IndyCar: Comparing 2021 and 2022 TV Ratings

Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell, and James Hinchcliffe at the 2022 Grand Prix of Monterey (Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

For the past decade or so, IndyCar and its TV partners have struggled with getting and retaining viewers. But with global motorsport on the rise, is the series rising along with everything else?

Live sports, along with television as a whole, were put in a strange spot coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 into 2022. Live racing was no exception. In all honesty, no one really knew how audiences would react to post-COVID sports coverage and whether ratings would return to their pre-COVID numbers.

Since 2019, American-based broadcast NBC has had exclusive media rights to broadcast IndyCar races on its various channels and platforms. As of the 2022 season, races along with qualifying and practice sessions are broadcasted on NBC, USA, and NBC’s streaming service Peacock. Midway through the 2021 season, NBC and IndyCar wrote up a new contract locking in NBC as the exclusive broadcaster of the series until 2024.

But the most important question still remains: What do the numbers say about NBC’s deal with IndyCar?

2021 TV Ratings

The 2021 season marked a turning point for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar. According to a series press release, the series’ Total Audience Delivery (TAD) averaged out to 1.2 million viewers, making it the most watched and highest-rated IndyCar season since 2016. Compared to 2020’s numbers, viewership was up an impressive 19%.

With the typical local blackout lifted due to COVID-related attendance restrictions at the track, the Indianapolis 500 averaged 5.5 million viewers, up an astonishing 51% on 2020 and 2% on 2019, the last edition of the race prior to the pandemic.

This was also the last season of IndyCar before NBCSN merged with USA Network, and the secondary channel proved to have a strong conclusion to its IndyCar stint. NBCSN increased its viewership from 432,000 in 2020 to 632,000, an impressive 46% jump.

2022 TV Ratings

Just as 2021 was, the 2022 IndyCar season became the most watched IndyCar season since 2016, and the most watched in NBC Sports’ time covering the series. The season as a whole averaged a TAD of 1.3 million viewers, just shy of the 1.31 million number set in 2016, marking a 5% increase from the 2021 season.

According to an NBC Sports press release in September, half of the season’s 16 nationally televised races averaged a TAD of over 1 million viewers, the highest number of broadcasts above that mark since the 2008 season. The Indianapolis 500 took a noticable dip in viewership, with an average of 4.8 million viewers watching the race on NBC due to an absence of attendance restrictions at the race and a lift of the local blackout in the Indianapolis area.

Peacock also came to prominence during the ’22 campaign, with all practice and qualifying sessions along with the race at Toronto being broadcast on the streaming service. For the first time in 2022, NBC offered the Indianapolis 500 as a streaming option on Peacock, bringing in another 218,000 viewers.

 

It is general consensus amongst IndyCar fans that NBC has done a good job of covering the IndyCar Series for the past four seasons. Lead lap-by-lap commentator Leigh Diffey recently signed an extension on his contract with NBC as well. With numbers and TV ratings looking up in multiple categories, IndyCar fans should be in good hands for at least the next few seasons.

Featured Image Credit: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment