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FS1 earned a 0.53 rating and 903K viewers for Sunday’s inaugural NASCAR Pro Invitational Series, according to Nielsen data, making it what is believed to be the most-viewed esports event in U.S. TV history.
The iRacing simulator race, which featured a 35-car field stacked with real-life current and past Hall of Fame drivers, was a quickly assembled idea by the NASCAR industry two weeks ago to give fans something to do amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown. Drivers raced in simulator rigs at their houses.
Esports industry analyst Manny Anekal tweeted today that the 903K viewers is good enough to make the race the most-watched esports event ever in the U.S., besting a Mortal Kombat event on The CW in 2016 that got 770K viewers.
Asked about the numbers this afternoon, NASCAR Senior VP and Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark told Sports Business Daily: “Blown away – we talked last week going into it that no none had any expectations … This was about creating entertainment and a distraction from everything going on; I don’t think anyone even bothered to think about what sort of numbers this could drive. But I would tell you now having seen the number, just pleasantly surprised and blown away by the TV audience we saw, plus the digital and social metrics.”
Fox Sports will air the second event from the series this weekend from virtual Texas Motor Speedway, where NASCAR would have raced in real life if not for the shutdown.
Fox Sports has yet to announce where the race will be aired, but the broadcaster could potentially simulcast it on Fox broadcast network and FS1.
Nielsen said that the 903K viewers compares to an average of 2.1M last year for real-life NASCAR Cup Series events on FS1. Nielsen added that the 18-34 demo made up 9% of the event audience, versus 8% for typical NASCAR races.