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Do the Playoffs REALLY Hurt TV Ratings?

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The Phoenix Championship Race TV Ratings came in on Wednesday, and, once again, viewership was down. There was a 9.1% drop in viewership for the Championship race. Many people pointed to the Playoff system as the reason for why TV ratings have gone down, and that this race along with the forced “Game 7” moment was a reason why the viewership saw such a drastic decline. Is that true?

NASCAR’s Decline in TV Ratings

This year has been an overall down year for NASCAR regarding TV ratings. Out of all 38 events this year, including the Clash and the All-Star Race, 25 of them saw a downturn in viewership including 8 of 10 Playoff races and all three “Crown Jewels”, although the Coca-Cola 600 was weather delayed.

On top of that, sports in general have seen declines in TV viewership in recent years as well with the decrease in cable TV subscribers in recent years. NASCAR is no different in that department.

However, NASCAR TV ratings have seemingly been on a steady decline for years now. According to Sports Business Journal, NASCAR TV viewership at its’ highest was 7.85 million viewers on average, and it has been decreasing ever since. This year, the average NASCAR TV viewership was 2.816 million viewers per race, which is a 64.1% drop from the high-water mark.

Even if NASCAR can point to how their drop in TV ratings is similar to some other sports, they cannot ignore that TV ratings have dropped massively, especially during the Playoff era. How much of an impact have the Playoffs had on that?

How the Season Finale Has Performed

When the original “Chase” for the Nextel Cup was implemented in 2004, NASCAR saw a massive uptick in TV ratings for the season finale. According to Jayski, TV ratings for the 2004 Ford 400 at Homestead were up a staggering 47% from the year prior. The difference being that 2004 was a very close battle for the Championship while Matt Kenseth had clinched the 2003 Championship with one race to go, and the last race at Homestead was seen by some as pointless.

However, ratings gradually declined as time went on. This was along with NASCAR in general declining in TV ratings throughout the years. So, why did the first year see such an increase, but, now the race only brings in just under 3 million viewers? Some would argue that if their favorite driver is not in the Playoffs or a Championship race, then why watch?

If My Favorite Driver is Not In It, then Why Watch?

A lot of people will use this argument, but, it can be difficult to prove. It seems like it would make sense given that NASCAR fans will often root more for an individual driver than a race team. The best support for this argument would be the early season slump NASCAR was in while Chase Elliott was out.

All six races Chase Elliott missed saw a double-digit drop in TV viewership, but, in his first race back at Martinsville, ratings went up. Elliott was also notably absent from the Playoffs, and, again, eight out of 10 races saw a drop. However, these were far from the only races to see major drops in TV viewership.

Even the Daytona 500, the biggest race of the year, dropped in TV viewership. The Indianapolis Road Course, a race Elliott almost won saw a 15.9% drop in viewership. So, does this explain everything?

The Complicated Reality of TV Ratings

The Playoffs may have played a role in why TV ratings have gone down. However, the original “Chase” created a massive uptick in viewership during the first year of its existence. On top of that, there are plenty of outside reasons for why the TV ratings could be dropping.

People point to arguments like driver star power, plus the drop for other sports, and plenty of other things. TV ratings are complicated, and there is likely more than one reason for the drop in the Playoffs. It is a part of an overall decline, and, ultimately, it is impossible to say definitively what it is that drops the ratings.

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