Since 2007 – the first year of NASCAR's current television rights agreement – the average viewership has declined by 1.4 million viewers per race in Fox Sports' portion of the season.
So when NASCAR set out to negotiate an extension on its current 13-race agreement with Fox, some people assumed the sanctioning body would get far less money than the reported $220 million per year it has received from Fox since 2001.
That assumption turned out to be very wrong.
NASCAR and Fox announced an eight-year extension on Monday, and SportsBusiness Journal reported the deal is worth $2.4 billion – an increase of more than $80 million per year. And that's just for one part of the season!
In short, NASCAR hit the jackpot for the opening portion of its schedule – which is now secured through 2022 – and stands to see a similar increase when it renegotiates with TNT and ESPN for the other part of its 38-event season.
It's amazing if you think about it. Despite a significant slide in TV ratings and major dip in at-track attendance, NASCAR comes out smelling like a rose. It's as if the sport manages to succeed in spite of itself.
Boring races? Doesn't matter. Lack of driver personality? Doesn't matter. Too many commercials? Doesn't matter.
None of those complaints matter, because the TV rights money is massive enough to keep all the key players – NASCAR, the tracks and the teams – happy, healthy and wealthy.
The TV money is more important to the tracks than people actually showing up. SportingNews.com's Bob Pockrass noted track owner International Speedway Corp. received $205 million in TV money last year and $144 million from all its ticket sales revenue combined.
Now, ISC (which is controlled by the France family and shares a headquarters building with NASCAR) and Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. will get even more TV money in a time when attendance is down. In that regard, the live fan experience could ultimately just become a side business for the tracks. Empty seats are embarrassing, but the TV money more than makes up for any attendance losses.
Why is NASCAR getting a 36 percent increase on its TV rights? Because networks value live sports programming more than ever. Most people don't use DVRs to watch sports – and thus can't skip past the commercials. Advertisers love that, which allows the networks to make money.
So even for a sport seemingly in decline, NASCAR can do no wrong. Through all of officials' hand-wringing and heightened sensitivity to criticism over the past five years, it ultimately didn't matter: NASCAR got paid.
You can criticize the racing, the Chase, the rules, the drivers, the officials, the TV networks, the tracks, the cars or anything else. Go ahead. Many of those concerns are quite valid.
Ultimately, though, NASCAR doesn't really need to care. The France family has some checks to cash, and the ca-ching! is loud enough to drown out the critics.