Growing up as a race car fan in the 60s, there was one event – above all others – associated with endurance and prestige: the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But, today, in my opinion nothing touches the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series which is the crown jewel in NASCAR’s three major national touring events (the other two being the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series.) Last year, the Californian Jimmie Johnson won the Series on November 20th for an unprecedented 7th time. He, along with numerous others, will be back again this year racing in essentially the same series format, but with an entirely new “entitlement sponsor” – Monster Energy (the drink, not a synthetic engine fuel.)
But whatever the sponsor name, this is THE stock car racing event of the year, running from February to November and encompassing a total of 30+ grueling races that culminate in one – and only one – winner of the Cup Championship. In between the mid-winter start and the late-autumn finish, over forty NASCAR drivers begin the Cup pursuit, and then are winnowed down to sixteen, and then finally one champion.
For the second year in a row, the Cup Series was carried on the cable sports channels Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), which had replaced (in 2015) long-standing incumbents ESPN and TNT. And despite a steady decline in live television audiences (brought about by increased digital video and DVR usage,) the 2016 ratings and shares were still quite strong:
NASCAR RACES REV CABLE RATING
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a flat out ratings winner for ad-supported cable. It’s that simple. Below is a sampling of last year’s races that appeared on cable, capturing either the highest or second highest U.S. HH rating in its time slot out of 250 broadcast and cable networks:
PREVALANCE OF NASCAR SPRINT CUP PROGRAMMING
Based on an analysis of comScore ratings data, we estimate that ad-supported cable delivered slightly over one-half of all television gross impressions associated with the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And between all of the practice runs, qualifying races and individual race events, there is a tremendous amount of programming content – by our count ~420 hours of programming on FS1 and NBCSN:
Source: Viamedia analysis of comScore TV Essentials ® Data (Telecast Summary Report) for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Races that aired on FS1 & NBCSN. Data were generated by entering “NASCAR Sprint Cup” into series search field. Hours are based on both new and repeat programming content.
SPRINT CUP LOCAL MARKET PERFORMANCE
In past blogs we’ve noted the Appalachian roots of stock car racing (translation: rum running at very high speeds), and how the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a regional following that borders on the reverential — with super-charged ratings in several southern TV markets, such as Charlotte, Greensboro-High Point, Tri-Cities, Chattanooga and Roanoke. But it would be a mistake to assume that viewer interest is confined solely to markets astride the Southern Appalachian mountain range. We took a look at a dozen NASCAR auto races on cable from last season and isolated the Top 25 markets with the highest ratings – in all, 300 market observations (i.e., 12 races x 25 markets = 300.) By our count, 171 market observations (57%) are located outside of the South. Below is a list of markets that appeared in the Top 25 for at least 10 of the 12 auto races we analyzed:
LOCAL CABLE ADVERTISING DEMAND
Advertising demand for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is very strong, and made all the more so by the fact that Viamedia operates in several of the hottest NASCAR viewing markets, including Charlotte, Chattanooga, Greensboro and Harrisburg. Over the past two years, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has attracted 400 local cable advertisers who ordered ~11,700 :30-second spots across 51 Viamedia markets (~70% of Viamedia’s national footprint.) That comes to an average of 30 spots per client. (Source: B.I.G.SM database — Copyright © 2017 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
And in terms of local cable advertising categories, I don’t think it will surprise too many people that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series attracts numerous advertisers from the Automotive and Automotive Aftermarket categories, which together account for 64% of all advertising. While clearly not as large, the Restaurant share of 7% is nearly twice the level we normally see for this category company-wide (across all programs):
FROM SPRINT TO MONSTER ENERGY
According to Wikipedia, 2016 marked the 68th season of professional stock car racing, bringing to an end the Sprint sponsorship as well as the illustrious career of Tony Stewart – a three-time Sprint Cup Champion. But there will be plenty of famous drivers back in 2017 (such as Joey Logano and Kyle Busch) battling for the NASCAR Cup Championship under the overall sponsorship of Monster Energy – an edgy, millennial drink-favorite which may court younger viewers to the sport.
But young, old or in-between… one thing viewers of all ages can depend upon: hour after hour of exciting stock car racing on cable throughout the year. So, as the NASCAR season gets underway with a new sponsor on Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network, it’s that time once again to buckle-up your seat belts, lock the doors and – if you’re of a mind to do so – put on a helmet.
And enjoy the ride!
Written by Jonathan Sims
VP Media Research, Viamedia