Just a Blip, or Cause for Concern?

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Much has been made about the TV ratings this year for the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. No matter how you spin it, the TV numbers for this year’s Indianapolis 500 were a disappointment. Coming off of a year when Helio Castroneves won his record-tying fourth 500; NBC and series officials were hoping for the highest records in close to a decade. Instead, they were some of the worst. A lot of reasons and excuses were given, by the same people that said they were expecting great ratings.

Some races this season have shown nice increases in TV ratings while others have been disappointing. Sometimes there are very justifiable reasons to explain a downturn, while other times, those in charge of such things are left scratching their collective heads.

The Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio this past Sunday is one of those mysterious weekends. Sometimes comparing a race to the previous year is comparing apples-to-oranges. A race on network TV one year may be moved to cable the next. Or the race may be going head-to-head with Formula One or NASCAR one year and not the next.

For last weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio, comparing this year to last year is a true apples-to-apples comparison; and the news was not good.

In 2021, NBC was thrilled to announce that that year’s Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio was NBC’s most watched non-Indianapolis 500 IndyCar race in their history of broadcasting IndyCar. Over 1.3 Million people tuned in to watch Josef Newgarden pretty well dominate the field on the Fourth of July. Officials for the track and the NTT IndyCar Series were understandably giddy over those numbers.

Fast-forward exactly one year later. The same race was run on the same holiday weekend, at the same time of day, on the same network – Big NBC. I can’t speak for any other part of the country, but I know where I live – the weather was practically identical over the past two Independence Day weekends. The Formula One race was completed by the time the IndyCar race started. The NASCAR race at Road America, which garnered 1.93 Million viewers on cable’s USA Network, did not start until the IndyCar race was over. In other words, a motorsports fan had only one choice of what to watch in that timeslot – IndyCar.

For whatever reason, only 877,000 fans tuned in to watch the IndyCar race. That’s 423,000 less viewers than last year; with most or all factors being equal between 2021 and 2022. Some will point to the pandemic still going on last year and more people were inside. I’m not buying that. By July of 2021, most people were out enjoying sunshine and being away from the confining walls of their homes. Even if that was a slight factor, would that account for a 32% drop in viewership from one year to the next?

I’ve already sounded off about running over the Fourth of July weekend. I am not in favor of it, but the numbers from 2021 don’t lie. Apparently 1.3 Million were happy to spend their Fourth of July last year watching Mid-Ohio, but almost half a million less chose to spend the day before the Fourth watching it this year. What gives?

Quite honestly, I’m a little concerned. To have the exact same date with no other motorsports competition to go up against and lose a third of your viewers is perplexing and a little disturbing.

The NASCAR race at Road America lost viewers also, but that was comparing USA this year to Big NBC last year. Still, 1.93 Million viewers watched Sunday’s NASCAR race on USA, as compared to 3.078 Million that watched it on Big NBC last year. An even more troubling way of looking at it is in 2021 when both races were on NBC – NASCAR got a little more than double the viewers of IndyCar. In 2022, with IndyCar having the bigger outlet on Big NBC and NASCAR relegated to cable – NASCAR had almost four times as many viewers as IndyCar. That is also a little disturbing.

So, what exactly is going on here? I’ll admit that I have not gone back and done the research on the nine races run so far in the 2022 IndyCar season, to see if there has been an increase or decrease in viewers from last year to this year. I know there have been some increases and some decreases, so it’s probably safe to say that the TV ratings have been a mixed bag at best.

But we know that the Indianapolis 500 ratings were a big disappointment; and I’m sure that behind the scenes – series officials are sorting through everything trying to find a positive way to spin the ratings drop at Mid-Ohio. But they have to be perplexed.

So my question is – should we as fans be concerned? Is broadcasting a race over the Fourth of July weekend, such a crapshoot that you really have no idea how it will turn out? When you factor in the poor ratings for the Indianapolis 500, is this now a disturbing trend or a bump in the road that you attribute to the holiday weekend?

Unfortunately, the next few races will not give any clear answers. Toronto has not run since 2019, and it will be shown only on Peacock; so we will have no gauge from that race. Iowa did not run last year, and will run as a double-header this year. Iowa was rescheduled as a double-header in 2020 due to the pandemic. I can’t remember which NBC outlet carried it, but I am betting it was NBCSN. This year, the double-header will be carried on Big NBC; so there will not be a direct comparison. I’m not sure that comparing any ratings to 2020 tells much anyway.

The IndyCar/NASCAR double-header from IMS will be the following weekend after Iowa. That will be a fair comparison because the network and times will essentially be the same, but the date is two weeks earlier this year. I predict Nashville will be down, because last year’s race was tough to watch and many that tuned in last year was out of curiosity.

So, again I ask…are the Mid-Ohio ratings cause for concern or is it just one of them TV racin’ thangs?

George Phillips

Please Note:  With this being the last non-racing weekend for a few weeks, I am going to take off from here on Monday July 11. There will be no post that day, but I will return on Wednesday July 13. Please check back then. – GP

16 Responses to “Just a Blip, or Cause for Concern?”

  1. Maybe people were stuck in airports. On a plane, on the tarmac unable to get off. Maybe they were in rental cars outside cell phone range. I think people are distracted and distraught about the state of things in this country and simply were just doing other things. The break didn’t help either. I forgot MidOhio was on honestly. The off weekends throw me off. Road America was June 12. That was almost a month ago. In my opinion that is too long of a break.

  2. It’s a lack of proper promotion and engagement. Within the 465, IndyCar is a big deal. We can read about it in the Indy Star, or see it featured regularly on local news. IndyCar brass live in a bubble that prevents them from understanding that IndyCar is less and less relevant the further you get from the 465. It is not given attention in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Oregonian, or the Register Guard (the prominent newspaper of Eugene, my hometown). They are so short-sighted about promotion, the Indy 500 Superbowl ad they paid for was REGIONAL. A good chunk of Midwesterners are already aware of the Indy 500. They need a national ad, and they need input from fans who did NOT grow up in central Indiana. A sport with national league expenses can’t survive on a mostly regional fan base.

    • Inside Overlap Says:

      While this can be true, I also think there was so many tv commercials and fluff pieces before and during, that it was much easier to walk away from and do something else and come back to off and on, as it was hard to follow the actual race pace and story of the race.
      It seemed I missed half of the race while I was sitting there the whole time because of all the commercials; making the race less memorable and enjoyable to watch for regular fans who know about racing. It was like I got to watch snippets of the race.

      I really felt this way last year and I was less eager to experience that again. I did watch portions of Indy but also decided streamed F1 & F2 races that day.

      I think less commercials and less fluff pieces filling the schedule and actually show more of the racing would keep viewers coming back.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Not to be persnickety, but 1.93 million is not almost four times 877,000, NASCAR drew 2.2 times as many viewers as Indycar on Sunday (or rather, Indycar drew 45.4% of NASCAR’s audience). In the comparable weekend in 2021, they actually drew a higher multiplier, 2.4 times Indycar’s audience… or one could say Indycar drew 42.2% of NASCAR’s audience (though again, NASCAR switched networks while Indycar did not).

    • OK, you got me. When writing this, I was using the the 3.078 Million in my mind. But you are correct – 1.93 Million is not almost four times 877,000. That’s what happens when I don’t chart these things out on paper and rely on my feeble brain to guesstimate calculations. – GP

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Here is a comparison of TV viewership between last year and this year for each race that has occurred so far (numbers in thousands).

    Race 2022 2021 Dif %Dif Note
    St. Pete 1,405 1,219 186 15.3%
    Texas 954 407 547 134.4% NBCSN to NBC
    Long Bch 1,055 368 687 186.7% NBCSN to NBC
    Barber 920 914 6 0.7%
    Indy GP 998 1,027 -29 -2.8%
    Indy Qual 915 649 266 41.0%
    Indy 500 4,618 5,547 -929 -16.7%
    Detroit 354 1,363 -1,009 -74.0% NBC to USA
    R. Amer 1,087 800 287 35.9% NBCSN to NBC
    Mid-Ohio 877 1,298 -421 -32.4%

    • billytheskink Says:

      Sorry, that did not format well. Here is an image of that table, along with a chart showing ratings trends during the last 7 years of the races that have been on network TV for most of those years. All values in thousands of viewers.

  5. Bruce B Says:

    Been to a mall lately? The world is changing…. It burdens me to say this but I’d be surprised to see the series alive in 15 years. The Indianapolis 500 will be some kind of stand alone event…..A World Electric car 500 mile sweepstakes.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      A World Electric Car 500 mile Sweepstakes. …

      …. No in “car” drivers. …

      ….Each “car” or drone, if you will, remotely computer controlled.

      No live at track audience. …

      Audience only able to view through special pay for view media……….

      And ………

      Network television coverage? ……

      ….. Television ?

      What was that like back in the day ?

  6. I think part of the problem can be summed up in three words: Nothing but commercials! And Yes, I understand advertising is a necessary evil. But the fact that the NBC Broadcasts become so disjointed with short viewing segments between commercial breaks, makes it easy for the “Casual” Fan to begin roaming for something else to capture their attention.

    • Inside Overlap Says:

      Agree,

      This is why I enjoy watching F2 & Nascar Xfinity for this reason, because its not that popular, there’s so many fewer commercials while the racing is going on that you can actually watch the whole race.

      It seems Indy is failing because of it’s own success. The Networks & sponsors see so much green and want to capitalize on the monetary as much as they can by pumping out more commercials and sponsored fluff pieces and then add commercials during those pieces. The race just becomes the byproduct.

      I think Jimmie Johnson was an awesome champion driver but I hope never have to watch another one of his commercials.

  7. Yannick Says:

    Those Jimmie Johnson fans might already be bored after 1 and a half season of Jimmie Johnson trundling around at the back.

  8. Too many drivers in the field that people have not heard of or can relate to. They series needs to take a real look at who their audience consists of and market towards them. Unfortunately, I believe the younger generation is not as interested in motor racing of any kind for the most part as times have changed with so many other options for their time and money.

  9. a blip can be a big problem.

    has your power flickered while something important was
    running, and/or you had to reset everything in your house?

    yes, the blip lasted less than a second but it took minutes
    and maybe hours to recover enough to continue.

  10. OliverW Says:

    Not enough promotion by the series. Grosjean’s you tube channel more popular than INDYCAR content. Too many commercials and what is interesting about Joseph Newgarden. Nice guy sure but boring as heck. We need Rossi and Grosjean to hook people now PT is gone and we are apparently more interested in diversity and what’s between our legs than motor racing.

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