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Why low Daytona 500 ratings should be a concern for NASCAR

Umbrellas were the order of the day at the 2021 Daytona 500. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Umbrellas were the order of the day at the 2021 Daytona 500. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Ted Fleming
EXPERT
Modified 18 Feb 2021
Feature
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NASCAR's Daytona 500 decision to wait six hours just to get the race in might be the dumbest decision they have ever made

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s marquee event, and it kickstarts the season. Stock car fans lucky enough to have a ticket gear up for their trip to Florida while the rest of the racing world makes plans to spend their day in front of their television sets.

As it turned out this year, however, everyone got to see a 15-lap race, and then they had to wait, and wait, and wait until they finally decided to watch something else.

Read more: NFL star Alvin Kamara's juice brand to sponsor JD Motorsports at Daytona

NASCAR had the Daytona 500 and 2021 season commercials just about everywhere. They flooded their airwaves, proclaiming this year to to be the best ever.

Then, the start of the season fell flatter than a soufflé at a daycare center.

The early numbers for the 2021 Daytona 500 were comparable to 2019, which doesn't say much about the race's popularity. The live gate sold out, but Fox Sports needs eyeballs to sell advertising to make up for the fat contract they handed to NASCAR for broadcast rights.

This year’s Daytona 500 opened with 8.48 million viewers, roughly four percent higher than two years ago. Then, it was the kind of crash NASCAR did not want to see. The 2020 Daytona 500 had to be pushed to Monday and scored a meager 4.4 rating, a new low. That mark has now been eclipsed, not by a slim margin, but almost in half, at 2.8.

During the 2000s, NASCAR ratings were in freefall, from a high of 11.3 in 2006 to what this year produced. Only twice did the series see an increase from the year before during that time. In 2015, it was 7.7. Since then, it's been 6.6, 6.6, 5.3, 5.3, 4.4, and now 2.8, the lowest ever recorded since Sports Media Watch began keeping such records in 1979.

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A look at NASCAR Ratings in the 2000s via Statista 2021
A look at NASCAR Ratings in the 2000s via Statista 2021

During the pandemic-interrupted season, overall NASCAR ratings were stable, primarily due to fans stuck at home. Weekday races were a flop, a significant reason why there was none in the 2021 season. But that still doesn’t answer why ratings keep plummeting year to year.

Read more: Daytona Road Course: TV schedule, start time, entry list for second NASCAR race of 2021

Fans are tired of NASCAR officials willing to wait hours on end, like in the Daytona 500, to get in a race on the scheduled date. But if there is one thing we have learned, viewers instead arrived at an early decision on a postponement rather than wait until after midnight to see who wins an event. You don’t have to look any further than a year ago when the Daytona 500 was pushed out to Monday. It drew a 4.4 on a workday.

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NASCAR is at fault here, and frankly, they deserve every bit of the scorn. Asking viewers to wait out a six-hour delay, then staying up until after midnight to see a race winner, is absurd. The Daytona 500 was a mid-afternoon race, not one that starts in the early evening. Officials worry about night races and rain, but they don’t show the same concern for the biggest race of the year?

Read more: Daytona Road course favorite: Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s best road racer

Additionally, drivers do not need to be hanging around that long either. Calling off a race after a reasonable amount of time will allow them to get the kind of rest they need to be fresh for a next-day restart. With all the doubleheaders on the 2020 revamped calendar, it’s not like they haven’t seen this movie before.

Postponing the Daytona 500 to Monday should not be a concern for Fox Sports either. The race will outdraw any of the syndicated shows they run on weekdays.

All that the fans can hope for is that NASCAR and the TV networks work together to address the issue with common sense. The alarm bells continue to ring, but whether anyone pays attention to it before it's too late, remains to be seen.

Published 18 Feb 2021, 23:50 IST
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