Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his final NASCAR race.

Declining NFL ratings have received quite a bit of coverage over the past few years, but ratings drops in NASCAR have flown a little more under the radar. They’re not as easily tied to narratives of anthem protests or Twitter fights, but they’re perhaps just as concerning for the sport, especially when factored into other changes going on in the racing world. The latest bad ratings news for NASCAR comes from the season’s final race at Homestead Miami Speedway Sunday. Many thought it might do decently, especially as it was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race, but the ratings declined significantly year-over-year:

Of course, there are some other elements to consider with that particular race. Stern, Sports Business Journal‘s motorsports reporter, noted that NBC is citing this year’s race ending earlier as a contributing element:

But this is part of a season-long trend of declining NASCAR ratings. The year started off poorly, and it hasn’t gotten better, with low ratings continuing through the summer and fall. And the demographics aren’t good, with NASCAR fans skewing older in a SBJ study this summer that found the average NASCAR fan watching on TV in 2016 was 58, the third-oldest in the sports considered, younger than only the PGA Tour and the ATP tennis tour, and with the worst change (+ nine years) since 2006. 22 of 29 Sprint Cup races were down last year, and many dropped again this year. Oh, and this is just part of a decade-plus slide in the ratings:

So there are big concerns ahead for NASCAR. And broadcasters NBC and Fox have reportedly been pushing NASCAR executives to make some moves, from breaking races up into stages to moving some races away from competing with the NFL on Sundays. Many have previously argued that NASCAR should get away from that head-to-head competition, whether that means ending the season earlier or moving some races to midweek. And that pressure might further increase following the retirement of Earnhardt Jr., who has won  NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award 14 straight times and is likely to pick up his 15th soon. He’s not the only major departure, either; plenty of other big names have exited recently, and that’s likely causing some of the problems, as Drew Lawrence writes at The Guardian:

Like the NFL, Nascar can’t trace its decline back to a single source. Certainly the global financial crisis, which hit the automotive industry especially hard, didn’t help. Nor has Nascar’s compulsion to change its rules, especially the ones the define how its championships are won, on a whim. Worst of all, the sport can’t seem to stop hemorrhaging star drivers. Two years ago it saw the retirements of Jeff Gordon (a five-time series champion), Tony Stewart (a three-time champ) and Carl Edwards (an oft-snakebitten contender). This year Matt Kenseth (the 2003 series champion), Dale Earnhardt Jr (Nascar’s most popular driver) and Danica Patrick (its iconic female trailblazer) will call time. Many of the drivers racing in their stead are young and lightly experienced. The hope is that this will appeal to millennial viewers, a demographic Nascar struggles to attract. A recent entitlement pact with Monster Energy – which has brought, among other things, its caffeine-stuffed drinks and sexually charged brand ambassadors to the track – has done little to alter that fact so far.

And it should be noted that not all of those drivers are really leaving on their own terms. Kenseth was largely pushed out by Joe Gibbs Racing giving his spot to younger driver Erik Jones, and Patrick announced in September this was her final season with Stewart-Haas Racing and recently said this will be her final season as a full-time driver (she plans to run in the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500), something that also seems partly about sponsorship and team interests. Plenty of others are leaving or shifting around, too, and that doesn’t seem likely to help the ratings woes. Overall, NASCAR has lost a lot of big names, has lost a lot of viewers, and has seen its viewership age dramatically. None of that seems very promising for the sport’s future as a TV property.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.

  • Another problem with NASCAR is that the leadership seems to be going “LA LA LA NOT LISTENING” when it comes to the ratings and declining attendance. Brian France’s press conference over the weekend was like hearing about an alternate universe version of NASCAR. Nothing is going to get fixed if the brass denies there’s a problem.

  • David Russell Edwards

    interesting problem. The older fans complain that nascar isn’t listeniing to the, rather is pushing them away. At the same time they arent attracting the younger crowd that it needs to stay relevant. How will they solve that one?

    • Carter_Burger67

      younger people could give a crap less about NASCAR. The powers that be at NASCAR pushed long time, loyal fans aside in order to go after the younger demographic who, they think, have disposable income to spend on the sport. They cut their nose off despite their face. And it’s funny as hell to watch.

      • David Russell Edwards

        So I take it you advocate, forgetting the younger fans and just ride with we older fans? Ride with us to the grave that is as thats where we all are heading
        As I recall when I was a 20 something fan I didn’t have any money either, but I’ve been here now for over 40 years. If you really want to kill nascar run off the 20 somethings.

        • Carter_Burger67

          NASCAR should have stayed what it was. It seem to be able to attract fans for 50 years doing that it did and being what it was. Then it suddenly had to get “family friendly”. Ask Las Vegas how that worked out for them.

          • David Russell Edwards

            When we were in vegas earlier this month the streets were far from deserted. Seriously if they dont bring in the younger fans they cant survive indefinitely. Now they have enough money none of them living today have to worry about anything so maybe it doesnt matter. But as a sport it will matter.

  • Carter_Burger67

    Get back to the time of the Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison beating the shit out of each other in the pits after a race, and the NASCAR fans will return. This bland product they have now is just about as bad as teh NFL’s product.

  • Dan Pfeifer

    The loss of the star power strikes me as the biggest issue, followed by the gimmicky playoff system. When I tuned in for the end of the Homestead race this week, I felt like this came together with Martin Truex, who strikes me as the NASCAR equivalent of a journeyman third starter in baseball, won the cup. Sorry, he’s not a star.

    Right now, the most compelling figure in NASCAR seems to be Kyle Busch. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way because he kind of elbowed his way up to the front and gets cranky when things don’t go his way, yet there’s a certain respect for him because he’s worked so hard and wears his heart on his sleeve. Compare that to, say, Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski, who seem legitimately unlikeable.

    NASCAR was fun when the guys just flat out didn’t like each other and made no bones about it. That’s part of why Kyle has, I think, earned respect in time. Now, there’s dust-ups, but it doesn’t always feel like the guys in it have their hearts in it, or are too quick to apologize or whatever.

    NASCAR seems to have a similar problem to tennis. It’s been sapped of its personality. I think one of the worst things to happen to tennis was HawkEye. It took out one of the most amusing parts, which was players taking out their frustration over how the match is going, calls, whatever. Without flamboyant characters like McEnroe, Connors, Agassi, etc., the sport is as dull as it looks. NASCAR is going through the same thing.

    • A journeyman that won 7 races out of 36, and 20 stages out of 10?

  • souvien

    Can we get Lavar Ball in car.? Problem solved!

  • Jeff Lee

    The main two reasons I rarely watch (after being die-hard for years) are: 1) lack of manufacturer and car diversity. The car of tommorow was the point where I noticed the racing was getting worse, and 2) all of the 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks. Bring back or reconfigure tracks to give them more character like Darlington, Martinsville, etc.

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  • Ted Mark

    Older viewers’ favorite drivers have retired or are retiring. Older viewers aren’t fond of change, especially when it makes things worse instead of better. None of NASCAR’s changes over the last ten years have made the viewing experience better. Many of the core viewership, the older fan, have lost interest and are leaving the spot. Most younger viewers are watching anything but NASCAR, and NASCAR’s efforts to attract them have failed miserably.

    Meanwhile, NASCAR fragmented it’s audience further by choosing to partner with media that took races off broadcast TV and put them on cable and satellite venues. Instead of making it easier to watch a race they made it harder.

    As an organization, NASCAR has consistently made decisions that, in retrospect, were incredibly misguided.

    NASCAR’s future is incredibly bleak.

    • David Edwards

      After all both the networks and nascar are for profit businesses. How does it benefit them to show more than an occasional race for free view?

  • sportsfan365

    Ran across this while changing channels over the weekend and noticed the stands were not full. You know they are in trouble when the champion-crowning race is not well-attended.

  • Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder 2.

    Problem solved.