TV Ratings Are Headed In The Right Direction
There are topics that I know just enough about to be dangerous. TV ratings are one of them. I’ll probably regret stepping off into this realm, for fear of getting my head bitten off by those that do this for a living. But I’m going to give it a try.
While comparing IndyCar and the NFL seems like a pointless exercise in terms of volume, the two are heading into different directions. And for once, the direction is in the favor of IndyCar.
If you haven’t heard, NFL TV ratings are down 10-13% this season, depending on where you get your information. This is huge for a league that never worried about ratings before. All they had to do was schedule a game on TV, and fans and advertisers would flock to it.
A few years ago, stadium attendance started to drop. That wasn’t surprising, given the fact that the cheapest tickets are in the $75-$85 range while parking is usually $20-$30. If you weren’t smart enough to eat before you left home; a hot dog is around $5 and a beer is $10. So, if you bought the cheap seats at $75 and took only your spouse or date, you parked your car and you each had a dog and two beers – you are looking roughly at a total of around $230 or more. That’s a little pricey to go watch mediocre-to-bad teams like the Titans and Colts, as Susan and I will be doing this Sunday.
Not only is it cost prohibitive (that’s code-speak for “too expensive”) to go to an NFL game, the advent of high-definition television and massive screens have made the home viewing experience that much better.
But the NFL didn’t seem to care. They were the 900-pound gorilla when it came to TV ratings. It seemed that advertisers were willing to pay whatever the NFL dictated, just to have a presence on NFL games.
Well, it seems those days are gone.
Through five weeks, the NFL has seen their ratings sag like never before. ESPN’s Monday Night Football is reportedly bringing in record-low ratings. The league is blaming it on this being an election year. I’m not buying it. TV ratings for almost everything are down across the board. Everything that is, except for IndyCar.
Over the past couple of seasons, ratings for IndyCar have been increasing. Not a lot mind you, but increasing.
What is the reason for that? Skeptics will say that IndyCar ratings have been so abysmal over the last decade, that one extra household is noticeable. While that is an exaggeration, it’s true that it is easier to make a dent in the ratings when you are drawing only six to seven hundred thousand viewers for your telecasts. The flipside of that is that it is easier to detect a downturn when your viewing population is so small.
Others will say that there is nowhere to go but up. There have been a few races over the past five years or so that pulled in a 0.1 rating. That’s not 1.0 – that’s 0.1. Is there a measurement lower than that? Keep in mind that the lowly Titans average around 21.0 in the Nashville area. Back when they were winning, the Titans were pulling in local ratings over 30.0. The Super Bowl will normally bring in a 45-50 rating, which brings a 0.1 rating into perspective.
But this is a new day. Last weekend, the late NFL game on FOX between the Bengals and Cowboys brought in a national rating of 12.1, which led the NFL weekend. By comparison, the Monday Night game between Tampa Bay and Carolina garnered a 5.6 rating, down 27% from last year’s week five matchup.
We’re not just talking about the NFL. The NBA and Major League Baseball are taking hits as well. And what about NASCAR? Last week’s race at Charlotte was down 14% from last year’s Charlotte race. Of course, that’s not a fair comparison, because the race was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday – a move that would certainly affect ratings. Well, the week before when they ran at Dover – NASCAR got a 1.5 rating compared to a 1.9 last season with neither affected by weather. That’s a 21% drop from last year to this season. This is not coincidence, it’s a trend.
Since 2014, TV ratings for IndyCar are up 29%. That’s also not a coincidence. The naysayers and the Legions of the Miserable will give you all kinds of reasons why those numbers are skewed. But keep in mind, you can spin statistics anyway you want to in order to prove a point.
As I said earlier, I may regret jumping into this because I don’t understand all of the intricacies of TV ratings and what they all mean. But I do know that NASCAR and the NFL are now wringing their hands over their plummeting ratings, while IndyCar is boasting that theirs are headed in the right direction.
Is this a victory? No. But it is a sign that some of the things that IndyCar CEO Mark Miles has done may actually be starting to work. I’ve not been too kind to Mr. Miles since he took over in 2013, but he deserves some credit. It could be that his stability alone has made a difference. Randy Bernard was unceremoniously dumped after two and a half years on the job. Jeff Belskus reluctantly served in the role for less than a year, after Tony George was ousted.
As Mark Miles is slowly but surely moving away from the advice of the Boston Consulting Group and listening to more qualified racing minds, he is starting to get some things right, thereby allowing the series to finally grow some.
While IndyCar would kill to have the ratings that the NFL is fretting about, they can take comfort in knowing that their TV ratings are headed in the right direction. That’s something that the NFL and NASCAR cannot claim.