Early national TV ratings for Baltimore's racing weekend not so impressive

Baltimore's Grand Prix weekend


While some promoters and media reports have already declared Baltimore's Labor Day weekend of auto racing a TV hit, the first hard data does not support that.


The one telecast from Batimore shown on a TV network, ABC's tape delay broadcast on Sunday of Saturday's American Le Mans race, earned a 0.5 ratings. That is one-half of one-percent of the national TV audience.

Though not perfect, the best comparison with another Baltimore sports event would be the Preakness, which drew a 6.0 rating this year.


In other words, the national audience for the Preakness was 12 times as large.

The comparision is not perfect, because the Preakness telecast was live on NBC, while Saturday's race was tape delayed by a day on ABC. That is a difference that must be taken into account.

For the record, here's another comparison: The Baltimore Ravens earned a 20.9 rating in their final TV game last year. In other words, the national audience for that Ravens game was 42 times as large.

There are a lot of apples and oranges in that comparison, but that's the kind of audience that rightfully warrants the term TV "hit" -- though precision of language is not exactly the media's strong point these days.

And, by the way, there were lots of lovely images of Baltimore broadcast in both the Preakness and various Ravens home game telecasts.

We will have a better comparison for the Grand Prix when the ratings for Sunday's live coverage on cable channel Versus are available and we have a sense of overall TV audience size.

As of the time of this post Tuesday afternoon, those numbers were not yet available, according to an NBC Sports/Versus spokesman.

A promoter for the Baltimore event had told the Sun on Monday that Sunday's race was the highest rated IndyCar event in Versus history, a statement that could not be confirmed as of the time of this post.

Even if that is true, without overall audience size, it doesn't say much. Perhaps, all the audiences have been relatively small for IndyCar racing on Versus.

Versus has been covering IndyCar racings for a year, according to NBC.

Check back here for the hard figures on whether or not the Grand Prix was a TV ratings hit. I will post when I have received and confirmed them -- and can provide some hard context. While we were led to believe millions of pairs of eyes would be watching Baltimore, that clearly wasn't the case with Saturday's race, which played Sunday on ABC.

As a resident of Baltimore, I hope a lot of folks did see those sunny TV images of Baltimore that the mayor was tweeting about this weekend. But let's actually find out how many people did watch the Grand Prix events here before the backslapping starts.


UPDATE 9 p.m.: After talking on the phone and exchanging emails with NBC/Versus today, I had planned to hold off until tomorrow on my next post when NBC Sports promised a ratings figure more trustworthy than the overnights.

But since promoters, boosters and others are putting out incomplete figures and spinning them selectively without saying you how many people or homes actually saw the race, I will share this with you now to head off comments from folks who appear to have a vested interest in the race or have been spun into making foolish comments.

The indycar.com website, which would certainly have an interest in putting the most favorable spin on the race, says the national overnight rating for Sunday's coverage was .43. That is less than the one-half of one percent that the Le Mans tape delay race drew on ABC. And ABC being a broadcast network, you are dealing with a larger TV universe than for the cable channel Versus.

Since Versus is in 76 million homes, according to NBC, the audience would be 0.0043 X 76 million or 326,800 if my math is correct. (Even if you calculated using the larger universe of network TV, a .43 rating would still yield an audience of only about 500,000.)

Again, NBC's calculation and final numbers could be higher, but that is a far cry from the 3.5 million that a City of Baltimore press release suggested as the domestic audience that would be watching the race on TV.

I would have preferred to wait until I had overnight numbers and math confirmed by NBC. But since folks connected with the race are putting out selective numbers to try and create the perception of a TV "hit" when there is no evidence to support that, I can only counter it with the evidence as I know it at this time. That's part of my job -- countering spin with the best facts available when it comes to the media.

When people talk about percentages of one race compared to another in another city, or how one broadcast won its time period in this city or that city without giving you the overall  size of the audience, be wary, my friends. You are being deliberately given an incomplete and misleading picture.

When ratings are in this range of less than one or two percent, TV executives ususally only cite percentages if they can get away with it, because even the smallest increase yields a big percentage. But again, these are not final numbers, and all I am saying is don't talk about "hit" TV with these kinds of numbers -- and that will be true even if my math is off and these revise upward. That .43 rating is small. I'm sorry.

And I have to tell you something about those who are now trying to stress how the race did with Baltimore viewers: Of course, folks here watched it. One out of every two TV homes in Baltimore watch the Ravens.

Again, I wanted to hold off on this local audience number until NBC/Versus offered one I can trust, because local cable ratings can be really tricky especially when they are this small. But the overnight rating for the Baltimore audience being put out thereby boosters is a 5.0. That means 5 percent of the homes in Baltimore market were tuned to the race. You can judge for yourself if 5 percent of the audience on a Sunday afternoon on a holiday weekend is a "TV hit."

 And remember this: When City Hall was justifying expenditures on the race, the argument was how all these millions of people OUTSIDE of Baltimore across America would be watching and seeing positive images of the city.

These numbers  don't add up to millions outside of Baltimore -- not at this point anyway if the preliminary overnight ratings published by indycar.com are correct.

Again, I am only talking about TV and media, the areas I cover. I am not judging whether the overall event was a success or not -- just the characterization of Baltimore's Grand Prix as a "TV hit" before anyone in the media saw the actual numbers.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun