David Zurawik

Grand Prix TV viewing down 21 percent

The national TV audience for the Grand Prix of Baltimore declined by about a fifth from last year's inaugural event, according to Nielsen Media data released Friday.

Last year, a total of about 1.35 million viewers watched telecasts of Labor Day weekend racing in Baltimore on NBC's Versus cable channel and the ABC network.


This year, the number of viewers was about 1.07 million on the NBC Sports Network channel and ABC, representing a 21 percent drop. (Versus was renamed NBC Sports Network channel in January by the Comcast-owned broadcast company.)

"In 2010, zero people watched hours of national broadcasts that exclusively featured downtown Baltimore on Labor Day weekend. This year, more than one million people did," Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, wrote Friday in an email statement to The Baltimore Sun when asked for comment.


"When the cameras capture the cars racing on the streets, the Inner Harbor and the downtown skyline are prominently showcased as well," he added. "The character of the city becomes as much a part of the sport as the cars and drivers."

Live coverage of IndyCar racing on NBC Sports Network channel from 2:38 to 5:04 p.m. Sunday dropped from 591,000 viewers last year to 247,000 this year. That's a 58 percent decline.

Tape-delayed coverage of Saturday's American Le Mans series race, which was carried from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday on ABC, was seen by 822,418 people compared with 757,340 last year. That's a 9 percent increase.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard blamed Sunday's ratings dropoff on other sports being aired at the same time.

"It never helps when Tiger Woods is competing in a golf tournament the same day," he said. "Are we happy with [the ratings]? No, we're not."

Bernard said he had had a "very good meeting" with executives at the NBC Sports Network to discuss boosting viewership next season, although he declined to describe specific plans to increase the audience, saying it was "too early" to reveal them.

"This year is NBC Sports Network's first year. We believe they're a great partner," he said. "It's a work in progress."

The promoters and the city initially declined to provide crowd estimates or ticket sales this year. However, Race On LLC announced Thursday that it would release ticket sales.


On Wednesday, the Huffington Post published an essay by Rawlings-Blake in which she wrote of Baltimore's Grand Prix weekend: "This event has the added value of sports broadcasts that present our city's waterfront and downtown to more than 2 million U.S. viewers on major TV networks and even more sports fans in 75 different countries."

Huffington changed the figure to 1 million Friday and added a correction.

"The mayor's Huffington Post blog entry about strengthening Baltimore's tourism economy was submitted on Tuesday morning (before this year's ratings become available) and contained the estimated aggregate totals of national and international viewership from last year's races provided by the racing leagues," O'Doherty said in a statement to The Sun.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.