NASCAR and the NFL are among the most popular professional sports organizations in the world. While each organization’s roots lay in America, both organizations have developed to serve a global audience. With so much revenue pouring in, many wonder how large NASCAR is when compared to the NFL
NASCAR is not bigger than the NFL. Neither NASCAR nor any other professional sports organization in North America matches the NFL. While NASCAR made strides to reach a younger fanbase, they are still growing their audience. The NFL still dominates the professional sports landscape in the USA.
Although NASCAR has yet to match the NFL in size, it’s possible they are gaining ground on their professional sports counterpart in terms of viewership statistics, revenues, and in reaching an international audience. Below, we will look closer at how NASCAR compares to the NFL by the numbers.
NASCAR is not more popular than the NFL. While NASCAR and the NFL have taken their respective products internationally, the NFL continues to eclipse NASCAR in popularity. The NFL doesn’t just beat NASCAR in popularity; it is arguably the most watched professional sports league in the world.
An average of more than 67,000 fans attend NFL games every year, higher than any other professional sports league in the world. The NFL also remains, in terms of viewership and revenue, the most popular pro sports league in the United States.
While the NFL and NASCAR rebounded in terms of overall viewership and attendance as of 2021 and 2022, the NFL was marred with controversy in 2017. This caused a decreased interest in the league at the time. However, when compared to NASCAR, the NFL still reigned supreme.
Despite taking a hit in popularity, the NFL still earned $14 billion in revenue compared to $660 million for NASCAR. The average NFL team was worth $2.5 billion, while the average NASCAR team clocked in at $140 million.
The average NASCAR Cup Race, then known as the Monster Energy Cup Series, averaged 5.1 million viewers per race. Sunday Night Football averaged over 18 million viewers throughout the controversy-plagued season.
NASCAR vs NFL – 2021 Viewership Statistics
|Total Fans||40-60 million||410 million|
|Events Per Season||36 races||272 games|
|TV Viewers Per Event||2.9 million||17.1 million|
Daytona 500 vs Super Bowl Popularity
The Daytona 500 has long served as NASCAR’s premier event. And it’s no surprise that it has brought in tens of millions of viewers throughout its history. While the Super Bowl is commonly among the most watched television shows in history, it’s logical to speculate whether the Daytona 500 compares favorably to regular-season NFL games.
While the Daytona 500 rebounded from record-lows in 2022 when compared to 2020 and 2021, it still did not match the NFL in terms of viewership, even in the latter’s regular season. For example, in January 2022, a game between the Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers reached 25 million viewers.
While NFL viewership stagnated in recent seasons, they still drew 17.1 million viewers per game in 2021. This marked their highest average number of viewers since 2015, and overall viewership increased by 10% versus 2020.
Per the Sports Business Journal, NASCAR paled compared to the NFL, averaging between 2.56 million and 2.93 million viewers per week in 2021, down from 3.06 million viewers per week in 2020. Even more alarming, NASCAR’s overall viewership was even higher in 2019, with 3.11 million viewers.
Low Viewership Figures For The Daytona 500
They often call the Daytona 500 the Super Bowl of NASCAR. However, the Great American Race averaged fewer viewers on average than that of the other 35 races.
In 2021, only 4.83 million viewers tuned in to watch NASCAR’s Daytona 500. This was significantly down from 7.03 million viewers in 2020. Going back to 2019, when the Daytona 500 saw 9.17 million viewers, it marks three straight seasons of a record-low viewership.
When compared to the 2002 Daytona 500, NASCAR lost more than half its viewership for that race, when 18.78 million viewers tuned in to the event.
Compare the 2021 Daytona 500 to Super Bowl LVI, and NASCAR brought in a fraction of viewers for its premier event versus the NFL. On February 15th 2022, the NFL Network reported Super Bowl XVI’s average audience at 112.3 million viewers.
This number was up from Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. On February 9th 2021, the NFL Network reported that an average of 96.4 million viewers tuned in for the big game.
Given NASCAR’s low number of viewers, you may wonder whether it’s in danger of going under. Fortunately for NASCAR fans, the numbers above are just averages and in no way imply NASCAR is going anywhere soon.
In fact, the 2021 NASCAR season showed immense progress in a few promising aspects. And while it’s not enough to challenge the NFL, it also shows that the NASCAR Cup Series remains among the hottest commodities on television.
The Numbers Are Looking Good
The NASCAR Cup Series ranked either first or second in their allotted time slot 17 times in 2021. NBC and FOX saw increased ad revenue thanks to NASCAR events. And for the first time in 10 seasons, NASCAR saw increased viewership in six straight races.
And to add to the optimism, the 2022 Daytona 500 saw its viewership nearly double to 8.8 million, generating nearly twice the viewership of the 2021 event.
Further, the NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona averaged 1.48 million viewers. While the viewership was down slightly from the 2021 race, it also ensured that NASCAR, when all the Daytona races were combined, eclipsed over 10 million viewers for the weekend.
The Camping World Truck Series saw a decrease in viewership at the 2022 Daytona race. However, with 1.02 million tuning in, the truck series saw a decrease of just 5.6% in viewership from the 2021 event. However, clearly the NFL is still far more popular than NASCAR.
Both NASCAR and the NFL have multiple revenue streams. NASCAR, however, has struggled to maintain its revenues in recent seasons while the NFL has seen rapid increases in its revenues.
In 2020, CNN Money reported the NFL was still the world’s wealthiest sports league. And in May 2021, Forbes’ list of 50 Most Valuable Sports Teams 2021 included 26 NFL teams, more than any other sports league.
The Dallas Cowboys ranked Number One, valued at $5.7 billion, increasing in value by 43% since 2016. It’s interesting to note that when Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, the Cowboys value rested at just $150 million. This illustrates the immense growth the sport has seen.
The Cleveland Browns ranked 50th on the list and 26th in the NFL, valued at $2.35 billion, with a five-year increase in value of 57%. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam purchased the Browns in 2012 for $987 million.
Fast-forward to August 2021, when Forbes ranked all 32 NFL teams in value before the 2021 NFL Preseason, the Cowboys again ranked number one, this time at $6.5 billion. The Buffalo Bills sat at number thirty-two, bringing in just $2.27 billion.
Shifting gears to NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports comprises the most valuable racing team at $348 million as of October 2021, with a revenue of $186 million, roughly five percent of the Dallas Cowboys’ value and 15 percent of the Buffalo Bills. Clearly, NASCAR teams are worth much less than NFL teams.
During the 2017 NFL Season, the NFL drew 17,253,425 fans, while NASCAR drew just 4,059,000. In 2017, the NFL was mired in controversy pertaining to both increasing awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and the mixed reactions regarding the NFL’s peaceful protesting of the National Anthem.
Even with the NFL’s decreasing attendance by about 8 percent from 2016 to 2017, they still did not take a major hit in revenue. Meanwhile, the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series saw less than half-full events, with between 35,000 and 40,000 fans attending a Cup Series race in Bristol.
NASCAR has sought an international audience since at least the 1950s, when they ventured into Canada. They have since run exhibitions in places like Melbourne, Australia, and Motegi, Japan.
NASCAR has also expanded sanctioned divisions to Europe, Mexico, and Canada. In 2006, NASCAR bought the CASCAR Super Series and signed an agreement with Canadian Tire to sponsor the series.
The NASCAR Mexico Series ran its first race in 2004. Aside from a one-year hiatus in 2016, they held a full season of 12 to 15 races each year. The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series ran its first race in 2009, seven seasons after Jérôme Galpin sought to bring stock car racing to Europe.
The NFL went international in 2007 with the NFL International Series. However, you can trace its roots to the American Bowl, which ran preseason games in other countries dating back to 1986.
Before the American Bowl, the NFL and AFL hosted 13 games in other countries, six of which involved preseason games against CFL teams. Another matchup featuring the Boston Patriots and the Detroit Lions occurred in Montreal in the 1969 preseason.
The NFL also held games in Tokyo, Mexico City, and London before the American Bowl. The American Bowl peaked in 1994 during a game in Mexico City when 112,376 fans attended a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Oilers.
Also during the American Bowl Era, the NFL launched the World League of American Football (WLAF). This later grew into NFL Europe (NFL Europa during its last season in 2007).
After the NFL closed the doors on NFL Europe, the NFL International Series kicked off. The series called for one game to be played in London from 2007 to 2011. Since then, the NFL has expanded to four games in London and has even called for games in Germany and Mexico City.
The NFL has since started the International Home Marketing Areas Initiative. This initiative allows teams to market themselves in select regions of the world. For example, the Arizona Cardinals have rights for Mexico while the Miami Dolphins have rights in Brazil.
Like the NFL, NASCAR made huge strides to reach an international audience. Starting in 2006, they announced Toyota would sign on as a manufacturer. NASCAR has also expanded its product to foreign-born drivers like Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Daniel Suarez.
One reason behind NASCAR’s global expansion stems from their desire to reach out to foreign sponsors. With ratings and attendance on the decline in recent years, NASCAR is hoping that by expanding globally they will see both an increase in revenue and develop new fanbases.
While NASCAR is continuing to develop its international product, the NFL remains lightyears ahead. Econ Review noted the NFL saw a 60% increase in viewership among UK viewers in 2017.
In 2019, the NFL hosted two games at Wembley Stadium and two at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. They also hosted a Monday Night Football game in Mexico between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs in Estadio Azteca.
NASCAR has also yet to develop a “world feed” broadcast to match that of the NFL. However, the 2022 Daytona 500 was broadcast in 23 different countries and five different regions. Compared to Super Bowl LVI, NASCAR’s international reach has also paled. Thanks to ESPN International, the NFL broadcast games in places like the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Andorra, and Sierra Leone.
Unlike NASCAR, the NFL does not have professional leagues outside the Continental United States. But still, as of 2022, the NFL holds the edge over NASCAR in international reach. However, given NASCAR’s stagnating domestic viewership, it’s clear NASCAR will put more effort into expanding their reach overseas in hopes an international fanbase can bring about a steady increase in ratings.
Whether NASCAR is better than the NFL is more of a subjective question, even though the NFL is more popular. Whether or not either sport is better is down to what you prefer to watch. Both NASCAR and the NFL can make for very exciting entertainment.
But if you’re a NASCAR fan, you shouldn’t get too down, as the NFL dominates the globe’s professional sports landscape, and as of 2022, no other league eclipses it.
Fortunately, NASCAR does not need to compete directly with the NFL to be successful. Instead, they can continue to expand their growth by offering a more unique product that will attract younger fans. And a new generation of fans will keep NASCAR afloat for years to come.
NASCAR is not bigger than the NFL. The NFL is more popular, sees more revenue each year, and has teams that are worth more than most NASCAR teams put together. However, both are still very exciting sports in their own right, and so it’s hard to draw a fair and simple comparison between them.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.