It was one of the most anticipated events in several years in the NASCAR world. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s broadcast debut on NBC Sports this weekend carried with it a great deal of pressure. Not just on NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver but arguably the entire sport.
It’s no secret that TV ratings for NASCAR have gone down, way down, in the past few years. This has caused an almost ‘the sky is falling’ reaction among some fans of the sport. This despite the fact that TV ratings for all pro sports are down across the board as fans digest their live sports in ways that don’t include a traditional TV set.
Once upon a time TV ratings did matter; entire pro sports, NASCAR among them, lived and died by the weekly TV ratings. People lost their job over low ratings.
But the times they are a changing.
Yet many fans still point to low TV ratings to show that NASCAR is in its final death throes. And while NASCAR executives know the ratings aren’t as important as they used to be, they still want happy fans.
And some of those fans have not been too happy in the past few years.
Talk about pressure.
It was almost as if the entire NASCAR nation had turned its eyes (and hopes) to Dale Jr. After retiring from driving full time Earnhardt became a husband, father, and finally a TV broadcaster.
The marriage and birth of his first child came and went. Sunday came the final piece of the future of Dale Jr. as he made his broadcast debut. To be fair, he had been in the booth before but not as a fulltime NBC employee. That all changed this past weekend.
So how did Dale Earnhardt Jr. do? By almost any measure: Brilliantly.
What most people know is that Dale Jr. is (was) not only a NASCAR driver, but a huge fan of the sport, along with being a team owner. He grew up at racetracks as his dad, the late legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. made his mark and has always had a love for the sport; past, present and future.
He also has a down-to-earth demeanor, helped by a southern accent and a folksy charm that has gained him legions of fans through the years.
And all that was present Sunday.
It didn’t hurt that his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race in the booth was at Chicagoland. A race that turned out to be one of the more exciting of the year that ended with a crazy final lap. In a dramatic finish that second place driver Kyle Larson called “One of the best NASCAR finishes of all time”, he and Kyle Busch bumped, banged and bounced off the wall on the final lap with Busch emerging as the winner.
While that final lap was unfolding, Dale Jr. was heard yelling “Slide job! Slide job!” over play by play announcer Rick Allen’s call and soon the internet was abuzz.
“This was a great race from start to finish,” Earnhardt said after the cameras were switched off. “I have to applaud the drivers. They had really hot and really miserable conditions, but we had a battle for the lead pretty much all day long.”
Not only was Dale Jr. happy, but fans were as well. Most importantly, as it turned out, those watching TV.
Monday, NBC reported that Sunday’s race delivered 2.55 million TV-only viewers and a 1.58 rating on NBCSN, up 10% and 12% vs. NBCSN’s coverage of last year’s race from Chicago. The race also averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 2.56 million viewers across NBCSN and NBC Sports Digital platforms – up 10% from last year’s race at Chicagoland according to fast national data released by Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe.
And Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on NBCSN from Chicago, which also had Earnhardt in the booth, averaged 1.07 million viewers and delivered a .66 rating, up 32% and 25% respectively vs. 2017.
At least after the first race of the NASCAR season for NBC, the ‘Dale Jr. Factor’ seems to be in full effect.
“I don’t know if it is like this every weekend, but this has been a lot of fun,” he added. “I knew it would be. It checks all the boxes. I get to stay at the track. I love racing, I love being around racing. It felt so good to be here and have a purpose while I’m here. To be able to be an asset to the sport in any way, shape, or form makes me happy.”
Not only is Dale Jr. happy, but with the kind of TV ratings the race delivered this past weekend, it seems everyone else is happy as well.
Watch and listen to the call:
— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) July 2, 2018
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) July 2, 2018
1). @DaleJr did amazing in the booth. The energy, excitement and fandom will help connect new fans to the sport. Jr. is possibly the biggest and greatest ambassador of the sport all-time.
— Josh Englund (@JPEnglund) July 2, 2018