The attendance woes at Richmond International Raceway this weekend may just be the beginning of NASCAR's problems.

TV viewership hit a historic low, with about 4.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen, tuning in to Fox for the Toyota Owners 400, down more than 1 million viewers from last year and only about half of what the race drew in 2008.

When the final ratings data is available this week, it's likely that Sunday's race draws the second-lowest rating ever for a Sunday cup series race on Fox.

Fox has broadcast the Richmond spring race for the last decade, first as a Saturday night event, then on Sunday afternoons starting in 2016.

During that time, viewership, like track attendance, has steadily declined.

A number of reasons have been proposed as the reason for the slide, but as NASCAR works to improve its racing, it's unclear whether the fans who abandoned the sport over the last decade are ever coming back.

The decline in TV ratings is especially concerning given that the race was available on free, over-the-air television in an attractive time slot.

However, even with the sagging ratings, NASCAR remains an attractive TV property. The race was the third most-watched sporting event of the weekend, behind a pair of NBA playoff games that aired simultaneously on ABC.

The other good news for NASCAR is that they have time to figure out their issues. The current TV contract with Fox and NBC runs for another five years, with rights fees for that time period already established.

Still, the impending retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the series' most popular driver, is unlikely to help matters.

NASCAR CEO Brian France said before Sunday's race that the future remains bright.

"If you look at our history, we always tend to see drivers move in waves in one direction," he said. "The good news is you’ve seen the talent pool that’s coming, and it is deep. We’re excited about that."

He added that the series will do what it needs to do to drive interest up, but wants to make it a collaborative effort.

"We’ll make tough decisions when we need to make them," he said. "We’ll get tough with people when we have to. But we’d rather get better ideas and better working relationships with our key stakeholders."

Fox Sports did not release a press release on Monday with the weekend's ratings data, but did use social media to note that the pre-race show was up 8 percent from last year, when 557,000 people tuned in.

mphillips@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6546

Twitter: @michaelpRTD

Recommended for you

Load comments