NASCAR vs F1 competition for viewers about to heat up

Fans enjoy the throwback schemes used at Darlington(Photo: Getty Images)

This Sunday will be a remarkable day for motorsports in America. The NASCAR Cup Series will be in competition on one of its most historic tracks in one of its most anticipated annual events while Formula 1 will race on a newly created circuit in one of the most glamourous locations in the country.

Two major auto races in the same country on the same day. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Unfortunately, there is one problem. NASCAR’s much-loved Throwback Race at Darlington Raceway in which teams cover their cars in nostalgic schemes meant to remind fans of favorite drivers or moments from the past is set to take the green flag at the same time F1 is scheduled to go “Lights Out” in the inaugural running of the Miami Grand Prix. For fans of all forms of racing, this is inopportune timing to say the least.

The planned start times for both races are 3:30pm on Sunday in the Eastern time zone.

In previous years, this might not have created much of a dilemma. NASCAR has long been the king of motorsports in America even as its popularity declined to a degree over the past decade or so while Formula 1 has had more of a niche group of followers in this part of the world primarily made up of foreign car enthusiasts and those willing to adjust their Sunday routines to fit with a series that races all over the world during less-than-prime viewing times.

Perhaps because of its new Next Gen car or the popularity of certain star drivers, NASCAR appears to be in the midst of an upswing in terms of attendance and television viewership. As a result, achieving a good ratings number would seem highly likely for this weekend’s Goodyear 400 on the track ‘Too Tough to Tame’.

At the same time, Formula 1 is also in the midst of an upswing in terms of its popularity on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Always the most popular form of motorsports worldwide, it has very much taken hold in America with a broader audience over the past couple of years.

The Netflix show ‘Drive to Survive’ coupled with a move onto the ABC/ESPN family of networks in the U.S. has stirred considerable interest, particularly among younger age groups. While some recently drawn to Formula 1 may not have any previous allegiance to any form of racing, there are no doubt some NASCAR followers who have also developed a newfound interest in this type of high speed, open-wheel racing.

To demonstrate that NASCAR is again on the rise, the website reports that TV ratings have improved for most races held so far in 2022 compared to those of last year. At the same time, some F1 races have seen strong numbers of viewers. This season’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was the most watched F1 race in the U.S. since 1995.

Normally, the two racing entities do not find themselves competing against each other for eyeballs due to the fact that their events start at different times. Sunday will mark one of the few occasions when a similar time slot will in fact be the case… for now.

But there will be other times when such scheduling conflicts are bound to occur as F1 looks to spend more time in the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. fans will getting more opportunities to see Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1 is racing twice in the America this season with the U.S. Grand Prix set to go off on October 23rd at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. That date coincides with NASCAR’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Further, F1 plans to add a third U.S. race in 2023 on a street circuit through the bustling city of Las Vegas. Other races that could create possible time zone conflicts with NASCAR might include Grand Prix events in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

The large number of potential fans as well as money from new sponsors based in this country will prove to be a strong lure for the European-based sport.

It’s not likely that the attendance at either race will be impacted by the other this weekend. While the Miami race is likely to have a highly charged atmosphere with packed grandstands, the price of the tickets to that event will render it largely exclusive to those with significant amounts of disposable income. The crowd in Darlington is not likely to be quite so high brow.

But the reality of the modern day is that attendance is not where the money is in the current sports landscape. Television drives the revenue bus for every major sport. Yes, grandstand attendance makes for a better bottom line and looks good from the outside but the millions of dollars that come from broadcast partners assure profitability.

Ultimately, it’s ratings and viewership that matter most because those factors influence the prices for advertisement.

The NASCAR race will be shown this weekend by FS1 while the Formula 1 event will be aired on ABC.

While NASCAR fans have bemoaned later start times, data indicates that those later times provide the best possible ratings. Those complaints were heard last Sunday when the Duramax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway had to be halted prior to reaching the halfway mark for rain. Many on social media argued that had the race started at 1:00pm, it likely would have finished before the rain came or it would have at least completed enough laps to be declared official.

But the networks prefer later green flags than that..

Formula 1’s European broadcast partners no doubt love the idea of having a race in the U.S. that will allow for a prime time start of 8:30 in London and 9:30 in Paris, Rome and Berlin. And it looks like they will be getting many more of those.

The bottom line is that more Formula 1 races in America and other parts of this hemisphere may be good news for fans of that form of racing whether they be longtime supporters or new converts. But even though it may not seem like it, two very different forms of motorsports could find themselves competing for at least some of the same viewers in the not-too-distant future.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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