TV audience for Baltimore Grand Prix falls short of projections

The national TV audience for Baltimore's Grand Prix on Sunday fell short of projections offered by the city when the deal bringing the race to the Inner Harbor was first announced.

Sunday's race was seen by an average of 591,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research figures released Wednesday by NBC. That was one-sixth of the TV audience of 3.5 million viewers projected last year by the office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who also predicted the Grand Prix telecast would "change the way the world sees Baltimore."

Despite the numbers, city officials said the race did help spread a positive image of the city.

"Many television viewers have a negative view of Baltimore based on TV crime dramas, and the Grand Prix provided a great opportunity for Baltimore to shine on national television and internationally to over 100 countries for several hours," Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, said.

Calls and emails to Grand Prix executives were not returned Wednesday night. But Rawlings-Blake will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, along with civic and race officials, to provide what her office described as a "summary of the initial econimic indicators" from the Baltimore Grand Prix.

While promoters said Sunday's event was the most-watched IndyCar race in the history of cable channel Versus, the final ratings said otherwise.

Versus has been showing IndyCar races for about a year, and Nielsen ratings for Baltimore's race show that it was the second-most-watched of those events. An IndyCar race in Edmonton in July was watched by an average audience of 642,000 viewers, according to the TV ratings service.

A city news release from May 2010 predicted that the race would show off the city "as a result of global media exposure to millions of Indy Racing League (IRL) fans who attend similar events in Monte Carlo, San Paulo, Long Beach, and St. Petersburg."

"The race will be broadcast on national television to more than 3.5 million domestic viewers. Related media and marketing exposure is valued at an estimated $27.5 million over five years, according to the economic report," the release said.

But the numbers provided by NBC/Versus on Wednesday showed a gap between potential viewers and those who actually watched the telecast and saw the glowing images of Baltimore on an afternoon featuring blue skies, sunshine and festive crowds.

The race was potentially telecast into the homes of at least 76 million "domestic" viewers on Versus. But an average audience of only 591,000 persons in all those homes watched. (That translated to an overnight household rating of 0.43, according to the official website.)

A taped version of Saturday's Le Mans competition was telecast to an even larger potential audience of more than 100 million homes on the broadcast network ABC on Sunday. But the telecast earned a 0.5 rating (one-half of 1 percent of TV households in the United States).

By comparison, the Preakness Stakes drew a 6.0 rating this year. In other words, the national audience for the Preakness Stakes was 12 times as large.

The Baltimore Ravens earned a 20.9 rating in their final TV game last year. The national audience for that Ravens game was 42 times as large than that for the Sunday telecast on ABC.

Locally, Sunday's IndyCar race on Versus earned a 5.0 rating, which means that 5 percent of the homes in Baltimore market were tuned to the race.

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