Denny Hamlin’s win at a digital Miami Homestead Speedway on Sunday drew nearly as many eyeballs on TV as any eSport ever aired. And according to reports, the Pro Invitational that NASCAR put on with iRacing was even more popular than some Formula 1 races in America.
NASCAR has, like other sports, embraced some classic events on social platforms, but one of its most interesting decisions was to hold an iRacing invitational featuring drivers from its three real-life circuits and put them in the digital track to face off in homemade rigs. The result was a significant ratings win for Fox and NASCAR, who worked with its gaming and TV departments to put the event on for fans stuck without racing for the near future.
NASCAR Esports Sunday on FS1 hit 903,000 total viewers (297,000 18-59). 9K Avg. viewers online (via @StreamHatchet )
This would make it the highest rated esports TV program ever (2nd was Mortal Kombat on The CW in 2016 at 770,000).
2019 ratings for comparison. pic.twitter.com/ao7Nyk6VNK
— Manny Anekal (@mannyanekal) March 24, 2020
It’s a considerable achievement for NASCAR in a time where any and all sports content is at a premium, and one thing that certainly may have helped was that the broadcast looked and felt a lot like what you’d see on a normal race day. As we’ve seen from a number of other eSports like Overwatch and this year’s launch of Call of Duty League before coronavirus concerns scuttled those events, when you treat eSports like serious viewing options and devote time to them, viewers take them seriously as well.
“This is a major moment for NASCAR eSports but it’s also a massive moment for eSports in general,” Scott Warfield, NASCAR’s managing director of eSports, told Uproxx on Friday. “It has the potential to do something pretty significant and be a lightbulb-type moment for mainstream America.”
We’re seeing drivers (and commentators) really start to get into their rigs, too.
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) March 23, 2020
It will be fascinating to see how the numbers change as the races continue, and if they continue to see major billing on TV as the lack of sports continues into April.