On Sunday, NASCAR aired an iRacing event on FS1 since the originally scheduled Homestead race was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was, by most accounts, a successful broadcast in a world without live sports and something that we will probably see more of in the weeks ahead.
It turns out that the iRacing experiment was a moderate success for both Fox and NASCAR from a viewership perspective. According to the weekly sports viewership compendium on ShowBuzz Daily, the event drew 903,000 viewers, FS1’s top broadcast of the week. For comparison’s sake, a year ago, the NASCAR race from Martinsville, which also aired on FS1, drew 2.455 million viewers.
SBJ’s Austin Karp also notes that it was FS1’s most-watched broadcast since the shutdown started nearly two weeks ago.
iRacing was most-watched telecast on FS1 since sports shutdown began March 12. Most-watched sports on cable TV on Sunday.
It also was -63% from non-rain impacted NASCAR Cup races on FS1 last year. Only -5% from the average of non-rain impacted Xfinity Series races on FS1 in 2019 https://t.co/6HolXvrOXq
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) March 24, 2020
However, context (as always) is important. A year ago, 25 (!) NCAA Tournament games drew at least 2.5 million viewers, including six of the eight Sunday games. This year, only one sporting event (WWE SmackDown) drew at least 2.5 million viewers, and only another eight drew at least one million. No one was watching any sports, and while 900k isn’t great in a vacuum, I think it’s a pretty strong number for a spur of the moment broadcast that (on paper, at least) didn’t seem like it would appeal to NASCAR’s core demos.
Will we see more esports-esque broadcasts on national networks? Nothing has been announced by the usual suspects (ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS), but NBC Sports Washington is airing NBA 2K and NHL 20 broadcasts of the remaining schedules for both the Wizards and Capitals. If networks have the desire, capability, and personnel to do this, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally interrupt the daily nostalgia trip and air some esports.