Tuesday, September 29, 2009

IRL IndyCar Network Ratings History

The histogram below provides the average rating for IRL events that aired on network television from 1996 through 2009. The Indianapolis 500 is not included. The number of network races for each season is provided below the graph. Significant milestones in league history are also provided

NOTICE: Specific races on network TV in each year are identified below that graph per VirtualBalboa's suggestion. Thank you, VirtualBalboa. Series milestones are also listed.

Network Races and Key Milestones

  • 1996 - Orlando 2.2, Phoenix 2.2, New Hampshire 1.6, Vegas 1.4

  • 1997 - Original IRL specs begin competition; Orlando 1.8, Phoenix 1.8, Pikes Peak 1.4, Charlotte 1.0, New Hampshire 1.4, Vegas 1.1

  • 1998 - Orlando 1.8, Phoenix 1.9, New Hampshire 1.3, Dover 1.6, Pikes Peak 1.1, Texas 1.1

  • 1999 - Orlando 1.8, Dover 1.3, Texas 0.9

  • 2000 - Montoya dominates Indy; Phoenix 1.7, Vegas 1.3, Pikes Peak 1.0, Texas 0.9

  • 2001 - Castroneves leads CART domination at Indy; Phoenix 1.0, Homestead 0.8, Pikes Peak 0.7, Kansas 1.3, Kentucky 1.1, Chicagoland 1.1

  • 2002 - Penske to IRL full-time; Homestead 1.5, Phoenix 1.2, Nazareth 1.1, Richmond 1.0, Kansas 1.2, Michigan 1.2, Kentucky 0.9, Chicagoland 1.1, Texas 0.9

  • 2003 - Honda, Toyota, TCGR, AGR and RLR to IRL full-time; CART postseason bankruptcy; Homestead 1.8, Phoenix 0.9, Motegi 0.7, Pikes Peak 0.7, Kansas 1.4, Michigan 1.0, Kentucky 0.8, Chicagoland 0.8, Fontana 0.6

  • 2004 - Phoenix 0.9, Kansas 1.2, Milwaukee 0.8, Michigan 0.8, Kentucky 0.8, Pikes Peak 0.5, Nazareth 0.9, Chicagoland 0.8, Texas 0.8

  • 2005 - Road and street races added to schedule; Phoenix 0.6, Michigan 1.3, Kentucky 0.9, Pikes Peak 0.8, Chicagoland 1.0, Watkins Glen 0.7

  • 2006 - Homestead 0.8, Watkins Glen 0.8, Kansas 1.2, Michigan 1.0, Kentucky 0.8, Chicagoland 0.7

  • 2007 - Milwaukee 1.0, Iowa 1.1, Watkins Glen 1.0, Mid-Ohio 1.7, Kentucky 0.6, Detroit 1.0, Chicagoland 0.9

  • 2008 - Mergification with ChampCar; Milwaukee 0.8, Iowa 1.1, Watkins Glen 1.1, Mid-Ohio 1.3, Detroit 0.9, Chicagoland 0.8

  • 2009 - Milwaukee 0.7, Iowa 0.8, Watkins Glen 0.87, Toronto 1.0



  1. Interesting notes:

    -Ratings on ABC basically have been the same since 2001. There's been short ticks up and down but nothing substantial to establish growth or decay. In other words, to network TV, AOWR has been dead for 8 years.

    -Why no mention of what races were televised? Obviously up to 2005 it was ovals only. Still, would be interesting to see which circuits were on ABC, even among ovals, just to see what the shuffling was like.

    -Also, any idea if they were day or night races?

  2. It appears fair to say we've found the bottom. Any variances between races (oval vs road, day vs night, etc.) are so minor as to be meaningless.

  3. >>It appears fair to say we've found the bottom.<<

    We ain't seen nothing yet.

  4. Donald,

    I agree. The network ratings will continue to decline until the product is designed to appeal to a U.S. audience.

    Next year is shaping up to be worse.

    Best Regards,


  5. "We ain't seen nothing yet."

    Iceberg dead ahead sir!!!

  6. Interesting notes:

    -2004 and 2008 aren't far from one another. I agree though; I don't think this is the bottom.

    -Orlando always had a strong number; my guess is that location had something to do with it along with the early in the year timing. It came across as a real event, not merely a nondescript race. Too bad the track is now effectively unsuitable for competitive racing (and lacks the interest of Disney's people). Homestead did well too as a Sunday opener.

    -I loved me some Pikes Peak; It was different! Too bad no one else cared. It looks like a ratings black hole. Maybe they shouldn't have been running the Mountain or Pacific time zones?

    -Mid-Ohio: The second most popular circuit on the current schedule. Who'da thunk?

  7. "The network ratings will continue to decline until the product is designed to appeal to a U.S. audience."


    One could argue that the early IRL had such a product (Americans/ovals) yet their ratings still declined.

    I can't quantify it and it's somewhat subjective, but I'm thinking the reason has something to do with a U.S. audience wanting the 'best' drivers. A case could be made that early IRL drivers were perceived as inferior to their CART counterparts and possibly CART's parallel decline the result of it being perceived inferior in some manner without the 'best' race.

    The challenge I see in the here and now is, with NASCAR's rise to preeminence, aren't we still faced with IndyCar establishing itself as the 'best' in some arena?

    If all went according to plan, one could argue that IndyCar could produce the best American open-wheel drivers, but I wonder if the market will perceive it as such. I think you'll agree it's meaningless to differentiate a product from the competition if the market is oblivious to the distinction, yet without a strategy for successfully doing so I can't see the situation changing much if at all.

    A case in point would be the World of Outlaws. They're superior in their niche, but the general public's perception is they're inferior to NASCAR in the auto racing category, which I can only assume is a result of the market's perception of sprint car racing as being inferior to stock car racing.

    I say it's a challenge, but it's really not; the positioning gurus could no doubt come up with an effective strategy. The real challenge is convincing the powers-that-be of the need for any sort of marketing strategy whatsoever.


  8. John,

    I don't think that there is much to be gained by looking at the early IRL. The animosity was so great, the PR hits so frequent and trenchant, that it had more in common with minor political parties than with most sports sanctioning bodies.

    It was actually holding up pretty well until the IRL teams had their clocks cleaned by CART in the 2001 Indy 500. The numbers subsequently dropped, but they did remain market competitive. In fact, the network numbers dropped far more when the the bulk of CART teams and drivers migrated with Honda and Toyota in 2003.

    Costs skyrocketed, car counts nosedived, and international drivers gradually replaced U.S. drivers on the grid. In effect, the watershed years were 2003 and 2008. I find it ironic that television ratings fell significantly in 2004 and 2009.

    Best Regards,