Numbers do not back up NASCAR's claim at being No. 2 NASCAR famously promotes itself as the second most popular sport in America behind the NFL. While it is the favorite sport for millions of us, the numbers don’t back up this claim.
NASCAR likes to point to winning a television ratings battle for a particular weekend. For example, say the race in Talladega outdraws all other sports on television that weekend. NASCAR will then promote it as more popular than any other sport on television, including the Major League Baseball game of the week.
The problem is all 43 drivers and teams are competing at a NASCAR race. The baseball game has only regional appeal if say it’s the Giants playing the Dodgers.
If you compare the Daytona 500 with other major sporting events for 2008, it does pretty well. The rating for the 2008 Daytona 500 was a 10.2, which ranked fourth behind the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball championship and the BCS championship and ahead of such events as the Masters and Kentucky Derby.
However, there is a problem in doing this comparison.
It’s hard to gauge the overall interest in the World Series, NBA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals since those are drawn out over 4-7 games.
For the record, game five of the World Series drew a 9.6, while game one of the NBA Finals drew a 9.3 and game one of the NHL Finals drew a 1.1 rating.
You also have to factor in with other sports most fans’ favorite teams have been eliminated by the championship round.
It’s why matchups are so important to the networks. The Celtics and Lakers last season were up three ratings points over the Cavaliers and Spurs the previous year.
Another claim by NASCAR is it is the most popular spectator sport in America. The sanctioning body promotes that 17 of the top 20 single-day sporting events in this country are NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
That is a true statement, but again you’re comparing a single race against an NFL, NBA or MLB schedule of multiple games.
If you look at the overall U.S. attendance for the four major professional sports leagues for 2008, Major League Baseball was easily tops with 79,502,524 fans at 2,430 games.
The NBA ranked second with over 20 million fans for nearly 1,200 games, followed by the NFL with over 17 million fans at 256 games and the NHL with over 16 million fans. Although race tracks don’t give official attendance numbers, NASCAR estimates over 13 million fans go to its races, which include both national and regional touring events.
If you include college sports, over 43 million fans went to NCAA Division 1 football games in 2008 and over 27 million went to NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball games.
In a February 2008 Harris Interactive Poll, auto racing, which wasn’t separated in different disciplines, was chosen by 10 percent of fans as their favorite sport. Pro football ranked first with 30 percent, baseball was second at 15 percent, college football was third at 12 percent and auto racing came in fourth. If you combine the numbers for college and pro basketball, it still reached just nine percent.
If NASCAR truly wants to get back to its roots, it should consider auto racing was most popular among Southerners, with the sport ranking only seven points behind college football.
In another Harris poll dated July 16, 2008, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranked fifth and sixth among favorite U.S. sports stars. Tiger Woods was first on the list, followed by Michael Jordan, Brett Favre and Kobe Bryant.
It was impressive, however, to see the two NASCAR drivers ahead of such names as Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Lebron James.
I decided not to factor in souvenir sales as so many items such as jerseys are sold overseas.
If you look at the overall data, I believe NASCAR is possibly the third most popular professional sport in this country. The NFL and Major League Baseball are clearly 1-2. To me, the debate is whether NASCAR is more popular than the NBA.
I believe you could make a strong argument either way. Certainly, the NBA holds a large advantage in the urban areas, but NASCAR does better in the rural areas. Either way you argue, I feel it’s a more honest claim than being number two behind the NFL. JohnsonCityPress