Do Pocono ratings show IndyCar needs more oval races?

When it comes to the television ratings of the IndyCar Series, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples. Having some races on network broadcasts and other on cable makes it pretty tricky to compare one race to another.

That hasn’t stopped old-school open-wheel fans from crowing that the ratings of the Pocono race mean that the series needs more ovals. On some levels, I suppose that makes a lot of sense.

This year, the series has 13 road and street races and six oval races.

The 0.9 rating (about 1.3 million TV viewers nationwide) for the July 7 race at Pocono is the third highest rated broadcast of the season behind the Indianapolis 500 (3.68) on May  26 and the Firestone 550 (.96) at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. The fourth highest rated IndyCar race this year is the Iowa Corn Indy 250, which aired on June 23. It earned a .68 rating.

That means the four highest rated races this year have been run on ovals, and that has given the oval-loving IndyCar fans something to holler about.

But remember, all those races aired on ABC. Many of the underperforming IndyCar street and road races have aired on NBC Sports Network, a relatively new cable channel still trying to find its legs. And many viewers are still trying to find NBCSN on the dial.

Oval races airing on NBC Sports Network haven’t done too well either. For example, the Milwaukee IndyFest run on the much-loved Milwaukee Mile scored a paltry .22 rating on June 15.

Oval fans are quick to point to the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit, IndyCar races which aired June 1 and 2. Both were serpentine (non-oval) races and both were on ABC. The June 1 race scored a .61 rating and the Sunday race scored a .67.

The IndyCar Series’ early season road and street races on NBC Sports Network scored .38, .26, .4 and .22. Not exactly stellar numbers.

Again, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples. Ratings depend on marketing, what network an event is on and what other events are scheduled at the same time.

But a quick glance at the IndyCar ratings does seem to create an interesting dilemma for the open-wheel series’ decision makers.

While the ovals seem to at least hold their own in terms of TV ratings, and there would certainly be an argument that they draw more eyeballs, some of the road and street courses—with their festival atmospheres—draw bigger live crowds. In the case of Long Beach and a very short list of others, they draw much bigger crowds. But as popular as Long Beach is as a live event, this year’s race on April 21 only earned a .4 rating on NBC Sports Network.

On the other hand, many of the ovals, as well as they’ve done on TV, have struggled to maintain a vibrant live audience base. A simple solution to increasing TV ratings for all its races is to move more races to network TV. But with the series’ current contract with NBCSN that may be easier said than done.

What is new Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and his new management team going to do about this? Your guess is as good as mine.


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