Thanks to the sport’s growing popularity, NHRA fans have gained unprecedented access to the sport over the past several years. This, in turn, has led to more exposure for the league which has led to more access for the fans.
Since 2015 the NHRA has seen dramatic ratings increases. And it’s not just on TV. In-person attendance has been up as well.
So what’s behind the growth?
NHRA moves to Fox
Before moving over to the Fox network, the NHRA’s ratings were on the decline at ESPN. After the move, however, ratings ticked back up in a big way.
The Association signed a multi-year deal with Fox in 2016 in a multiyear deal after being with ESPN for 14 years. Previously, races were shown on tape delay in less marketable time slots.
With the move to Fox, races are shown live throughout the entire weekend. In response, viewership increased from an average of 513,000 in 2015 to 634,000 after the switch–a 24 percent increase.
“Seeing the early ratings for NHRA races on FS1 is tremendously encouraging,” said Patrick Crakes, FOX Sports senior vice president of programming, research and content strategy. “We worked closely with them to put together a very aggressive television package for 2016 and beyond, and to get off the line with some momentum is exciting for everyone involved.”
In an interview with Black Book, NHRA vice president of sales and chief development officer Brad Gerber explained just how much the new TV deal was helping the organization.
“All 24 of our races are on either Fox national broadcast or on Fox Sports 1,” said Gerber. “Four are on Fox national broadcast and 20 are on Fox Sports 1. We had an issue with our previous partner where they say we’re going to be at two o’clock on a Sunday, we’re going to air, then all of a sudden we got bumped for something else. Now, we have locked-in times with Fox Sports, so people know that when they turn on or set their DVR or something, it’s there.”
The move to Fox didn’t just mean better time slots, it meant a whole lot more of them.
One of the main attractions to NHRA events is that the competitive tension and drama builds over the entire weekend. Watching individual races takes the context away from the event. Some viewers were understandably put off by this.
Since the move, however, racing fans have access to almost every race. While the NHRA’s TV deal with ESPN featured 120 hours of programming, its new deal with Fox includes 550 hours.
Gerber also credited a new web presence as helping the league reach more fans.
“We also went in and completely redesigned our website, NHRA.com,” Gerber said. “We launched a brand new site, completely mobile-friendly, responsive. As I always say, every buzzword that you can imagine in digital, we did it.”
Along with increased coverage, the NHRA has been fortunate to have a lot going for it in the star department. Not every sport is lucky enough to have such likeable and relatable athletes.
Brittany Force’s 2017 title run captured the hearts of several generations of racing fans. The Mello Yello champ was just the second woman to win the title and comes from NHRA royalty. Her father, John Force is one of the sports most accomplished and celebrated racers. Her two sisters, April and Courtney, are also marquee names in the sport.
This year it was Steve Torrence who grabbed headlines by winning just about everything. After five victories during the regular season, Torrence went undefeated in the Countdown to the Championship. Most of the competition wasn’t even within sniffing distance.
However, one man was a threat all year long. Clay Millican has proven to be both a perennial fan favorite and a bona fide winner. The Tennessee gentleman scored two huge victories in 2018 and looks poised to have a big year in 2019.
All in all, the growth of the NHRA comes down to exposure and the sport’s natural likeability. The combination of pulsing action and a family-friendly atmosphere is hard to resist. The more people interact with the Association, the more fans it gains.
Already the sport is looking to expand its reach, including broadcasting events in Spanish.
Look for the sport to continue to find its way to the living rooms of people across the country throughout this year and into the future.