This year, NBCSN and IndyCar had their highest ratings yet in their seven year broadcasting relationship. Ratings were up 34% this year over last year and culminated in a record high 841,000 average viewership for the season finale at Sonoma last weekend according to information from NBC Sports Group.
At its highest point, over a million people tuned into the final laps of the thrilling championship race in Sonoma as Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya raced to a tie in points for the IndyCar championship. Dixon won by winning the race and tiebreaker for having more wins in the season than Montoya. It is the highest viewed IndyCar race on cable since 2008.
Throughout this season, NBCSN averaged 507,000 viewers over the 11 races NBCSN had rights for (along with ABC/ESPN), marking a 34% rise from last year. Some of this could be attributed to NBC’s acquisition of NASCAR rights. Since NBC started showing NASCAR races again back in the beginning of July, viewership rose from 532,000 viewers at Milwaukee to 666,000 at Mid-Ohio one month later to 841,000 by the end of August for the season finale. By comparison, NBCSN’s most watched race during this late season stretch last season was 444,000 viewers for the Iowa race in July 2014.
More and more viewers seem to be tuning into IndyCar races (that aren’t the Indianapolis 500) but while there seem to be unlimited potential for the open wheel series, it wasn’t all happy moments during this IndyCar season. Earlier this year, James Hinchcliffe crashed and had both of his legs impaled by a piece of suspension while practicing for the Indy 500. And just a couple weeks ago, Justin Wilson sadly lost his life as he was hit with debris while driving through a crash ahead of him and never came out of his coma. Oval racing, while often exciting and no doubt a contributor in the rise in viewership, has been seen as a highly dangerous and deadly form of racing for open wheel drivers. The dilemma during this offseason will be if IndyCar should, or if they’re able to, curb back some of the close, exciting racing but dangerous racing, in exchange for a potentially safer situation for drivers.
NBCSN is experiencing record viewership for IndyCar and is really making a claim, along with their Formula 1 and NASCAR rights, to be strongly considered the home of motorsports. The synergy NBCSN has between the three series is already showing dividends for all. Based on past trends, it very much appears that next year will be even better for NBCSN and IndyCar.