NASCAR TV ratings are dropping again. The 2013 Daytona 500 had 16.65 million viewers and the 2014 version saw its viewership drop down to 9.3 million. NASCAR stopped releasing its attendance figures after 2012, so garnering an exact measurement of the fans watching the race track side is an estimate at best.
Despite the spiraling TV ratings and conjectures of dropping attendance former NASCAR driver, and 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Dale Jarrett believes that the sport is healthy.
“I don't know about the growing part but the sport is still healthy,” Jarrett said. “You talk about attendance being down but it's still pretty much the highest attended event in every state that you go to. It's just that these venues as the sport boomed in the late 90's and early 2000's they continued to add seats to accommodate the growth of the sport at that time. You were getting well over a 100,000 seats at everyone of these tracks.”
“So we still have big events like the Daytona 500, the Coke 600, the race at Indianapolis that get well over a 100,000 people. So maybe attendance is down but it's still huge events.”
In 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup, now the Sprint Cup Series, had a Nielsen Rating of 3.9, approximately 4 million viewers per race, which was increase of 34% from the previous season. In 2013 the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series had a 3.6 Nielsen Rating. In 2005, the first year of the Chase for the Championship, had a Nielsen Rating of 4.7.
“As far as TV ratings,” Jarrett said. “If you really looked at it, and everyone was up front and honest, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA everyone is down somewhat because people have so many other opportunities to do things. Whenever you can DVR something I'm not sure if those show up in the records as far as what people are actually watching. So it can be a little misleading but the sport is very healthy.”
To contrast NASCAR's rating drop, the first day of the 2014 NFL Draft, which was on a Thursday, had a Nielsen Rating of 8.64, an increase of 50% from 2013.
NASCAR might be in trouble. Especially when you consider that the NFL Draft grabbed more than double the viewership than a Sprint Cup Series race. Yes, the NFL is the big dog of American sports but if NASCAR wants to remain relevant in the eye's of the sports viewing public they need to make changes that entice new viewers.
The new format for the Chase is a good start to keep viewers and expand their audience.
Diversity in drivers is the next logical step. The sport needs Danica Patrick to be successful on the track and for Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez make the jump to NSCS.
Jarrett is probably right that NASCAR is healthy but it needs to grow too.