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NFL Ratings Are Down, and Trump Blames Player Protests. But What About NASCAR?

In-depth viewer data from Inscape tells a tale of two all-American sports

Although it’s been the NFL that’s recently prompted headlines in regard to TV ratings — specifically, their decline — other eyes are on the broadcast performance of another American sports obsession: NASCAR.

President Donald Trump has suggested that TV viewers are turning away from NFL games because of the ongoing controversy over various players taking a knee during the national anthem, but what about the ratings for NASCAR, which is deeply popular among Trump’s base?

Inscape, the TV data company with glass-level information from 7.7 million smart TV screens and devices, took a granular look at NASCAR viewership.

According to Inscape data, there’s been a bit of a decline in traditional television viewership between 2016 and 2017, but looking at OTT, the decline is less. (Note: Both Fox and NBC have broadcasting agreements with NASCAR, with the former airing the races taking place earlier in 2017 and the latter broadcasting those later in the year.)


When it comes to the location of NASCAR fans, check out the population-normalized heatmap below. As you’d expect, southern states have high concentrations (including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama) — but devoted audiences are also located in Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa and South Dakota.

Inscape also has insight into other shows NASCAR viewers are likely to watch. Topping the list: Live PD, Today With Kathie Lee & Hoda, Days of Our Lives, M*A*S*H reruns and Rachael Ray.

So what’s going on here? The NFL, with its anthem controversy, is facing declining ratings. NASCAR, with no anthem controversy, is also facing declining ratings.

And at least one TV executive is keeping his eye on the big picture. After President Trump’s renewed suggestion that fans were turning away from football because of the “disrespect the NFL is paying to our Country, our Flag and our National Anthem,” Fox Sports EVP of Research, League Operations and Strategy Michael Mulvihill recently tweeted,

Put in context, football in this country is still wildly popular—and so is NASCAR. Audience behavior is changing rapidly across all of television, but as always, correlation does not imply causation.