according to Nielsen Media Research. Sunday’s event earned a 3.1 rating, compared to a 2.6 rating a year ago; good for approximately 558,000 additional viewers.

The story behind those numbers also bodes well for NASCAR’s 2011 Chase. Nielsen reported a 28-percent increase in the highly desirable 18 to 34-year old male demographic for Sunday’s race, along with a 20-percent increase in the male 18-49 demographic and a 33-percent upswing in viewers age 55 and older.

There are a number of possible explanations for this sudden ratings surge. Sunday’s 2 pm ET start – one hour later than in the regular season – almost certainly played a role, reeling-in viewers when they wandered away from their favorite National Football League game at halftime. ESPN’s new NASCAR NonStop format – with a split-screen featuring racing on one side and commercial announcements on the other -- gave viewers fewer opportunities to wander back to the gridiron, as well.

There were four fewer minutes of commercial announcements in this year’s race than in 2010, and NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was in the thick of the championship chase for the first time in recent memory. After racing to a third-place finish in the Chase opener a week before at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt was a contender again at New Hampshire, remaining in contention for the win until a flat tire relegated him to a disappointing 17th place finish. Whether Earnhardt remains a factor in the Chase going forward remains to be seen, but at New Hampshire, he was a player.

More difficult to quantify – but undeniably a factor – is the prospect of NASCAR crowning a champion not named Johnson for the first time in more than half a decade. Fairly or not, many NASCAR fans have grown tired of laying down their hard-earned money to see the same movie, over and over again. We won’t see the closing credits of year’s motion picture for a few weeks yet, but it appears we may have an new leading man in 2011.

Ratings for ESPN's portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season are up two percent over last year; a figure that does not include three rained-out races that ran the following day. It does, however, include the Bristol race, which was pre-empted in favor of NFL preseason football in a number of prime markets, dramatically impacting the overall numbers.

After a long drought, it appears NASCAR’s ratings are finally on the rebound. The reasons for that surge remain open for debate.


  1. Anonymous11:49 PM

    100% agree with all of those, with crowning a new champion having the most weight. However, i think two other factors contribute to the increase. First time winners and a spread of different winners throught the season have added a 'feel good'/cinderella factor-- heck, look at the buzz the season started with after Bayne's epic win. Plus the new point system and a unique yet unknown twist that's certainly going to take down to the last race. Dash a little bit of everything, stir for 36 races and enjoy with a cold one!

  2. Anonymous5:14 AM

    Dave, you forgot about this years week to week racing and storylines being the best its been in decades.

  3. Anonymous9:19 AM

    Dont understand the Nielsen ratings. However if you look at the VIEWERS/race throughout the year its a mixed bag. Certainly looking at it over the last 4 years, viewers have not increased, which is surprising given a pretty dramatic population increase.

    And so far that holds true for the Chase as well. Just makes you wonder.

  4. Anonymous9:54 AM

    Guys, don't forget Allen Bestwick. When ESPN finally grew a brain and put Allen in the booth again for the first time for a Cup race since 2004, it made their coverage MUCH more enjoyable than that loudmouth and unfunny Marty Reid. It made a difference for me and it probably made a difference in the ratings too.