NASCAR didn’t have a great 2017. Despite a title new sponsor for its main series and a new racing format complete with stages, it experienced a lower viewership compared to 2016. The season split between Fox and NBC averaged 4.07 million viewers, down 10% from 4.47 million in 2016. Fox’s half of the season was down 12%, and NBC rallied to be off by just 2%.

But making the news a silver lining for NASCAR was the fact that for 22 weekends of the year, NASCAR was the top sporting event on television. Even better for Fox, it saw a five percent hike in ad revenue for its package.

Not all of the news is bad for NASCAR. Attendance was up at most of the tracks and the last two races of the season were sellouts, which means that NASCAR officials can say interest remains high in the sport.

However, the falling viewership has to be a major concern. Just two years ago, Fox and NBC averaged about 4.8 million viewers per race. Compared to this year’s viewership, the networks have lost nearly 20% and 800,000 from its audience.

NASCAR President Brent Dewar tells Sports Business Journal that the races provide consistent programming for its TV partners and bring eyeballs to the networks:

“I think all of us in sports have our challenges and opportunities on any given day,” Dewar said. “[But] we’re a tentpole sport for FS1 and NBCSN and for their seasons we’re going to deliver some of the biggest audiences they have, and we’re proud of that.”

NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood echoed Dewar’s sentiments:

“NASCAR had a great season,” he said. “To have a new system in place with stage racing and have it accepted so universally so quickly was a really positive step. I think it certainly improved the racing: It added more strategy and drama … and for the audience, that’s a win.”

For the most part, NASCAR team owners are putting a positive spin on the numbers, claiming the sport is moving in the right direction.

The message NASCAR and its partners are trying to send that it’s still bullish on the product and TV remains a big part of its future. Still, the networks can’t deny the loss of viewership, and the new racing format didn’t stem the tide. What will 2018 bring? We’ll find out soon enough.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

  • JohnNotGoDaddy

    Viewership drops and ad revenue increases. Doesn’t anybody see the correlation here? Viewers get very little content these days and when it’s there, it’s often video and sound mixed with ads. Pure content must be below 50 percent of the time a race is on. Keep it up NASCAR and you’ll have zero viewers.

  • BadgerBacker

    The reason the ratings are down is obvious, but nobody wants to admit it. It all started when NASCAR went to the “one network” contact with FOX start with the 2001 season (which they sublet some to NBC). You don’t intentionally limit your exposure/coverage! The ratings have been slowly backsliding since.

    Before that you had races on CBS, ABC, NBC, ESPN, TBS & TNN, plus they were not in group blocks, so each network reminded you to watch NASCAR while promoting their next respective race in a couple weeks. Plus each network had a vested interest to have some kind of coverage of the sport even if they did not have the race that week. Currently the coverage is on FOX and NBC who do not promote NASCAR except when it is their turn for their races. The other remaining networks have no need to cover NASCAR since they air no races, hence the downfall in ratings.

    The NFL has CBS, ESPN, NBC and Fox. The NBA has ESPN, TNT and about 20 regional networks. MLB has ESPN, FOX, TBS, FS1 and 20 regional networks which are constantly promoting the sport during other programming. None of these sports limit themselves to 1 network. All NASCAR needs to do is bid out the individual races again and the people would return slowly but surely because they would be reminded to watch and NASCAR would have max exposure. Let me put it this way, if you owned a business, would you want 6 people talking/promoting your business or just one person?