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12/04 2014

TV audiences rise for open wheel racing

IRL

2014 was a better year than most for open wheel racing, with both Formula 1 and IndyCar generating gains over last year.

The F1 season, which concluded last week, averaged 477,000 viewers on the NBC family of networks — a 30 percent increase from last year (366K) and up 15 percent from 2012 on Speed Channel and FOX (414K).

NBCSN was the driving force behind this year’s strong performance. Not only was the network’s average of 385,000 viewers up 86 percent from last year, it marked the largest average ever for F1 on a single cable network.

The success of Formula 1 followed sizable gains for IndyCar earlier in the year. NBCSN averaged 378,000 viewers for the IndyCar season, up more than a third from last year and its second-best season since acquiring rights.

Of the 24 F1 and IndyCar races on NBCSN this year, more than half — 14 — had at least a 50 percent increase in viewership. Six of those races at least doubled last year’s viewership, topped by a 197 percent increase for the F1 race from Bahrain in April.

The results were not quite as torrid on the broadcast networks. NBC Sports did not release averages for F1 on NBC alone, and its four-race average in all likelihood trailed last year. ABC, meanwhile, had a 14 percent increase for its IndyCar coverage, but that drops to three percent when the Indy 500 is excluded.

Even with that caveat, this year’s momentum is good news for the health of open wheel racing in the U.S. — though the sport is still very much a niche attraction. Outside of the Indy 500, the most-watched open-wheel racing telecast of the year was Indy 500 qualifying on May 18, which drew 1.5 million viewers. By comparison, the year’s least-watched NASCAR Sprint Cup race generated an audience more-than-twice as large (3.6M for the Kentucky race on TNT).