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The 189 most watched motorsports events of 2023; and what it means

McLaren Formula 1

There was a lot to unpack from a recent compilation of the most-watched motorsports events in the United States to date through 2023.  

Most of this data has been individually released and dissected but seeing it all together provides quite the perspective on the respective popularity of every discipline around the country.

Some immediate takeaways:

  • NASCAR is still king in the United States
  • Formula 1 had an uneven but still positive year
  • 2023 was IndyCar’s best viewership in 12 years
  • How sports is consumed is changing quickly

Big picture, there are so many misconceptions about what television numbers do and do not mean. For one, comparing television numbers today to those a decade or more ago is such a fruitless exercise. Consumption habits and devices are just so radically different.

After all, think of how you consume television or sporting events today than how you did a decade ago. This year marked the first time that linear TV usage fell below 50 percent. At the same time, streaming now accounts for 38.7 percent of television usage.

Cable TV subscriptions are down 6.9 percent from last year.

So, the more valuable exercise is thinking more immediately like year-over-year gains and losses, where a given product stands against its competition on any given day and where the broadcast ranks in key demographics.

This doesn’t even include unforeseen elements like rainouts for NASCAR, which generally can’t race in the rain on high-speed ovals and suffered three Monday races in 2023 compared to just one in 2022.

It didn’t help NASCAR, for example, that one of those rainouts was the prestigious Coca-Cola 600.

IndyCar hasn’t had this many races on over-the-air television in a long time so the ratings were downright expected but it takes a lot of data parsing to get to a full picture of what those gains mean.

First, here is the full list as compiled by NASCARman_RR on Twitter:

1. 8,173,000 Cup Daytona 500 FOX
2. 4,716,000 IndyCar Indianapolis 500 NBC
3. 4,620,000 Cup Chicago NBC
4. 4,554,000 Cup Talladega FOX
5. 4,315,000 Cup Fontana FOX
6. 3,991,000 Cup Las Vegas FOX
7. 3,647,000 Cup Busch Clash FOX
8. 3,450,000 Cup Bristol Dirt FOX
9. 3,422,000 Cup Atlanta FOX
10. 3,399,000 Cup Charlotte FOX
11. 3,389,000 Cup Phoenix FOX
12. 3,268,000 Cup Daytona Aug NBC
13. 3,211,000 Cup Nashville NBC
14. 3,129,000 Cup COTA FOX
15. 2,920,000 Cup Phoenix Finale NBC
16. 2,912,000 Cup Sonoma FOX
17. 2,838,000 Cup Indianapolis NBC
18. 2,808,000 Cup Pocono USA Network
19. 2,689,000 Cup Darlington FS1
20. 2,603,000 Cup Michigan Sunday USA
21. 2,560,000 Cup Atlanta July USA
22. 2,505,000 Cup Talladega Oct NBC
23. 2,403,000 Cup Richmond July USA
24. 2,370,000 Cup Busch Clash Heat Races FOX
25. 2,352,000 Cup Kansas FS1
26. 2,310,000 Cup Watkins Glen USA
27. 2,303,000 Cup Richmond FS1
28. 2,287,000 Cup Southern 500 USA
29. 2,280,000 Cup Charlotte Roval NBC
30. 2,250,000 Cup Homestead NBC
31. 2,218,000 Cup Martinsville FS1
32. 2,203,000 Cup All-Star North Wilkesboro FS1
33. 2,196,000 Cup Martinsville Oct NBC
34. 2,194,000 Cup Las Vegas Oct NBC
35. 2,160,000 Cup Gateway FS1
36. 2,000,000 Cup Texas Sept. USA
37. 1,760,000 Cup Kansas Sept. USA
38. 1,686,000 Xfinity Daytona FS1
39. 1,646,000 F1 Miami ABC
40. 1,630,000 Xfinity Michigan NBC
41. 1,566,000 Xfinity Road America NBC
42. 1,562,000 Cup Bristol Sept. USA
43. 1,535,000 Cup Daytona Duels FS1
44. 1,523,000 F1 Saudi Arabia ESPN
45. 1,518,000 F1 Monaco ABC
46. 1,504,000 NHRA Reading FOX
47. 1,477,000 Cup All-Star Open Wilkesboro FS1
48. 1,394,000 F1 Canada ABC
49. 1,325,000 Xfinity Kansas NBC
50. 1,318,000 F1 Bahrain ESPN
51. 1,309,000 Xfinity Talladega FS1
52. 1,271,000 Xfinity Darlington FOX
53. 1,189,000 IndyCar St Pete NBC
54. 1,182,000 F1 Singapore ESPN
55. 1,173,000 F1 Britain ESPN2
56. 1,168,000 F1 Belgium ESPN
57. 1,147,000 Xfinity Chicago USA Network 
58. 1,133,000 Xfinity Las Vegas FS1
59. 1,121,000 Xfinity Charlotte Roval NBC
60. 1,121,000 IndyCar Iowa 1 NBC
61. 1,113,000 IndyCar Nashville NBC
62. 1,090,000 IndyCar Gateway NBC
63. 1,090,000 F1 Austria ESPN
64. 1,083,000 Cup Michigan Monday USA
65. 1,080,000 F1 Mexico ABC
66. 1,067,000 Cup Dover Monday FS1
67. 1,057,000 Truck Bristol Dirt FS1
68. 1,055,000 IndyCar Iowa 2 NBC
69. 1,047,000 IndyCar Detroit NBC
70. 1,047,000 F1 Italy ESPN
71. 1,040,000 F1 Spain ESPN
72. 1,035,000 F1 Hungary ESPN
73. 1,032,000 Cup New Hampshire Monday USA
74. 1,027,000 Truck Daytona FS1
75. 1,026,000 Xfinity Indianapolis USA
76. 1,026,000 IndyCar Long Beach NBC
77. 1,025,000 Xfinity Phoenix FS1
78. 1,019,000 Xfinity Atlanta FS1
79. 1,016,000 F1 Netherlands ESPN 
80. 996,000 Xfinity Atlanta July USA
81. 993,000 Xfinity Bristol USA
82. 986,000 IMSA Rolex 24 Finish NBC
83. 981,000 Xfinity Watkins Glen USA
84. 972,000 Xfinity Daytona Aug USA
85. 958,000 F1 Baku ESPN
86. 953,000 Xfinity Pocono USA
87. 953,000 IndyCar Portland NBC
88. 951,000 Xfinity Phoenix USA
89. 945,000 NHRA Gainsville FOX
90. 944,000 Truck North Wilkesboro FOX
91. 941,000 Xfinity New Hampshire USA
92. 933,000 Xfinity Martinsville USA
93. 930,000 IndyCar Barber NBC
94. 909,000 F1 Brazil espn2
95. 894,000 Xfinity Martinsville FS1
96. 882,000 F1 COTA ABC
97. 847,000 Xfinity Richmond FS1
98. 846,000 ARCA Daytona FS1
99. 844,000 Xfinity Homestead USA
100. 842,000 IndyCar Indy 500 Pole Qualifying NBC
101. 830,000 IndyCar Texas NBC
102. 828,000 Xfinity Texas Sept USA
103. 824,000 Xfinity Portland FS1
104. 824,000 F1 Qatar ESPN
105. 823,000 Xfinity Nashville USA Network
106. 819,000 NHRA US Nationals FOX
107. 818,000 NHRA Norwalk FOX
108. 815,000 Xfinity Austin FS1
109. 814,000 Xfinity Sonoma FS1
110. 810,000 Xfinity Las Vegas Oct USA
111. 807,000 Truck Atlanta FS1
112. 795,000 Cup Daytona 500 Pole Qualifying FS1
113. 751,000 Xfinity Darlington 2 USA
114. 739,000 IndyCar Mid-Ohio USA Network 
115. 715,000 IndyCar Indy GP NBC
116. 705,000 Truck Kansas FS1
117. 698,000 Truck Gateway FS1
118. 697,000 Truck Austin FS1
119. 674,000 Xfinity Dover FS1
120. 666,000 NHRA Brainerd FOX
121. 652,000 NHRA Denver FOX
122. 644,000 Truck Texas FS1
123. 626,000 Truck Talladega FS1
124. 623,000 Truck Las Vegas FS1
125. 612,000 NHRA Indy All-Star Callout FOX
126. 597,000 NHRA Pomona FS1
127. 589,000 SRX Lucas Oil ESPN
128. 569,000 IMSA Mosport NBC
129. 566,000 Truck Pocono FS1
130. 556,000 IndyCar Indy RC Aug USA
131. 556,000 F1 Australia ESPN
132. 548,000 Truck Charlotte FS1
133. 538,000 IndyCar Laguna Seca NBC 
134. 528,000 NHRA Sonoma FOX
135. 523,000 Truck Mid-Ohio FS1
136. 522,000 ARCA Talladega FS1
137. 521,000 Truck Milwaukee FS1
138. 514,000 SRX Eldora ESPN
139. 509,000 Truck Nashville FS1
140. 507,000 NHRA Seattle FOX
141. 483,000 Truck Kansas Sept. FS1
142. 482,000 IMSA Laguna Seca NBC
143. 481,000 Cup Bristol Heat Races FS2
144. 479,000 Truck Darlington FS1
145. 479,000 F1 Japan ESPN2
146. 472,000 NHRA Charlotte FS1
147. 462,000 Truck Richmond FS1
148. 446,000 Xfinity Fontana FS2
149. 415,000 Truck Phoenix Finale FS1
150. 404,000 Truck IRP FS1
151. 395,000 SRX Stafford 1 ESPN
152. 391,000 SRX Motor Mile ESPN
153. 393,000 ARCA Kansas FS1
154. 385,000 IndyCar Road America USA
155. 380,000 SRX Stafford 2 ESPN
156. 377,000 SRX Berlin ESPN
157. 377,000 Truck Bristol Sept. FS1
158. 347,000 Truck Martinsville FS1
159. 345,000 IMSA Indianapolis NBC
160. 335,000 Truck Homestead FS1
161. 327,000 NHRA Chicago FS1
162. 324,000 NHRA Phoenix FS1
163. 288,000 ARCA Charlotte FS1
164. 279,000 NHRA Pomona Nov. FS1
165. 266,000 IMSA Rolex 24 Start USA
166. 255,000 Xfinity Charlotte FS2
167. 254,000 NHRA Las Vegas FS1
168. 248,000 NHRA Bristol FS1
169. 244,000 ARCA Milwaukee FS1
170. 235,000 NHRA Charlotte Sept FS1
171. 233,000 IMSA Road America USA
172. 232,000 NHRA US Nationals Monday Round 1 FS1
173. 222,000 NHRA Topeka FS1
174. 219,000 WEC Le Mans Start Motor Trend
175. 212,000 ARCA Bristol FS1
176. 196,000 ARCA Kansas Sept. FS1
177. 192,000 NHRA Gateway FS1
178. 191,000 ARCA Michigan FS1
179. 191,000 NHRA Dallas FS1
180. 187,000 NHRA Epping Finals FS1
181. 175,000 NHRA Las Vegas Oct FS1
182. 174,000 IMSA Watkins Glen USA Network
183. 172,000 ARCA Phoenix FS2
184. 172,000 ARCA Berlin FS1
185. 170,000 IMSA Petit Le Mans Finish USA
186. 151,000 WEC Le Mans Finish Motor Trend
187. 121,000 WEC Le Mans 6 pm Motor Trend
188. 114,000 F1 Canadian GP RiccardoCast espn2
189. 100,000 IMSA Sebring Finish USA 

NASCAR feels pretty good about how it rebounded in the second half for the races on NBC and USA Network.

“If you look at digital and social consumption for NASCAR for this year, it’s up,” Phelps said during the end of the year press conference at Phoenix. “Television has been a bit of a mixed bag with the Cup being down, low single digits, as well as our Craftsman Truck Series, low single digits, the Xfinity Series is up.

“I wouldn’t say we haven’t had great luck particularly in the first half with weather. Weather wasn’t our friend. But I’m super excited to get us back on a growth pattern from a television perspective next year because we’ll have lower comps than we did this year. Excited about that.

“NBC came back in a powerful way. Those metrics are up. If you consider back in March we were down 15 percent, now we’re down mid-single digits, we’re happy with where that is.”

The races that helped the motorsports ratings

Phelps isn’t hiding the ball when it comes to those second half numbers either.

NBC’s portion of the regular season was up 11.6 percent year-over-year bolstered by the inaugural Chicago Street Race, which almost matched the Indianapolis 500 in overall viewership but also strong numbers for the regular season finale at Daytona too.

The playoff numbers are very noticeable, but also easily explainable, as there is just no defeating the NFL head-to-head from September to November.

Overall, NBC enjoyed a year-over-year increase of 1.7 percent and Sunday viewership increase of 0.25 percent. USA’s Sunday viewership was up 0.96 percent. The Bristol Night Race, on a Saturday night, was one of the worst races of the year from a viewership standpoint and speaks to that time slot not being a winner for the sport moving forward.

Also, the Indianapolis Road Course race was preempted in six markets for NFL preseason football coverage, something that has to at least be factored into the holistic exercise.

The first half was absolutely down but a lot of that has to, for better or worse, be contributed to the absence of Chase Elliott, who was recovering from a March snowboarding incident and missed seven races.

Elliott came back and the FOX numbers stabilized.  

Meanwhile, IndyCar boasted an averaged Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.32 million viewers across NBC, USA Network, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms this season. That ranks as the most viewed season since 2011 (1.39 million viewers, NBCSN/ABC) and up two percent year-over-year.

The Indianapolis 500 had a 13 share, the percentage of homes watching television at the time of the race, the best number for that event at 2008 when it was also a 13 share.

Those were all positive developments to IndyCar CEO Mark Miles.

“Look, the world, the media world is changing, and we’re about to get into the process of re-licensing our rights for the 2025 season,” Miles said. “Those discussions with lots of interested parties will start in October.

“Who knows; I personally thought that in this early growth mode from an IndyCar perspective, reach and broadcast windows are really important. I continue to think that. I guarantee you we’re going to hear from all kinds of possible platforms that have interest in IndyCar racing.

“The world is changing as we’re on this call. I think there will be fewer cable platforms out there by 2025 and major media companies’ attitudes will be evolving.

“Anyway, we’ll do the absolute best we can through a great partnership with NBC. Peacock is really important to them, and it’s been important to us. We wanted to be on a streaming platform, so there’s a couple of those next year, and that keeps growing. In many respects, that’s going to be important to the future.”

Formula 1, which still has two races remaining this weekend at Las Vegas and in two weeks at Yas Marina, has averaged 1,091,000 viewers in the United States down from a 1.3 million average last year. It’s worth pointing out that those numbers include the pre-race shows and not just the periods surrounding flag-to-flag coverage.

The second half has also seen a noticeable dip with races at or below a million viewers with all sorts of explanations, from the dominance of Max Verstappen and a stale championship battle, to start time factors.

Even the race at Las Vegas will start at 1 a.m. ET to accommodate viewers abroad as opposed to those in the United States.

The broadcast rights agreement for NASCAR and IndyCar expire after the 2024 season and the Formula 1 deal with ABC/ESPN ends in 2025. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will air on the CW Network starting in 2025, a $800 million deal that was announced back in July.