Olympics hurt IRL TV ratings

Officials for the Indy Racing League are probably happy the Olympics happen only once every four years. This year’s games in Beijing, IRL officials said, have done a number on their TV viewership lately.

The IRL’s Aug. 24 race in Sonoma County, California, earned a .41 rating, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. The rating for the race at Infineon Raceway, which aired at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2, means about 450,000 households nationwide tuned in. That’s a significant decrease from the .61 rating (650,000 households) the same race earned a year ago.

“It’s the same story with a lot of ratings the last couple weeks,” said IRL spokesman John Griffin. “Everything is being overshadowed by the Summer Olympics.”

To be sure, the Olympics are a formidable competitor. The Beijing Games regularly drew more than 16 million U.S. households during primetime. The IRL’s TV ratings are still trending up overall from last year on races that appear on ESPN or ESPN2, while the numbers on ABC are flat, according to Griffin.

Now that the Olympics are over, there will be pressure from series sponsors for TV ratings to head back in the right direction. The series has three races remaining starting with a road race in Detroit at 3:30 p.m. this Sunday on ABC. The league also has races at Chicagoland Sept. 7 (ABC) and in Australia Oct. 26 (ESPN2).

With potential title sponsors keeping a close eye on this first year of unification with Champ Car, it will be a critical stretch run for the league.

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