Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Daytona rain left TV ratings bump high and dry

Nobody from NASCAR would ever come right out and say this, so I will. One factor behind why the plug was pulled so fast on Sunday night's Daytona 500 was television ratings.

Fox Sports announced the ratings results Tuesday and the race got a 9.2 national rating with a 19 share. That means 9.2 percent of all households were tuned to the race at an average point during the telecast, and that 19 percent of households where the television was in use was watching Daytona.

Fox points out that the average viewership of 16 million was higher than the average viewership for the Final Four (15.4 million viewers), Beijing Olympics (15.2 million), 2008 NBA Finals (14.9 million), Kentucky Derby (14.2 million) and the final round of The Masters (13.1 million) and US Open (12.1 million). Last year's Indianapolis 500 drew 7.2 million viewers.

But here's where the rain comes in. Last year's race got a 10.2 rating and had 17.8 million viewers. Part of that was because the rating grew from 10.4 to 12.1 in the final half-hour of racing. It stands to reason that more viewers would show up for the finish of the race. That's one reason the 500 was started at 3:40 p.m., so that it would end around 7 p.m. at the beginning of prime time.

This year, the rain came just after 6:30. The rating hadn't yet begun to build as rapidly as it might have. And when the racing stopped, Fox and NASCAR knew that people all across America were tuning out. Even if the race had restarted, it was going to be at least a couple of hours before it resumed because it would take that long to dry the track.

If Fox continued with its coverage through a rain delay of that length, viewership would have plummeted and the whole average rating would have dropped, too. By ending the broadcast as quickly as possible, Fox minimized the loss of ratings as much as it could.

Does that mean that somebody from Fox told NASCAR to pull the plug? Or even asked for that to happen? Not necessarily. But television is an important part of the NASCAR business equation, and the people making the call on whether the race would be resumed are part of the NASCAR business leadership. They understood that viewers were clicking away or would be if it appeared a long delay was in order.

NASCAR had plenty of other reasons to make the decision it did. There are a lot of bad things about a decision to resume a race at 10:30 or 11 p.m. -- or even later. You've got fans parked everywhere around the track and you need people to help them get out of there. You have major roads closed off in anticipation of the mass egress following a race. In this case you had information suggesting it might keep raining for a while, too. Television wasn't the only factor. It might not have even been a major factor. But it was a factor.

The race had the highest ratings in Greenville, S.C., with a 21.2. Greensboro was second at 19.9. Charlotte was sixth behind those two as well as Dayton, Indianapolis and Knoxville. The rating in Charlotte was a 15.6.


timdub70 said...

That's what I thought. Fox had scheduled four new shows of The Simpsons, King Of The Hill, Family Guy, and American Dad and they weren't going to let a little race interrupt them.

majorshouse said...

So I guess now it is all about money and not racing, what a shock. I think that they need to go back to a 1:00 start for all of the races and I would bet that they will find that they have much better viewership that way instead of worrying about their damn money.

Anonymous said...

They Blew it! I didn't watch any of that crap!! Went motorcycle riding after the race was called.
Did I mention I'm one of those Nielsen people?

Anonymous said...

Some of these Fox makes are misleading. The networks have killed the NBA Finals and the Final Four with late starts. If I remember, the UNC-Kansas game didn't start until almost 10:00 in the East and the Finals don't start until after 9. How are average for ratings for the Kentucky Derby figured? I'm sure for the 2 minutes the race is run, the number of viewers is much higher than the number Fox mentions. The Olympics are on 24/7so an average there is misleading. The only valid comparisons to me are to the golf events.
Has this catering to the West Coast caused an increase in TV ratings in LA, Phoenix, San Diego, etc. It certainly doesn't translate into fans at Fontana.
Of course, we can save the Fontana rants until later in the week.

Anonymous said...

When did the rain stop at Daytona? 10:00? 10:30? And wouldn't it have taken 2 to 3 hours to dry the track? And weren't there 180,000 people there? Sure does sound like NASCAR made the right decision.

Does this mean there won't be any articles in the future about the races' being too long?

Anonymous said...

Your theory makes sense...now if we could just figure out the "grassy Knoll"

Anonymous said...

Some of this information is all wet...Not that it seems to matter, but I was THERE......there was .04 inch of rain at Daytona (reported the next day by the weather service) and it lasted off and on about 1 hr....which would have been about 7:30 pm. When the rain started, over the Fan Scan radio, they said there were some showers that would be off and on for about 1 hr. but that they would run the race even if it was 4:00 a.m. We put on our rain ponchos, like many others, and were prepared to stay. Less than 5 minutes later, they called the race...Fans who travel hundreds of miles (in our case 1,800 miles) and spend considerable amounts of money on everything from tickets and food to lodging and rental cars, could really care about TV ratings and Fox's pocketbook. But, let's face it, it's about everyone else's money....except the fan's. They better be careful, or not only will they be getting an even lower viewer share, there won't be anyone in the stands either!

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