NASCAR’s TV ratings have been under much scrutiny throughout the entire season. 24 of the 38 races run (including non-points events) have seen decreases from 2022, and only four of those races decreased experienced weather delays. Of course, having over half of the events dip in terms of TV ratings is not a good look for the sport, but, are other sports dealing with the same problem in this cable-cutting era?
Other Major Sports TV Ratings
For comparison purposes, we will only be looking at the national TV ratings for all four major professional sports. This is because every NASCAR race is nationally televised, and there is no real comparison to regionally broadcast games for each sport.
According to Sports Media Watch‘s Jon Lewis, the 2023 NBA Playoffs was one of the most-watched (5.12 million average viewers), but it was also one of the least-watched NBA Finals (11.64 million viewers). Lewis does note that the NBA Finals did beat out the COVID-era Finals of 2020 and 2021, however.
In terms of regular season games, the 2023-24 season so far has garnered an average of 1.6 million viewers according to Tim Baysinger of Axios. This is, once again, up from during the pandemic, but is down from before the pandemic. The NBA has a similar TV deal to NASCAR, with both having a mixture of cable and network TV presence, but the NBA is on national TV multiple times throughout the week, unlike NASCAR.
MLB TV ratings have been the subject of much scrutiny with their Playoffs bringing in a lot of low TV ratings. This came to a head during game one of the World Series which was the least-watched Game One on record according to Jon Lewis.
This stands in stark contrast to the early part of the regular season, where TV ratings were up 26% for the first three months according to Anthony Crupi of Sportico. Lewis did report that MLB saw decreases later in the season, but some of that could be attributed to outside factors such as big market teams doing not so well. What is interesting about this is that NASCAR and MLB share a TV partner in FOX, which happens to broadcast the World Series.
The NHL saw perhaps the most staggering decrease in their TV ratings, as the viewership of their Championship Series, the Stanley Cup Final, was down to 2.6 million viewers per game compared to 4.59 million the year prior according to Statista. That is a 43% decrease from the year prior, but, it is worth noting that the 2022 Final was on network TV, and the 2023 Final was exclusively on cable. However, the 2019 Final, pre-pandemic, had 5.33 million average viewers.
However, the NHL did see an increase early in this regular season, with the opening night tilt between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulling in a record 1.43 million viewers according to the NHL. The NHL has, again, a similar TV deal to NASCAR, but the NHL has their Championship event on cable. NASCAR does not have that issue.
The NFL TV ratings are a bit different from other sports TV ratings. The NFL has the advantage of an overwhelming network TV presence compared to other sports. Even if a game is televised nationally on ESPN or Amazon Prime, it still will be televised on a local network affiliate for participating teams. Therefore, the NFL is not an easy comparison in terms of overall viewership.
Nielsen called Super Bowl LVII in 2023 the most-watched Super Bowl ever with over 115 million viewers. In contrast to other sports, the NFL has found a way to get some increases in TV ratings in the regular season as well. For example, CBS recently had their most-watched NFL window last week (week 8) since picking back up the rights in 1998 according to Jon Lewis.
What Does This Mean For NASCAR?
In terms of pure numbers, NASCAR is averaging just over 2.89 million viewers per race this season in total, which is down from 3.03 million viewers per race in 2022, which are both more than the average regular season MLB, NHL, and NBA game bring in. The NBA has both seen less-than-stellar regular season ratings, but the NHL and MLB have seen at least some positive momentum in the regular season. NASCAR has also seen seven out of nine Playoff races decrease in viewership. The MLB saw major decreases at some point during their postseason, particularly in their Championship Series.
NASCAR has also seen decreases in their marquee events as well, just like other sports. The 2023 Daytona 500 was one of the least-watched on record, and the MLB, NHL, and NBA all saw decreases in their marquee events, their Championship series.
NASCAR is not the only sport to be dealing with TV ratings struggles. Other sports, particularly the ones on cable, are dealing with struggles in the TV ratings as well. It explains a lot of why NASCAR is looking at streaming for their next TV deal.
NASCAR is not alone in the struggles of TV ratings, particularly in their big events. Now, are other sports dealing with struggles in TV ratings as drastic as NASCAR in the regular events, maybe not, but, it’s not smooth riding by any means. NASCAR struggles with what many other sports struggle with as well, but, it doesn’t mean NASCAR shouldn’t work to fix it.