The numbers are in and a Daytona 500 run under perfect conditions and producing the closest finish in history was not a big hit with the television audience.
The overnight ratings were down 16 percent from a year ago, and were the second lowest since overnight numbers became a thing (2008). An estimated average audience of 11.4 million viewers tuned in, compared to 13.36 million a year ago.
To think just 13 years ago, the audience was measured as twice the 2016 number.
Because of findings like that, the popularity of NASCAR’s premier series is a question that just won’t quite go away. Where does this once quintessential Southern sport, long since gone coast to coast, fit on the broader stage? With both live attendance and television numbers flattening out, what kind of shadow does the long Sprint Car season cast?
Given a successful Triple Crown campaign last year by American Pharoah, even racing of a four-legged variety made more of an impact (Belmont viewership was 18.6 million).
They keep score at newspapers, too, these days, and by measuring the number of web site page views, Sprint Cup racing does not move the needle even in a market that you’d assume would be receptive, like Atlanta.
This week will be an interesting test for where racing ranks with the locals. Many of the usual reasons for flagging attendance at Atlanta Motor Speedway shouldn’t apply for Sunday’s Folds of Honor/QuikTrip 500.
The weather is predicted to be sunny and relatively mild.
Gas prices, which when high really hit the wallets of the widely traveled racing community, are way down.
Ticket prices at AMS aren’t prohibitive – no ticket above $100.
Storylines are plentiful, especially with rookie Chase Elliott appealing to the home crowd and defending champion Jimmie Johnson standing one victory away from tying the late Dale Earnhardt.
The sport is trying to reinvigorate itself. The Chase playoff system lends a little more intrigue to the season’s end. The new aero package (which wasn’t in effect in Daytona) will be on display in Atlanta, with the intent of making the racing closer, more exciting.
What racing needs is what any sport needs – a truly galvanizing performer who might bring in the casual viewer. Someone whose personality and daring show through the helmet and the racing suit (yes, we still miss you, Dale Earnhardt). Still awaiting that spark, while the cars go ‘round and ‘round.