All signs are pointing to a resurgence of NASCAR popularity. Ratings for the week are heading up, even if the 500 saw a dip. Stars of popular culture and other sports are showing up to the track. Fans are talking about the race. Every ticket for the Daytona 500 was sold out – not just grandstands. New partnerships continually pop up. For someone looking at the business side of the sport, it is an exciting time for growth.
Fox announced an 8% drop in the average viewership Wednesday, but the 500 was still the most watched TV event of the weekend and peaked over 10Million viewers as fans tuned in for the finish. NASCAR may never see the over 19Million viewers of the 2006 Daytona 500. It’s important to note that the TV environment has changed drastically since then. Even Major League Baseball, “America’s Pastime”, has seen its World Series viewership cut in half since their 2001 peak. While the ratings might appear modest to some, there are many indicators that say NASCAR is trending the popular direction.
New partnerships have given NASCAR fan’s optimism for the future. Ally has added to their driver and race sponsorship by becoming the Official Banking Partner of NASCAR. Many other car and single race sponsors have increased or extended their commitments. LEGO has announced they are getting involved with the sport. It’s been a long time since a rock & roll icon has been seen on a car, but Guns N Roses was a huge hit on Erik Jones’ hood.
TV ratings and growing partnerships aren’t the only trumpets announcing NASCAR’s return to its peak glory days. Daytona International Speedway announced a complete sell out for the 2023 Great American Race. While this marks the 8th straight sell-out for the grandstands, this is the first time in several years that the infield and camping slots were also sold out.
Unfortunately, many fans watching at home were held back from fully enjoying the race. Between ill-timed commercials and kinks with new technology, the Fox broadcast struggled to deliver a product commensurate with what the sell-out crowd enjoyed.
What You Need To Know:
- The 2023 Daytona 500 captured the attention of the most viewers and attendees in recent memory.
- During SpeedWeek, NASCAR announced several partnerships and other news indicating the sport’s growth. Despite this good news, the industry remains hamstrung by the quality of its TV broadcasts.
- While fans watch racing to see their favorite driver and car succeed, they want to see the entire sport succeed. As the old adage goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Around the Garage
Jimmie Johnson showed the crowd size from his view at a pre-race function early Sunday.
Truck driver Chase Purdy noticed the electric crowd from his driver’s seat.
While some drivers were thrilled with the crowd in the stands, others noticed a common fan complaint – a premature finish to the broadcast.
Pit road specialist Bozi Tatarevic captured attendance from the infield shortly before the race.
Denny Hamlin was quick to chime in after ratings were released with a positive outlook.
In the Stands
Fans also noticed the packed stands.
While so many more focused the broadcast issues. Some called it the Commercial 500.
Social media was on fire about the production on TV.
It wasn’t just about the commercials either. The prerace interviews are commonly seeing as contrived and corny. The 500 gridwalk was no different. Jay unfavorably compared “Mikey’s” walk to that of Formula 1’s Martin Brundle.
Fox added some new technology to give a driver’s eye view of the race. While the concept was met with excitement, the broadcast was forced to blur out the dash. This blurring turned into most of the screen, to which fans were very strongly opposed.
In Fox’s defense, the blurred area was reduced as was the pixelation as the weekend wore on. Many fans still wondered, “In 2023, why wasn’t Fox prepared for the biggest NASCAR broadcast of the year?”
After the ratings were released, fans continued to blame Fox’s production for the drop.
In Your Ear
The hosts of Door Bumper Clear gave their usual, pointed industry insight on this week’s podcast.
Understanding that ads are the way that revenue is generated for the broadcast to be possible, the DBC boys discuss potential areas of improvement in the broadcast.
Dale Jr. broke down his perspective with Steve Letarte on the Tuesday edition of the Dale Jr. Download. As the two are experienced on the track and in the broadcast booth, their takes on the broadcast gave multiple sides of the story.
On Your Screen
The Iceberg discussed the race and the entertainment around it on his YouTube channel.
UPDATE 2/23: The Iceberg takes a deeper look at the ratings drop.
David Land ranted about the amount of commercials that interjected into the action.
As did Bologna Burger.
From the Pressbox
UPDATE 12:00 PM EST:
Fox Sports released additional ratings for non-Cup races. Xfinity race was up 14% over 2022.
A lot of NASCAR’s popular media voices shared their view of the crowds.
Dustin Albino gave a numerical look at the crowd.
Adam Stern looked at the viewership of qualifying.
Other media members found the stars among the sell-out crowd.
While everyone at the track enjoyed the race, social media was overcome with complaints about the broadcast.
While the perception was that commercials dominated the broadcast, GPLapsJake analyzes the numbers. The facts show that ads were actually less disruptive in 2023 than when Fox picked up NASCAR TV rights in 2001.
So, what’s the difference that causes the current perception? Many have postulated that the source of consternation comes from the timing of the commercial breaks, the increased in-race ad reads and promotion, and the fact that in 2001, Fox would cut ad breaks to rejoin racing action.
Regardless of the amount of ads or why fans found the broadcast off-putting, NASCAR media and fans on social media have made it clear; Fox has to fix what they’re doing.
Phill Allaway of the Frontstretch shared analysis of the broadcast in his column, Couch Potato Tuesday.
The front-loading of commercial breaks early on is apparently a strategy that new FOX NASCAR producer Chuck McDonald is advocating for. McDonald comes to FOX NASCAR from FOX Sports’ college football coverage. There is something to be said about that. Get the commercials done as fast as you can so you don’t miss anything important later on. That is the same strategy that often results in networks trying to fit in as many breaks during cautions as they can. The problem is, you’re not going to miss anything important due to commercial breaks early on in a football game because football games have time for commercial breaks built in (in the stadiums, they’re typically referred to as official timeouts). NASCAR is not like that, even with stages.
Phil also discussed the bad timing of the commercial break as Reddick’s “Big One” happened.
Anyone who was watching the race likely noticed that things were getting quite rambunctious at the time. It looked like they were going to wreck at any moment. Had they waited a little bit for things to calm down just a little (perhaps a lap or so), maybe this wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. They could have paid off the side-by-side break elsewhere.
In recent years, the broadcast has felt like it is being produced by someone who doesn’t understand the racing that fans enjoy. As Phil points out, when Austin Dillon wrecked in overtime, play by play man Mike Joy had to direct the production’s attention to the wreck. “While Joy is experienced in the booth and can do that, he shouldn’t have to.”
NASCAR fans – or fans of any sport – find themselves divided on most issues. While some look for the best and brightest points of the sport, others consistently seek the negative takes. Either way, the collective of fans want what’s best for the sport.
While fans can be split on who deserved to win or how NASCAR could be better, everyone in the industry can take pride that the sport has passionate fans. Fans so passionate that even at a young age, their only wish is to be in attendance for the Great American Race.