Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: What Can NASCAR Do About the Football Problem?

Now comes the time when the NASCAR Cup Series ratings begin to freefall.

Last weekend marked the opening of the NFL regular season, with the Cup race at Kansas Speedway smack dab in the middle of the 1 and 4 p.m. ET games. As a result, Cup experienced the lowest ratings of the season so far for a race not impacted by weather.

Only 1.76 million people watched Tyler Reddick steal the win from his 23XI Racing boss Denny Hamlin. For comparison, the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway got 3.26 million viewers. That race was on NBC, though, while the Kansas race was on USA Network.

The most recent race on USA that wasn’t competing against football (including NFL preseason and college) and wasn’t impacted by weather was the second Richmond Raceway race. That race had 2.43 million viewers. That was considered low at the time, but it’s still 700,000 more viewers than Kansas.

NASCAR has always gone against the NFL in the fall; that is nothing new. So NASCAR doesn’t need to try to shorten its season to end before the NFL even starts. That would be nearly impossible. Plus, if you end the NASCAR season too much earlier, the championship race could end up competing with the World Series. So that’s not the answer, even if many would love a slightly shorter season.

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The NASCAR ratings will level out a little bit as the NFL season progresses. But NASCAR shouldn’t be putting a race at Kansas up against opening week.

Kansas has some of the best racing now, but the average fan is probably accustomed to the track putting on duds after 20 previous years of snoozers there. Put a track that attracts viewers like Talladega Superspeedway against NFL opening week.

Or better yet, avoid competing against the NFL week one altogether by putting Bristol Motor Speedway that weekend. Yes, then NASCAR would be competing against Saturday night college football games. But college football is not the mammoth the NFL is.

Ratings very much depend on the matchup when it comes to college football, whereas you could schedule any two NFL teams against each other and get good ratings. Depending on the matchup, NASCAR could take some fans from the Saturday night college game. After all, anyone who knows anything about NASCAR is probably a fan of Bristol.

NASCAR ratings have historically trailed off as the season neared the end. But they don’t have to be as bad as they were at Kansas.

One thing is for sure: the NASCAR playoffs have got to get off USA. Who even has cable TV anymore? The amount of cable TV subscribers has dropped by roughly 21 million in the past six years, and that decline doesn’t appear near ending any time soon.

A sports fan is likely to buy a TV package that includes ESPN and probably even FOX Sports 1. But USA? They might not even be aware that channel still exists. If they are, then they probably think it has Law & Order reruns on it 24/7. And hey, they’re not off by much; USA does seem to show Law & Order for all but the eight or so hours of NASCAR coverage each week.

I also don’t think the average fan cares that much about the NASCAR playoffs. At most, there is no way the average fan cares about the playoffs half as much as NASCAR and the media — because it’s too complicated for a casual viewer to keep track of it.

If NASCAR does want fans to care about the playoffs, it can’t hide the opening four races of it on USA. Come out big for the playoffs and put it on NBC. Do that and you’ve got at least a means to compete with the NFL.

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Instead, the NTT IndyCar Series was on NBC, going head-to-head against NASCAR. That was a headscratcher.

NASCAR and NBC need to make the playoffs a big deal. To do that, the races need to go on NBC, USA, Peacock and whatever other platforms they have available to them simultaneously. That’s what ESPN does with Monday Night Football, and those are just regular-season games, not playoffs.

Instead, NBC is using NASCAR to drive people to watch USA. And while that may increase the ratings at USA, it’s stunting the growth of the sport beyond the diehards.

NASCAR has a new TV deal coming up soon, and I hope one of the things NASCAR fights for in the next deal is to make all of the playoff races as easy to access as possible for the average sports fan. That’s the only way to truly grow the sport.

Then, if the football games on TV aren’t that good, NASCAR might even steal away some of the NFL’s multitude of fans.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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DoninAjax

Maybe they can design a new car?. Maybe they can try to come up with a system that guarantees the driver who wins the most events wins the title? (Good luck with that, as history has shown) Maybe they could just give points to the top ten finishers? Maybe they could put people in charge who know what they are doing? Maybe they can figure out that Brian’s vision isn’t exactly working?

Echo

Yep, I think Nascar will probably follow all your common sense suggestions.

Charlie

Kansas is not attractive to the legacy NASCAR fan. It’s only there because of Lisa Kennedy. I don’t buy the racing is great. It will be worse when it gets to Texas.
I will watch a race over NFL or College Football, but I am a race fan. I also have an attention span longer than that of a gnat. Also I have patience and don’t need to be instantly entertained. So I am the exception.

John

He who has the gold rules. TV controls the scheduling and how its broadcasted. Your comments on USA Network are spot on. In the next 5 years cable will be replaced by streaming services which may be able to be accessed through a cable service. But how many streaming services will you need to subscribe to for the programing you wish to view? Its beginning to make the Amish lifestyle look attractive.
Shortening up the season to end at Labor Day (which would make the Southern 500 be the finale, by the way) requires taking 9 weeks out. One idea to do so is to make mid-week races that are in the same region. Imaginative promotion could have ticket packages for 3 races…the two on the weekends and the one in the middle. Elimination of the All Star race and substituting a points paying race in Homestead in its place buys two easy weeks. Dropping the week off, which is an easy sell if they are getting 10 weeks back on the end, gets you down to 7 mid week races, double headers, or cancellations. The idea of the Playoffs was to boost ratings during the football season. It has not worked. Making this happen requires study of temperatures and rainfall to minimize the risk (can’t schedule Texas in early August). I did a detailed study of this very proposal in 2019 and submitted it. It included some options to increase diversity in the schedule as well…have Pocono drop a race and develop South Boston, have Dover drop a race and develop Nashville Superspeedway, Drop Indy, drop New Hampshire, etc. It can be done and the TV guys will love it. But every 4 years you’d have a tough decision to make on the Olympics. Thanks for the thought provoking article

Steve

John, you had me until you said drop a race at NH. I think only one race a season per track should be the norm, except for the traditional ones like Daytona/Talladega/Martinsville. Rotate the others around if there are too many and shorten the schedule.

But whether you like the racing at NH, there are tons of Nascar fans in the Northeast. Nascar is not losing money by dropping a race in the Boston/New England demographic.

Bill B

A real NASCAR race at Daytona, the cut-off race, got preempted by a PREseason Ravens game. That pretty much tells you just where NASCAR stands in comparison to the NFL
The only way NASCAR doesn’t get ratings drain once the NFL starts is to not compete against them. So, yes, that means Saturday races.

Kevin in SoCal

USA Network in on just about every entry-level cable package, so not sure what you mean by people not having it.
Shocking about people dropping cable though, especially that many. I guess $15/month streaming beats out $100/month cable bill. I pay $400 a month for cable, internet, and 5 cell phones thru AT&T.
I’m a NASCAR fan first, I don’t even watch NFL until the playoffs in January.

Ronald Thornton

Not sure, but I don’t believe there are as many gear heads as there once was. Guys don’t get as passionate about their cars like they used to. Hell, my son is a mechanic and he doesn’t watch nascar

JT

I’m sorry, but a schedule of 38 races in a season has at least 4 races too many. Go back to a 32-race, Cup points schedule and shorten the “Playoffs” to just 4 races. This might help NASCAR to work around the NFL. Have an off week for the start of the NFL season, then start the “Playoffs”. End the season by the middle of October before the “meat” of the NFL season.

Which races to cut? Take a hard look at the tracks with 2 races. Also, maybe its time to realize that the All-Star Race has long past its “sell by date”.

Carl D.

College football may not be the “mammoth” that the NFL is, but here in the south, the heart of NASCAR country, it’s still practically a religion. A Richmond boy oughta know that. Saturday night races during football season? Nope. Hold that Tiger and Roll Tide.

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