With the motorsports calendar in disarray this year, esports is experiencing a popularity surge. Viewers are tuning in to watch virtual sports in their hundreds of thousands on streaming platforms, and now it seems that traditional broadcast media is after some of that action too.
The Fox broadcast network took the plunge this past weekend, and reaped the rewards. Fox teamed up with NASCAR and iRacing to broadcast a special exhibition virtual race, featuring big names from across the NASCAR family. The race, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, featured in its own show on Fox Sports 1, called “Fox Sports iRacing”.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the show pulled in a peak of 903,000 viewers, according to Nielsen ratings. That broke a number of records all at once, as the biggest audience for any sports broadcast in the USA on Sunday, the largest for any sports broadcast in the USA since March 12 — when sport began to shut down across the country — and the record for any gaming broadcast in American television history.
With those numbers behind it, Fox has now committed to showing the rest of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series season. Although a full schedule isn’t yet available, it’ll start with a race at Texas Motor Speedway this coming Sunday, March 29.
The series will continue to feature the regular NASCAR commentary team of Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds, with Clint Bowyer adding an in-car commentary view. Fox will broadcast it across its network, and on both Fox Sports 1 and the Fox Sports app.
In addition to the action from the virtual Miami, Sunday was a landmark for esports racing action. The first Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix also pulled in a six-figure viewer count, with 165,000 live views on the official channel and another 100,000 watching McLaren driver Lando Norris’s own feed. Veloce Esports staged its own event for a second week, with Not The Bahrain Grand Prix seeing similar figures.
Speaking of the decision to broadcast the entire eNASCAR invitational season, Brad Zager, executive producer at Fox Sports, commented:
“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way. We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”
Jeff Gordon added:
“The response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible. We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of ‘normalcy’ back to the weekend, and I can’t wait to call the action Sunday at Texas.”
In case you missed it, you can rewatch the entire first race below. We won’t spoil it, but it’s safe to say it goes right down to the line…
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