[media-credit name=”Kyle Ocker” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]What’s astonishing to the record books may not translate into being the best for the sport of NASCAR. We may be waiting for generations to see another driver crank out five Sprint Cup Championships in a row, but that could prove to be a good thing for racing. One must ask themselves, why tune in every Sunday afternoon to watch 43 cars race against each other on America’s most famous tracks?
For the sake of argument, watching a sporting event such as a race, is like going to the movies. You watch because you’re interested in what might happen, what the outcome may be, any excitement that may ensue throughout the course of the viewing. How might your feelings be if a group of friends aspires to go to a movie with you that you’re already familiar with? You could possibly be less inclined to go because of the entertainment that you’ve already been exposed to and experienced.
This story seems to parallel that of Jimmie Johnson’s championship winning streak between 2006 and 2010. Sure, if you’re a Johnson fan the aforementioned years are probably some of your favorite throughout the history of the sport. But not all NASCAR fans root for the No.48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Impala every weekend. Like all things that become repetitive in life, we can eventually get sick of too much of the same thing.
To aid in elucidating this concept, we can extract some information from the amount of viewers tuning into the Daytona 500 on a yearly basis. In 2008, right in the middle of Johnson’s dynasty, 17.8 million people had their television’s set on NASCAR’s famous 500 mile race. The following year in 2009, 15.9 million people watched Daytona on Sunday, that’s about an 11% decrease in viewers. 2010 saw a further drop in viewership by accumulating only 13.2 million viewers for an approximate 26% drop off from the 2008 Daytona 500. In short, NASCAR’s most prestigious race of the year dropped significantly in the amount of people tuning in to watch it while Johnson was king of the Sprint Cup Series.
Johnson is like any other athlete, he wants to win, therefore no blame can be put on the man himself for this drop in viewers. Rick Hendrick, Johnson’s owner puts it best when talking to the Los Angeles Times back in 2009.
“That’s his job, to come out here and do the best he can.”
No personal vendetta should be put on Johnson because of his success. But quickly looking at the other end of the spectrum, the annual season finale race at Homestead, similar figures can be drawn to illustrate how his dominance may have contributed to the declining viewers in NASCAR’s top series. The final race of the season in 2008 attained 6.6 million viewers. In 2009 and 2010, 1 million people dropped from the total tally, leaving 5.6 million viewers to watch the last race of the season. Interestingly, viewership boomed back up to 6.7 million at last year’s Homestead-Miami race when Johnson was not in the hunt for the championship. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were brawling amongst each other at the 2011 season’s end.
Whether you are a fan of watching a similar story unfold every season or not, there are key elements that keep fans glued to the television. The notion of uncertainty is certainly one of them, who might be successful in the Chase and win the title this year? Uncertainty and variety in a sport keeps anticipation, which in turn keeps attention of viewers very high. Breaking this attention because of a repetitive outcome can cause any sports biggest fear, loss of fans and viewers. While it’s safe to say Johnson is one of the most successful drivers in the history of NASCAR and his streak of five consecutive Sprint Cup Championships may never be accomplished again, the sport saw a shrinking in its viewership during the times of his dominance.