NBC reported Monday that its broadcast of the NASCAR Cup championship race from Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida drew an average of 3.759 million viewers, its best audience for its half of the season. The news sort of heads downhill from there.
The same race last year attracted 4.154 million viewers, and the 2017 race drew 4.662 million â both of which had established respective viewership lows for the 36th and final race of the too-dang-long Cup season. The 2016 race from Homestead had 6.1 million viewers, the 2015 race had 7.643 million.
The drops: 10% in one year, 19% in two years, 38% in three years, and, good golly Miss Molly, 51% since 2015, when NBC picked up the second half of the season in a giant 10-year contract, with Fox doing the first half. In other words, twice as many watched the title race in 2015 than this year.
NBC said its season viewership averages of 18 Cup races in 2019 (except for weather-affected races at Daytona and Darlington) was 2.57 million, the same as in 2018. Flat is better than down, but 2018 was also the year the once-mighty U.S.S. NASCAR scraped bottom.
The season ended with two flat tires. NBC was slightly ahead of last yearâs pace before the Nov. 10 race at Phoenix, but it drew 2.567 million, the least-watched Cup race on broadcast television since 2001 (not counting rainouts). Viewership for the 2019 Phoenix race was 22% lower than in 2018.
Next yearâs championship race will be held in Phoenix, and even though the 2020 race should draw a packed house of 42,000, or 7,000 more than the estimated crowd at Homestead, fans have said they donât like the racing at Phoenix as much.
So what does all this mean?
Fox reported a modest 2% increase in viewership of comparable Cup race from 2018 to 2019, but it needs to be noted that Foxâs part of the schedule does not collide with NFL and college football, which NASCAR fans also enjoy watching. Fans might be tired of the novelty of the âplayoffs.â They hate all of the commercials.
NBC did the best with what it was given, really, but there were few compelling storylines. Three of the four drivers in the championship race were also in the 2018 race, and three of the four drivers were in Toyotas. Kyle Busch, NASCARâs black hat, won his second title. It was not a great race.
The addition of retired driver and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. beefed up NBCâs product in 2018, but four people in the broadcast booth are too many voices. It would have been nice to have heard more during the championship race from Earnhardt.
(Just in case you were wondering, Fox is unlikely to name a replacement for Darrell Waltrip â if he is replaced, that is â though we should find out more next month. It could be just Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon up in the booth, which would sound like a library compared to NBC.)
The fact is, NBC could bring Ken Squier and Gentleman Ned Jarrett back into the booth and call back the late, great Chris Economaki from Heaven to report from pit road, and it would still face the same big hurdle: selling a sport that is losing popularity and has three months of overlap with football.
Now, NASCAR might say, âWell, 3.759 million for a race in November, even if it is half as much as four years ago, is more than 0.000 viewers for no race.â And ratings are slightly better overall when you include the Fox half, which is better than another plunge, as in 2018.
It is possible that another playoff system to sustain interest in TV programming for nine months could be introduced with a radically revamped schedule in 2021 â and it is possible that NASCAR could go back to the old way and determine a champ on points over an entire season. (Busch would have still won.)
Or NASCAR could pretty much keep things the way they are and hope to hold on to whoever watches through 2024, when the massive TV contract expires. By then, hardly anyone will have a standard TV, anyway, because every event will be streamed, and ratings wonât matter.