NASCAR’s TV Ratings Continue Their Fall

racing at Vegas

There may be openings for the growing number of unemployed presidential campaign workers in the NASCAR spin room. It’s kind of amusing that the spin regarding the TV ratings for the Kobalt 400 is that the ratings decrease for the race at Las Vegas was down “slightly” from last year, as compared to the steeper decreases reported for the races at Daytona and Atlanta.

While the rating of 4.1 is down “slightly” from 2015, the truth is these are tied with the 2014 and 2010 races the weakest ratings for the race at Las Vegas since FOX started airing NASCAR in 2001. Ouch! Now, contrarians will point out that viewership for the Kobalt 400 was still the highest-rated sporting event of the weekend, easily ahead of the PGA event at Doral and the NBA’s match-up between the Warriors and Lakers. While it’s true, there’s simply no denying that nationwide interest in NASCAR is nowhere near what it once was.

It’s true fans may have grown weary of FOX coverage of NASCAR- long-time fans continue to call for the exit of the Waltrip brothers- the reality of it is, if the racing is good, fans would still be watching anyway. Football fans have aired similarly negative sentiments towards those who bring you the action on Sundays, but they continue to watch, even if they find the announcers annoying. It’s the action on the field (or on the track) that matters.

The sport has changed, and that can’t be ignored. Dale Earnhardt has gone, Jeff Gordon is in the booth and not on the track, and Tony Stewart is temporarily gone, and soon he will be permanently. NASCAR execs had better pray Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t lose interest anytime soon. Heaven help them when that day comes. It’s not saying there isn’t abundant talent on the track; you’ve got Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and young talent coming in like Chase Elliott. As good as they are, there isn’t a personality as captivating as the Intimidator, and there never will be again. That’s just the facts.

In spite of the quality (or lack) of the racing, in spite of the quality (or lack) of the broadcasts, NASCAR’s fundamental challenge remains the same: much like baseball, there’s a long wait for that magic moment, and sometimes it never comes. The Daytona 500 has its photo finish, and Las Vegas had its moments, especially towards race’s end. A big part of the problem for NASCAR is why should a fan sit through four hours of coverage when they can either check in at race’s end, or wait for the highlights on SportsCenter?

The promise of better racing could help. If word gets out, and the highlights bear better racing, that will help, more so than the coverage. The TV ratings for NBC last season weren’t great either.

Due to many factors, the TV ratings for NASCAR may never be what they once were. The cars don’t have the same character, the technology is different, and the personalities can’t be what they aren’t. By the same token, NASCAR can enjoy a spot at the sports viewing table with thoughtful vision and guidance, something that has inarguably been lacking as business types and not racing types run the sport.