NASCAR is well aware of the potential for increased television audiences as it attempts to restart its season.
The first of seven NASCAR races in 11 days is on May 17 at Darlington Raceway as NASCAR will run its first Cup Series race since March 8. And NASCAR president Steve Phelps said on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast published Tuesday that he believed that “millions” of new potential viewers would tune into its upcoming races because there are few other sports happening.
“We think this is going to be a really good test for us and a real opportunity for us to have our core fans consume the sport like they never have because we haven’t been racing for so long but also an opportunity for other people to see our sport, sample our sport,” Phelps said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I think we’re going to have millions of fans that will tune in who otherwise wouldn’t who will see how great our sport is. And so I think we’ll have potential lifetime fans that will come out of this really difficult situation that we’re experiencing.”
Next Sunday’s race at Darlington and the other six races over the next 10 days will be run without fans in attendance but with strict safety protocols for teams and other workers in attendance to follow. Masks will be mandatory for everyone at the track and drivers must wear them until they put their helmets on before a race.
If NASCAR is able to get started as planned, it will be the second North American sports organization to restart, as the UFC has a fight scheduled for Saturday. Neither MLB, the NBA or the NHL have announced plans to either start or finish their currently disrupted seasons.
Will millions extra tune in?
It’s entirely fair to debate the appropriateness of talking about potential audience sizes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. As over 70,000 people have died from the virus and over a million others have contracted it, worrying about how many people will watch a NASCAR race seems trivial in the grand scheme of things.
But it’s also refreshing to see NASCAR’s president talk about the possibility. While the sanctioning body has myriad reasons for wanting to get racing again and run every scheduled Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series race at some point during 2020, it was also impossible to pretend that exposure wasn’t one of those reasons.
By restarting ahead of all other major professional sporting organizations, NASCAR has the chance to seize mainstream attention on a barren sports landscape. We all knew that. Phelps is simply confirming that.
It’s a safe assumption that television ratings for the May 17 race will be very good. Heck, they could be the highest of the season for NASCAR. But we’ll find out if Phelps is right as the season continues. Getting people to tune in via a novelty effect is easy. Getting them to keep watching is another. NASCAR knows that very well.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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