Thursday, October 1, 2009

IRL IndyCar Cable Ratings History

We have examined the IRL IndyCar television ratings history for both the Indianapolis 500 and other races that aired on broadcast networks. Now, finally, we look at cable television ratings.

The histogram below contains comparative Nielsen cable ratings for IRL IndyCar events from 1996 through 2009. Specific races that were telecast on cable television in each year are identified below the graph.

Note that individual event ratings were not available for 1999, 2000, and 2002. The season average is presented for each race in those years.

  • 1996 - no cable events

  • 1997 - (1) Texas 0.6 ESPN2

  • 1998 - (4) Texas 0.4 TNN, Charlotte 0.9 TNN, Atlanta 0.9 TNN, Vegas 0.3 TNN

  • 1999 - (7) Phoenix 0.54 cable, Charlotte 0.54 cable, Texas 0.54 cable, Pikes Peak 0.54 cable, Atlanta 0.54 cable, Pikes Peak 0.54 cable, Vegas 0.54 cable

  • 2000 - (4) Disney 0.61 cable, Texas 0.61 cable, Atlanta 0.61 cable, Kentucky 0.61 cable

  • 2001 - (6) Atlanta 0.6 ESPN2, Texas 0.6 ESPN2, Richmond 0.5 ESPN2, Nashville 0.6 ESPN2, Gateway 0.4 ESPN2, Texas 0.4 ESPN2

  • 2002 - (5) Fontana 0.47 cable, Texas 0.47 cable, Pikes Peak 0.47 cable, Nashville 0.47 cable, Gateway 0.47 cable

  • 2003 - (6) Texas 0.44 ESPN, Richmond 0.48 ESPN, Nashville 0.32 ESPN2, Gateway 0.7 ESPN, Nazareth 0.55 ESPN, Texas 0.46 ESPN

  • 2004 - (6) Homestead 0.9 ESPN, Motegi 0.1 ESPN2, Texas 0.4 ESPN, Richmond 0.24 ESPN2, Nashville 0.5 ESPN2, Fontana 0.1 ESPN

  • 2005 - (10) Homestead 0.6 ESPN, St. Pete 0.4 ESPN, Motegi 0.5 ESPN, Texas 1.0 ESPN, Richmond 0.4 ESPN2, Kansas 1.1 ESPN, Nashville 0.3 ESPN, Milwaukee 0.5 ESPN, Sonoma 0.6 ESPN, Fontana 0.6 ESPN

  • 2006 - (7) St. Pete 0.3 ESPN, Motegi 0.6 ESPN, Texas 0.6 ESPN, Richmond 0.4 ESPN2, Nashville 0.4 ESPN, Milwaukee 0.4 ESPN, Sonoma 0.6 ESPN

  • 2007 - (9) Homestead 0.39 ESPN2, St. Pete 0.6 ESPN, Motegi 0.4 ESPN, Kansas 0.3 ESPN2, Texas 0.7 ESPN2, Richmond 0.6 ESPN, Nashville 0.4 ESPN2, Michigan 0.28 ESPN2, Sonoma 0.6 ESPN

  • 2008 - (10) Homestead 0.8 ESPN, St. Pete 0.42 ESPN2, Motegi 0.33 ESPN2, Kansas 0.74 ESPN2, Texas 1.0 ESPN2, Richmond 0.9 ESPN, Nashville 0.5 ESPN, Edmonton 0.4 ESPN, Kentucky 0.43 ESPN2, Sonoma 0.41 ESPN2

  • 2009 - (11 to date) St. Pete 0.3 VS, Long Beach 0.5 VS, Kansas 0.15 VS, Texas 0.36 VS, Richmond 0.22 VS, Edmonton 0.24 VS, Kentucky 0.14 VS, Mid-Ohio 0.2 VS, Sonoma 0.25 VS, Chicago 0.24 VS, Motegi 0.14 VS

Conclusions, anyone?



  1. Averaging 2008 and 2009 ratings:

    ICS: cable down 45% from network (w/o Indy 500).
    NASCAR: cable down 9% from network (w/o Daytona 500).

    Conclusion: an audience does not a fanbase make. I think the cable to network ratio is a strong indicator of how many people actually 'follow' the series.


  2. John,

    The numbers certainly suggest a low level of fan intensity. This is congruent with my instincts about the crowd at Indy over the last few years.

    The audience seems to consist mostly of event-goers. The ratings decline in the Indianapolis market would seem to augment this position. Much like street races, the 500 is a big, local event that people attend even if they are unlikely to watch another IndyCar race on TV.

    That is why I am so strongly opposed to temporary circuits and the notion of "sports entertainment". Bill I of France had it right - he kept the entertainment embedded in the sport. Not everybody is going to like NASCAR racing, but those who do like it a lot and tune in to watch it.

    Until the IRL has 28 cars with 20 U.S. drivers, including several competing for wins each week, it will not increase the cable ratings.

    Regarding another topic...

    I suspect that the horrible racing product really killed any momentum that Versus might have achieved this year. The number for Long Beach was in line with some of the ESPN numbers last year. The Texas rating was pretty close to some of the cable races late in 2008.

    Unfortunately, a disappointing Texas race was followed by a farcical effort at Richmond. The numbers have been stuck in a trough since then. It also did not help that Mid-Ohio was equally terrible.

    I can't remember the last time prior to this season that I missed an IndyCar race. If I could not see it live, then I recorded it and watched it later. I've missed four races this year. Surprisingly, I don't regret it at all. There is very little reason to tune in. When I miss it, I don't miss it.

    That is something that I never though I would say. Apparently, I'm not alone.

    Best Regards,


  3. The most notable trend is the lack of one. That strikes immediately.

    The second one, and one I'd love to see you do charts on: Average for east coast races vs. west coast races. Why does the IRL race on the west coast if no one cares about it (outside Long Beach) and no one watches it (outside Long Beach)?

    -Considering how often I've heard about the IRL needing to be in Vegas, the numbers say no. It only came in the top 50% percentile of either cable or network TV's ratings for any season *once*. One time!

    -What the hell happened in 2004? I didn't even realize how bad things were that year. Buddy Rice wins the 500, the series has its best drivers ever, but the ratings were in the toilet and hell, not even a single bump on bump day.

    -Get rid of night races. Do it now. No one wants them. It is as clear as day.

  4. VirtualBalboa,

    I'm with you on night races. I like them, but I am apparently very much alone. Texas pulled some very respectable cable numbers in the past. It might be worth keeping at night. If it were the only night race, then the TMS race would have something special about it.

    You think Eddie Gossage could do something with that?

    Regarding trends, I did notice one. I'm working on the chart now. I'll publish it after I milk the latest Danica to NASCAR non-story for all its worth.

    I'm not above pandering, you know.

    Best Regards,


  5. VirtualBalboa - 2004,

    The most notable development was that Sam Hornish moved to Team Penske.

    He won only one race that year: Homestead.

    Hornish had developed a fan following when he was beating the Penske boys for IRL championships while driving for Panther Racing. Then he joined them.

    I won't claim that this was the reason for the drop. I will say that I loved watching Sam use the outside line to pass the Penske cars.

    Still, it's doubtful that Sam's moving to Penske caused the decline.

    Best Regards,