Racing fans might have noticed a bit of an anomaly on Sunday. The NBC mothership and NBCSN were airing auto racing coverage. But while the prestigious event of the day, the Brickyard 400, was on cable, NBC was airing Global RallyCross on broadcast television. It was certainly a weird sight for racing fans aware of the gap in importance and popularity between the two races, but continues a theme around the sports world of major events moving from broadcast to cable.
Of course, many NASCAR fans were rightly wondering why NASCAR and NBC would stow away one of the biggest races of the year on a cable network that doesn’t routinely register big audiences? Well, this latest bit of news gives some insights into the peacock’s motivation.
The 2015 Brickyard 400 is the new milestone marker for NBCSN’s most watched event in network history.
NBCSN’s live telecast of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway led the network to its most-watched telecast ever yesterday, averaging 4.7 million viewers. Viewership peaked from 6:30 – 6:45 p.m. ET as 5.6 million viewers watched Kyle Busch race to his third consecutive Sprint Cup victory, and his fourth win in five events.
This is obviously a great development for NBCSN. NASCAR is a huge get for the young cable network as it will consistently deliver some of the biggest audiences in network history. NASCAR races routinely draw more fans than most NHL games, EPL matches, and pretty much everything else the network has to offer. NASCAR has immediately become one of the tentpoles of NBCSN, not just leading the network to its highest ratings ever for one event, but a record July as well.
While NBC might look at these viewership numbers with a “glass half full” perspective for NBCSN, NASCAR might not be as optimistic. The 2015 Brickyard 400 was actually the lowest rated in history and least watched in well over a decade.
When NASCAR signed with NBC and Fox and agreed to put a large percentage of their races on upstart cable networks NBCSN and FS1, they had to know this was coming. Those of us who live on the inside of the sports media world may be well versed in everything about these channels, but they still aren’t destinations for the average or casual sports fan. A casual sports fan may click over to ESPN just to see what’s on and stick with a NASCAR race. They probably aren’t doing that with NBCSN or FS1 yet and we’ve seen that there’s an inherent drop whenever an event like the Brickyard 400 moves from ESPN to NBCSN. The sport will hope those fans will find these cable networks eventually and NBCSN and FS1 can only grow from here. Given the ratings dive NASCAR has been on over the last decade, it would be welcome news for the sport, and not just its new cable partners.