Good news for the France family coming out of Daytona Beach. For the first time since 2006, The Daytona 500 was viewed in over ten million households, and viewership improved over thirty percent from last year’s Monday night primetime debut.
For years since the 2006 race, also won by Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR’s biggest event had seen a decline in the fifty-six major television markets. This bears the question, who or what was responsible for the sudden raise in viewers, and will the casual fans continue to watch for the rest of the year?
Well, one main theory on why ratings improved is that pole-sitter Danica Patrick ran a successful race and kept casual fans pinned to their seats to see if she could make history. This does explain a fair amount of viewers, but it would be naïve to assume that one person is responsible for breaking the slump that the 500 had seen in the last few years.
A common trend that was seen over social networks was that the casual viewers who view NASCAR races were rarely interested by the new car and new style of drafting, and all the off-season promotion that the sport had done. The 2006 Daytona 500 was promoted heavily during NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, and saw an overnight rating of over ten million as a result
Although grim, the more than likely cause was the Nationwide Series wreck the day before, which garnered negative publicity, but was reported by ever media outlet from ESPN to CNN. Two adages were confirmed by the wreck and the resulting ratings spike: “there is no such thing as bad publicity” and “people only watch NASCAR races for the crashes.”
The added risk associated with Sunday’s race, if there was any, certainly had an effect on the casual fans’ perception of the race. The action on track was rather mundane for the 500’s standards, but the idea that anything could go wrong at any instant had been once again instilled in fans minds, and as a result, a precedent for viewership increase has been set.
What can NASCAR do to keep the fair-weather fan and expand its viewership? The success of Danica Patrick, the generation six car, and the ability for the sport to retain a gladiator-like mentality with regards to danger all can couple to revive the television juggernaut that the sport used to be, and hopes it can become again.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486