100 Million vs. 78 Million is not the Numbers Question for FOX vs SPEED

The NASCAR pundits have again simplified a complex situation.  Incorrectly.

(Of course, at least they got the network right!  I got FOX and ESPN confused.  This is the problem with a 60-hour a week job and trying to blog about something utterly unrelated in the meantime.  My excuse is that I have a $3.5 million proposal due this week.  The same math holds, regardless of whether it is FOX or ESPN. Thank you Michael!)

The NASCAR Net is a-twitter since FOX floated a trial balloon about moving races from ESPN FOX to SPEED.  I’ve heard the argument over and over, in print and on radio that this is a bad idea because EPSN FOX is in 100 million homes and SPEED is in “only” 78 million homes.  They argue this would be a decline of 22 million potential viewers.  The question not being asked how many of those 22 million ESPN FOX watchers are actually potential viewers?

Point number 1:  Diehard NASCAR fans are going to find the race on television wherever it is.  Rabid fans are going to get whatever cable package they need in order to watch races, or they’re going to find a local sportsbar that carries the race.  Casual and incidental viewers are the ones that will make a difference in numbers.

Point number 2:  A very small fraction of households receiving a network watch it.  The highest rated race of 2010 on ESPN was August Pocono, with 6.3 million viewers.  Let’s assume an average of 2 people per household, so if ESPN is in 100 million households, that corresponds to roughly 200 million viewers.  ESPN pulled in 3.2% of the viewers who had the option of watching the August race at Pocono.

SPEED is in 78 million households, so assuming the same two people on average per household, there are 156 million potential viewers.  If SPEED captured the same 3.2% of their possible viewers, that would be 5.0 million viewers.  The difference is 1.3 million viewers — if you are willing to ignore point 3.

The numbers for FOX – let’s leave out the Daytona 500, which was 13.3 million and I bet FOX isn’t going to move that – are similar.  The highest rated race was April Talladega, with 8.45 million viewers.  Out of the 200 million possible eyeballs, that’s 4.2%.  4.2% of SPEED’s viewing audience is 6.55 million viewers, so again, we need an increase of about 1% to match FOX’s numbers.

Point 3:  Consider the demographics of FOX viewers vs. SPEED viewers.  SPEED is a motorsports channel.  I would think you’d be more likely to get a motocross fan to watch NASCAR than an average television viewer.  Which network is more likely to promote the race during other shows?  Which network is more likely to have the schedule freedom to do extended pre- and post-race shows?  All SPEED would have to do to equal the viewership from ESPN would be to attract 0.86% of the remaining viewers and about 1% to equal the viewership from FOX.  We’re really talking more like a difference of 2 million than 22 million.

There are many factors besides numbers, but numbers aren’t as big a factor as some are trying to make them out to be.

Just for fun, here are some stats for ESPN and SPEED viewership. They are from 2006-2007, but that’s the latest I have easy access to.

Men 69% 80%
Women 31% 20%
18-34 28%
35-54 39%
55+ 33
18-49 69%
25-54 63%
$75,000/year + 43% 38%
$50,000/year + 62% 61%


  1. Actually, Fox wants to move races from the Fox network to the Speed channel, which is owned by Fox. ESPN is owned by ABC and is completely outisde of the talks about moving races to Speed.

  2. What NASCAR really needs is an online streaming solution (think MLB TV) that let’s us timeshift our viewing (i.e. when the kiddos go to bed). For those of us without cable the races on FOX and ABC are the only ones we get to watch. I am not going to pay $75/month for just TNT and ESPN 6 months out of the year. However, I would gladly pay $75 to watch all the races for a season online.

  3. However, if you are someone like me who does not want to spend upwards of $70 a month for either ESPN or Speed, after Fox’s coverage, I have only 4 races that are televised on ABC.

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