NASCAR’s TV ratings slump continues

2014 has not been the best of years for NASCAR in several respects, with the sport mired in a season-long TV ratings slump.

Entering Sunday’s race in Atlanta, 18 of the 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup telecasts had declines in ratings and 16 have had declines in viewership (that excludes rainouts). The latest decreases came for last week’s race from Bristol, which earned a 3.2 final rating and 5.1 million viewers on ABC — down 18 percent in ratings and 20 percent in viewership from last year’s 3.9 and 6.3 million.

Several races have not just declined but hit multi-year lows. The Martinsville, Darlington, Richmond, Talladega, Dover, Michigan and Loudon races each hit at least a 10-year low in viewership. The season-opening Daytona 500 fell to an all-time record low 9.3 million viewers — though it should be pointed out that the race was delayed due to rain and aired opposite the Olympics.

Such dismal results are not exactly an anomaly for NASCAR. According to Sports Business Daily, NASCAR races averaged a 4.9 rating and 7.9 million viewers on FOX, FX, TNT and NBC during the 2006 season — the final year before the current television deal. In 2013, races averaged a 3.6 and 5.8 million, down 26 percent in both measures compared to 2006. During that seven-year period from 2006 to 2013, ratings and viewership for Sprint Cup racing declined or held steady in all-but-one year. Only in 2011 did NASCAR muster an increase, with ratings up 6 percent and viewership up 8 percent over 2010.

NASCAR’s poor performance this year — and the broader trend of declines — makes its new television deal all the more crucial. The schedule for next season, the first of the new contract with Fox and NBC Sports, includes a few moves seemingly designed with ratings in mind.

The season’s second race from Daytona will serve as NBC’s season-debut, airing on broadcast for the first time since 2006 and on a Sunday night for the first time ever. One imagines that the shift from Saturday to Sunday and from broadcast to cable should result in a rather sizable ratings bump. NBC will air a second Sunday night race on Labor Day weekend from Darlington, another race that should see at least some increase over previous years.

FOX, meanwhile, has jettisoned its poorest performing races — Richmond, Kansas and Dover — to cable sibling Fox Sports 1. This year, those three races were among the lowest rated NASCAR telecasts ever on FOX, with Richmond setting the all-time record-low.

These moves are unlikely to slow NASCAR’s ongoing decline, but they are at least a start. And considering that most of next year’s races will be airing on Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN — née Speed Channel and Versus — NASCAR may need as much help as it can get. Sporting News

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