TV rating for Brickyard 400 hits higher gear while attendance dips

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Live attendance at the Brickyard 400 might be dropping, but its television rating somewhat surprisingly bounced back this year.

This year’s Brickyard 400 on NBC—despite a lengthy rain delay and numerous crashes that pushed the race into the evening on Sunday—scored a 3.3 overnight rating (or about 3.6 million homes nationwide), according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. That’s an 18 percent increase over last year’s NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It is important to note that last year’s race, which registered a 2.8 rating (a bit less than 3.1 million households), according to Nielsen, aired on cable channel NBC Sports Network. The 2015 race scored a 3.0 rating on NBCSN, or 3.3 million households.

Still, the TV rating increase this year comes as live attendance has cratered over several years to an estimated 35,000 fans on Sunday. That, according to multiple sources at the track, is down a bit from last year and about one-fourth from where it was just five years ago. 

This year's spike in TV viewership for the Brickyard 400 also comes at a time when many other NASCAR races are seeing double-digit ratings decreases.

Fourteen of NASCAR’s first 16 races this year saw their TV audience shrink, nine of those by 11 percent or more. 

Overall, the ratings for the first half of the NASCAR season are down 12 percent. The races are shared by NBC, Fox and their various cable affiliates.

It’s difficult to say if the TV viewership increase at Indianapolis is good news or bad news. One media buyer joked to The Score that of course more people watched the race on TV, because nobody was there to watch it live.

Languishing live attendance is no laughing matter to officials at the IMS, town of Speedway or city of Indianapolis. And it's an issue track and NASCAR officials are working to solve. 

One thing being done to reverse the slide is moving the race to September next season. While that will likely make temperatures at the track cooler and the whole experience more comfortable for fans, that also runs the NASCAR race in Indianapolis headlong into the NFL season, whch could be detrimental to live attendance and/or TV ratings.

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