The Honda Indy Toronto had a little bit of everything over the weekend, with beautiful weather and plenty of spectators in the stands to watch a compelling storyline unfold that culminated with a stunning double win for Scott Dixon.
But there was one thing missing – a television audience. Rogers Media-owned Sportsnet took over the rights from Bell Media's TSN this year, and saw an already small niche audience drop by 35 per cent to 151,000 viewers for the marquee Sunday race compared to last year. The first day of racing on Saturday drew 145,000.
An average Blue Jays or CFL broadcast draws about 500,000 viewers.
The numbers were underwhelming (even the one-off special Sharknado, which featured a tornado full of sharks, drew about 50,000 more Canadian viewers than the race), but there were several extenuating factors – the broadcasts were spread over two days of racing and a Blue Jays game pushed the broadcast later into the afternoon than normal.
Sportsnet picked up the rights in a five-year deal announced in February with the IZOD Indycar Series. The sports network will be airing at least 16 races each season, including the Toronto race and the Indianapolis 500.
Ratings for the Toronto race have been slipping for several years after peaking near 550,000 on TSN two years ago, and Rogers is hoping to reinvigorate the sport's fan base with a Canadian broadcast led by former racer Paul Tracy and multiplatform access for Sportsnet subscribers.
It's had mixed success. According to audience tracker BBM, races on Sportsnet have drawn an average audience of 72,300, down 46 per cent from the numbers TSN pulled in last year.
It saw audiences for the Firestone 500 jump by 50 per cent to 62,000 over TSN 2's broadcast last year, but its audiences for most races are down double digits compared to last year. Its audience for the Indianapolis 500, one of the highest profile races on the circuit, was 157,000 (39 per cent lower than TSN's last year).
Sportsnet's next race is August 4, when it will air the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on its Sportsnet One network. The Toronto races aired on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific.