Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: How to Explain the TV Ratings Gains in 2019

The 2019 NASCAR season is now officially in the books. We saw so many things happen this year, that it is hard to put everything into words in such a short piece. Whether it was the new package, the surprises, the disappointments, or the ratings, multiple different factors contributed to the “feel” and flow of the season.

What do you think was the biggest story coming out of the season? Is there one thing that stands out to you or were there multiple moments that form your own version of season highlights?

What would you grade the season overall?

One of the positives that came out of this season is that we saw a gain in the ratings with many of the events.

Going into 2019, there were a lot of doubters and many believed ratings would plummet hard with the announcements made about the package this year. However, it seemed to be quite the opposite for much of the year. But the question is, why?

What was the main reason for the gains? Was it the unpredictable factor with the new package or was it something else? Do you think old fans came back for a while or did NASCAR do a solid job of attracting new ones?


Q: What are some of the biggest stories you will take away from 2019? Anything specific or just a lot to talk about in general? Ken G., Denver, CO

A: Sadly, the one thing we talked about ad nauseam was the package, all the way through to the end of the season. This has not always been the case year-to-year.

Let’s face it – the last few races of the season were not the best. Can you blame the track or weather or something else besides the package? Possibly, but it mostly had to do with the aerodynamics on the cars. This was too often the conversation in 2019; hopefully 2020 spells some positive changes in this area.

Another thing I will take away from this year are the surprises we saw, in particular first-time winners Alex Bowman and Justin Haley.

Going into 2019, there didn’t seem to be a lot of “buzz” surrounding Bowman. He got hot at the right time and finally grabbed that exciting first win over Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway.

And what about Haley? The rain-shortened victory at Daytona was one for the ages, and quite possibly the biggest upset in NASCAR history. Those who witnessed aren’t likely to forget

Not only did we see surprise victories – we also saw surprise disappointments. Drivers like Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, and Jimmie Johnson all had seasons that they would probably like to forget.

For me, Suarez stands out from that list because he lost his ride for next season. There is no word what he is doing yet but it will not be driving that No. 41 car for Stewart Haas Racing.

Johnson missed the playoffs for the first time in his career while Dillon had a very disappointing year after sneaking into the playoffs the last few seasons.

The main thing I take away from it, though, is we had a deserving champion. There are many detractors of the current playoff format, but Kyle Busch truly earned the title all year long. Even though it came down to one race, Busch was the regular season champion and performed when he needed to.

There were so many important storylines from the season, you can’t just pick one. NASCAR has some homework to do this offseason, but if they make the right strides, 2020 is due to be exciting.


Q: What do you think was the main reason for most of the rating gains this year? Was it a different audience, old fans giving this new package a chance, or just because NASCAR is beginning to grow again? Chris R., Marietta, GA

A: Despite the racing not always living up to expectations, there were a lot of reasons for the ratings gains.

First off, with a brand new package debuting this year, old fans may have given it a shot. The way NASCAR advertised it, the package was going to consistently produce the kind of racing seen in the popular 2018 All-Star Race.

Unfortunately, we did not see any of that this season. But that did not stop people from tuning in and ratings did go up for many weeks. Although NBC did fall below the expectation of surpassing last year’s ratings, their numbers grew most of this season.

Secondly, Barstool entered the sport. They are a massive company and for Dave Portnoy to invest his money into it is a big deal. Many Barstool fans were probably tuning in out of curiosity.

It is sad that NASCAR does not reach numbers they had from just a few years ago but that does not mean they can’t return. One day, the sport will rise to popularity again and ratings will be extremely high. Right now, it can be hard to remain optimistic, especially with the way the year ended in the final few races. The hope is now for new fans to come in boatloads again soon, especially with a “fresh start” in 2021.

Ratings are important to the sport and to see them decline like they had been is very sad. However, it seems like the lowest days are behind the sport. NASCAR has already discussed changes for 2020, which means more and more people will tune in. The more NASCAR reverts back to the old, the more they will draw in. Should tell the execs something, right?

About the author

Brandon is a 22-year-old from NY and has been a passionate follower of motorsports for 14 years now. He recently graduated from Molloy College on Long Island with a BA in Communications. Working within NASCAR has been a dream for Brandon for a while, and he hopes to be able to live out the dream in the very near future.

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Fed Up

Per sportsmediawatch.com the numbers increased in only 14 of the 32 races run on schedule. Nice try at perfuming the pig, but I think most fans will interpret this as a small bounce from the numbers that had tremendous declines in previous years. Stale product; stale presentation.

Bill B

“NASCAR has already discussed changes for 2020,”

Yeah 5 new short track races; 1 at New Hampshire, 2 at Dover and 2 at Phoenix.

Al Torney

The most positive thing about the tv ratings is that they appear to have finally bottomed out. However attendance at most of the tracks was not good at all. The Bristol night race as the biggest and most welcomed surprise of all. On the other hand the fall Texas race attendance was really bad and it was not because of the Formula One race. That was just a convenient excuse.
Expecting 2020 to be a banner year is expecting too much. Ain’t gonna happen. Since the entire game will change in 2021 I expect teams to cut way back on expenditures in 2020. They’ll be using up current inventory as everything will be worthless by the end of the year. 2021 will be a defining year as they go to another generic car like the COT of years gone by. In addition the year will be one of r&d as the teams will be working with a new car and engine combination. I hope it works out but I have my doubts.

Bill B

I think NASCAR has put their effort in pleasing their TV partners. Track attendance is secondary. The chase and playoffs were something TV wanted. The main purpose of the stages are for TV breaks (they could still award points mid-race if they wanted to without throwing a caution). I doubt the track owners are demanding later start times (they don’t care what time it is in California). And talk of shorter races so that things fit into a 2 or 3 hour TV window certainly won’t make more fans want to drive 8 hours to a race. So that means somehow the track will need to be more dependent on TV revenue. Of course ratings have plummeted in the last several year so it will be interesting to see how that works the next time TV contracts come up.
Who knows maybe someday tickets to a race will be under $20 for a decent seat. They will just want to get people there.

Tom B

Do you think a NASCAR network would work? Cup races would be PayPerView only. Everything else free TV.

Bill B

It would have 15 or 20 years ago when people wanted to watch NASCAR (I am assuming that it would be commercial free, if not then why pay). Now, no one seems to be interested so I doubt people would want to pay for better coverage of something they are not interested in watching for free. NASCAR has burned too many bridges with too many of their core fans. Step 1 is just getting the on-track racing better.


Why not? All they would need to do is expand what they’re already doing with the NBC Gold TrackPass – they currently sell a package that includes all practice and qualifying.

I think the next TV contract will be a defining moment for NASCAR. I don’t see them receiving anywhere near the money they did for the last one, and without fans in the stands how will tracks make ends meet without the fat TV cash? Add in the challenges with team sponsorships, and it could be make or break for NASCAR.

Bill B

So do you have any idea how many people pay for Track Pass? The question isn’t “could they do it” it was “will people pay for it”. They would need a lot of people to pay for it to make a difference in the overall business model. I just don’t see it happening. I watch most every race in it’s entirety in real time but if it wasn’t free, I probably wouldn’t pay to see it (20 years ago I would have).

I agree with your second paragraph 100%. Every stake holder is depending more and more on TV revenue. If the next contract is significantly less, and I don’t see how it can’t be smaller given the huge drop in ratings since the last contract, then there will be a whole lot of panic. If the next contract isn’t smaller then I fear we will be seeing 1 minute of commercials for every 1 minute of racing since advertising is what really pays for everything now.

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