IMSA’S TV Ratings Lagging Despite Crowd Increases

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IMSA’S TV Ratings Lagging Despite Crowd IncreasesIcon Sportswire - Getty Images
  • With its multiple classes and long lengths, the endurance racing format has been a challenge when it comes to TV ratings.

  • Series like IndyCar and Formula often average over a million TV viewers, where IMSA falls far shy of that.

  • But by counting viewers” in an unconventional manner, IMSA says this year’s Rolex 24 drew 4 million unique viewers. It’s how “viewers” is defined that matters here.

Can the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, the bellwether of U.S. professional sports car racing, ever achieve an average following of more than 1 million TV viewers? That’s the level currently enjoyed by IndyCar and F1.


The question depends on how viewers are counted and who is doing the counting. IMSA officials claim momentum is on their side when it comes to what is known as Total Audience.

Historically, IMSA’s endurance racing format with its co-drivers and multiple classes has been a challenge when it comes to TV ratings. This year, crowds may be turning up at record levels to watch IMSA’s new GTP hybrids, but TV ratings are not up substantially.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona ratings on NBC Sports, for example, nearly hit the 1 million viewer mark in 2023 during the final hour of the first GTP hybrid race. But this year, the final hour viewership slipped to 792,000 viewers.

This weekend NBC Sports will telecast the race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca—a 2 hour, 40 minute sprint. Will a relatively short race over the dramatic and challenging Laguna circuit sustain a high traditional TV rating from start to finish? Not if recent history is any reference.

The 2022 Laguna race drew 483,000 viewers on NBC Sports for the last DPi era race at the Monterey track and 482,000 for the first GTP hybrid event in 2023. In a network universe where 115 million American households have at least one TV set, the ratings for the Laguna race have been less than 0.3.

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Brian Cleary - Getty Images

But TV ratings are not the only figures available. IMSA President John Doonan announced that this year’s Rolex 24 drew 4 million unique viewers. He was referring to any viewers who watched over the course of the 24-hour, including the streaming available at, its Peacock streaming channel, and the streaming only available outside the U.S. on

Those figures are very different from an average number of viewers at any given hour as rated by Nielsen. It’s unclear whether the numbers from the Daytona race also include race clips posted on YouTube during the event, an “instant replay” pipeline aggressively pursued by the sanctioning body and its manufacturers.

At present, there is no standard for what comprises a Total Audience within the sports industry. At IMSA, specific figures are not available when it comes to impressions that fall outside Nielsen’s ratings system.

By contrast, IndyCar makes its annual media figures public and lists which sources are considered. In 2023, IndyCar announced a Total Audience Delivery of an average 1.32 million viewers across NBC, USA Network, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms. Formula 1’s ratings on ESPN, meanwhile, averaged 1.1 million viewers last year.

Given the big numbers from the Rolex 24, the combination of a network telecast and a major endurance race seems to be working for IMSA – because of the pursuit of additional online media options. This year’s nine-race schedule includes five endurance events with the addition of the new six-hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

birmingham, al during the indycar children's of alabama indy grand prix at barber motorsports park in birmingham, al photo by joe skibinski ims photo
In 2023, IndyCar announced a Total Audience Delivery of an average 1.32 million viewers.Joe Skibinski

“Endurance races are our DNA, it’s who we are,” said David Pettit, the senior vice president of marketing and business operations for IMSA. He said IMSA is generating momentum by using the “backbone of linear TV that is driving a process that is building momentum for us.”

“In my opinion,” continued Pettit, “when I look across the ecosystem of people getting content, we are doing well. If there’s an exciting pass that takes place during a race, (the video clip) goes to one of our manufacturing partners whose car is involved. They send out the clips in short form to places like YouTube. Some of those are getting 40,000 views or more.”

If ratings from this weekend’s race at Laguna follow form, they will be roughly half of what a first or final hour at Daytona can bring in a telecast by NBC Sports. But all the network ratings are far better than those on the USA cable channel, which usually carries the non-network coverage of IMSA. The final six hours of the Sebring 12-hour averaged a paltry 125,000 viewers this year.

On the other hand, this year’s average viewership of Sebring was up 25,000 from the first GTP hybrid race in 2023. The viewership also compares favorably with the numbers from the Le Mans 24-hour last year, which averaged 160,000 viewers at Motor Trend TV during Ferrari’s victorious return to the Sarthe circuit.

While giving Sebring a bye, in part because it falls in the middle of March Madness, endurance races are where NBC Sports gets its best response. This year, the network will carry both the new endurance event at Indy and the Petit Le Mans to close out the season.

Next year’s schedule for the WeatherTech Championship is already in place, but negotiations for a sixth consecutive year with NBC as the broadcast partner are still under way. Given the current media strategy, the best way forward for IMSA is to add more network races beyond the major endurance events and add more “backbone” to the Total Media strategy.

Pettit believes more sprint races on a major network can grow Total Audience significantly, although he is cautions about the goal of an average of 1 million viewers. Pettit is currently leading the negotiations with NBC Sports.

“We anticipate having some news in the near future,” he said, “and we expect it to be positive.”