Final Four dents IndyCar race TV ratings

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The IndyCar Series’ faced a huge challenge Saturday competing with the men’s NCAA Final Four for television viewers.

Even though both NCAA semifinal games were blowouts and their ratings were down from last year, the games certainly appear to have had an impact on the IndyCar event which raced against them Saturday night. Villanova's romp over Oklahoma earned a 7.1 rating and North Carolina's triumph over Syracuse in the nightcap registered a 8.07 rating, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research.

Saturday night’s Phoenix Grand Prix on NBC Sports Network earned a 0.29 overnight rating, according to Nielsen. Races on NBC Sports Network averaged 0.34 rating last season.

IndyCar’s TV ratings—for all races on network and cable—increased 15 percent to a 0.76 average last year, on the heels of a 20 percent increase in 2014.

Growing the series’ TV ratings has been a big thrust since Mark Miles took the wheel of IndyCar parent Hulman & Co. in late 2012. Sports marketers say the open-wheel series’ races need to earn 1.0 ratings (1 million households nationally) to start getting traction with more mainstream advertisers.

The series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13, aired on ABC and registered a 1.09 overnight rating, according to Nielsen. The NASCAR Sprit Cup race, which aired on Fox later that same afternoon, earned a 3.6 overnight rating, according to Nielsen.

IndyCar should see a solid rating for its next race, the Grand Prix of Long Beach, one of its most popular races outside Indianapolis. That race airs live on April 17.

The following week the race heads to Alabama for another race airing on cable before four races—two at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and back-to-back events in Detroit—that air on ABC.

For the first time in a decade, according to Nielsen, the Indianapolis 500 scored a higher TV rating (4.1) than NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 (3.8), which were both raced on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Last year was the best Indy 500 rating since 2011, and with this year marking the 100th running of the race, many sports marketers expect the races TV viewership to be even higher this year.

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