NFL vs. NASCAR: Revenue, Salaries, Viewership, Attendance and Ratings

Back by popular demand, we continue our series of in-depth comparisons between the National Football League and all the other American professional sports leagues, this time by examining how the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) measures up to the NFL (click here to see the NFL vs. NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, and UFC).

First, we will go over a few side-by-side comparisons between NASCAR and the NFL so those who aren’t as familiar with one or the other sport can get a better idea of how each is conducted.

Then, using the best data that Google searches can provide, we will compare the revenue, salaries, viewership, attendance and ratings of both sports to get a rough idea of how the two compare.

Please keep in mind that in a way, comparing football to stock car racing is an apples to oranges situation, but it will be interesting to see which of the two fruits is more popular and generates more profits worldwide.

Let’s get started…

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NFL and NASCAR Side-by-Side Comparisons

The NFL teams play 16 games in a regular season while in NASCAR there are three major National Touring Series:

  1. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
  2. NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS)
  3. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)

The NFL has 32 teams with 53 players on each with 46 players declared active for each game, while each NASCAR series has its own car/truck count:

  1. MENCS – 40 cars, with 36 guaranteed to qualify due to the NASCAR Charter System*
  2. NXS – 40 cars
  3. NCWTS – 32 trucks
  • NFL players average in size anywhere from 5-foot-11 and 193-pounds (cornerbacks) to 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds (offensive line), while the average NASCAR driver is not quite 5-foot-10 and weighs on average 180 pounds, and any drivers who weigh less have to add 10 pounds to their car for every 10 pounds down to 140.
  • NFL players purposely collide into each other every play while NASCAR drivers do their best to avoid collisions since a wreck typically ends the race for everyone involved and the injuries sustained could be life-threatening.
  • The NFL season culminates with 12 teams competing in a single-elimination tournament, the championship game being the Super Bowl, while the NASCAR season ends with the ‘Chase for the Cup’ and it includes 16 drivers who compete for the championship in the final ten races of the cup series.

* What is the NASCAR Charter System?

You can compare the NASCAR Charter System to the medallion system used by taxicabs in New York City.

NASCAR drivers have to purchase a medallion to do business, and once you own a medallion you can sell it privately when you decide to retire.

In NASCAR the owners of their medallions, which are called charters, are guaranteed starting spots in every race.

According to rumors, there are 36 charters available.

Questions to be answered:

How much more revenue does the NFL make than NASCAR?

How many Americans watch NFL games compared to NASCAR races in 2018?

Which league is better preparing themselves for worldwide domination?

In this article, we’re going to answer those questions and a whole lot more as we examine and compare the NFL and NASCAR – their revenue, salaries, viewership, attendance and ratings – and try to figure out which sports league is better positioning itself to be number one in America and in the world.

Let’s start by comparing each league’s revenue.

NFL vs. NASCAR: Revenue

Which league makes more money, NFL or NASCAR?

There are 256 total regular-season NFL games each year while in 2018 there were 36 NASCAR races.

Last season, the NFL made $14 billion in total revenue, which was over $900 million more than they made the season before and a $6 billion increase from 2010.

On the other hand, NASCAR reportedly makes $660 million per year in television revenue, but then you can add on race sanctioning fees plus the cash that headlining and secondary sponsors pump into the racing circus’ bank accounts.

The NFL averages more sponsorship revenue, as well.

NFL sponsorship revenue reached $1.32 billion in the 2017-18 season, with beer, trucks and fast food being among the largest spenders.

Though the total amount of NASCAR sponsorship money is difficult to calculate, it is interesting to note that nearly half of Fortune 100 companies invest in the racing league, and more than one in four (28%) of Fortune 500 companies invest in NASCAR.

What’s the difference in how the two leagues share their revenue?

The main purpose of revenue sharing is to set up measures that allow richer and poorer teams to compete with each other on a semi-equal footing.

Of the $14 billion that the NFL made last season, mostly from national media deals, they distributed more than half of it to its individual franchises.

Last season, every NFL team received $226.4 million in national revenue sharing, which comes out to more than $7.2 billion across the league.

In NASCAR, only broadcasting rights are considered in the revenue sharing formula.

The split goes like this:

  • Tracks get 65% of the money
  • Racing teams get 25%
  • NASCAR gets 10%. 

NASCAR does it differently because the teams are not franchises like they are in other sports.

Which makes more money – the Super Bowl or the Daytona 500?

This one isn’t even close.

Last season, the revenue from Super Bowl LII surpassed $500 million, and ad spending alone for in-game spots exceeded $400 million, as it did the previous season.

Anheuser-Busch InBev and Fiat Chrysler Automotive were the top-spending parent companies in that game.

The Daytona 500 is called the Super Bowl of NASCAR races, and it is estimated that it is responsible for about $2 billion annually added to the state of Florida’s economy.

That includes jobs and tax revenue attributed to the Daytona International Speedway, the racetrack where the event takes place.

Which ads cost more money – Super Bowl or Daytona 500?

Normally, the easy way to compare the revenue potential of the two championships is by looking at how much each charge for an advertisement.

The cost of a 30-second commercial during the 2017 Super Bowl was $5.02 million.

The best data we could find shows that in 2008, a 30-second spot during the Daytona 500 cost $550,000, and even if that doubled over the last ten years it still wouldn’t even come close to Super Bowl numbers.

The NFL’s Super Bowl is the clear winner over every other championship game that’s being played.

Which teams are worth more, NFL or NASCAR?

When it comes to team worth, once again the NFL has a huge advantage over NASCAR.

The average NFL team is worth $2.5 billion and according to Forbes Magazine that’s up 8% over last year, and all but five of the NFL teams are worth at least $2 billion.

For the eleventh year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s most valuable team and the world’s most valuable franchise, worth $4.8 billion, and that’s up 14%.

The Buffalo Bills are last on the list with a value of $1.6 billion.

The top NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, had a team value of $325 million in 2016 with an annual revenue of $180 million.

Next in line is Joe Gibbs Racing, which had a team value of $220 million in 2016 with an annual revenue of $131 million.

When it comes to team worth between the NFL and NASCAR, it’s the difference between billions and millions with football being the clear winner.

Is the NFL more international than NASCAR?

Surprisingly, yes.

The NFL hasn’t done much to reach international audiences, and that’s one of the factors that are hurting its overall numbers.

The one region they’re focusing on? The United Kingdom.

According to the Econ Review, NFL viewers in the United Kingdom increased by 60% in 2017, not an easy feat given that rugby is the primary sport known to those English sports fans.

In  2019, there are four NFL games scheduled to be played in the U.K.:

  • Week 5 (Oct 6) the Chicago Bears vs. the Oakland Raiders, 1 pm ET, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Week 6 (Oct 13) the Carolina Panthers vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9:30 am ET, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Week 8 (Oct 27) the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Los Angeles Rams, 1 pm ET, at Wembley Stadium
  • Week 9 (Nov 3) the Houston Texans vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, 9:30 am ET, at Wembley Stadium

There is also a 2019 game scheduled to be played in Mexico:

  • Week 11 (Nov 18) on Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, 8:15 pm ET, at Estadio Azteca

NASCAR does not produce a “world feed” broadcast, but it does have 23 international broadcast partners, and all international broadcasts are taken directly from the national feed.

But truth be told, NASCAR is currently trying to fix itself in the United States first before it spends money elsewhere because it figures it can’t pitch a broken (or poorly viewed) product.

NFL vs. NASCAR: Salaries

What is the average/top NFL salary compared to the average/top NASCAR driver salary?

First-year players in the NFL can expect to make an average of $365,000 per year, and that constantly rises anywhere from $5 to $10 thousand per year.

NFL rookies make their big money through bonuses, including a roster bonus, a signing bonus, contract incentives, and a few other formats.

Rookies typically start off at the NFL minimum, but exceptions are made for exceptional players.

For example, last year Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield signed a four-year deal worth $32.68 million (with a $21.85 million signing bonus) and running back Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants agreed to a contract worth $31.2 million (with a $20.77 million signing bonus).

The average salary of a typical NFL player is $1.9 million per year while the average salary for an NFL quarterback is about $4 million per year.

The top three highest paid NFL athletes are all quarterbacks – the biggest salary going to Aaron Rodgers for the Green Bay Packers, who makes an average salary of $33.5 million.

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons makes an average of $30 million per season plus $5 million in endorsements and Jimmy Garoppolo also makes $30 million per season on top of whatever his deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand is worth.

NASCAR Salaries

In 2018, Jimmie Johnson was the highest-paid active NASCAR driver, earning $16.8 million in race winnings and $5 million in lucrative endorsement deals.

Next in line is Kevin Harvick, who in 2017 pulled in $13.6 million and has a net worth of $70 million.

Keep in mind that up until the end of the 2017 NASCAR season, both drivers were far behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who for nearly two decades led all racers in popularity and revenue, having earned $22 million in 2017 just before his retirement.

Who makes more for being champions, NFL players or NASCAR drivers?

The New England Patriots, winners of Super Bowl LIII, each received $118,000 for winning the big game, while players from the losing Los Angeles Rams got $59,000 each.

Each player also received about $83,000 for the rest of their postseason play – $29,000 for the Divisional playoff and $54,000 for the conference championship.

NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson earned about a $2 million Cup title bonus when he took the prize in 2016.

NFL vs. NASCAR: Viewership

Which league is viewed more in the U.S., the NFL or NASCAR?

There is no doubt NFL viewership is going down according to Austin Karp of the Sports Business Daily.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ESPN’s Monday Night Football and the shared Thursday Night Football package (between NBC, CBS, NFL Network and Amazon) all declined in viewership for the second straight season.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football

  • 2017: 18.175 million
  • 2016: 20.323 million
  • 2015: 22.522 million

ESPN’s Monday Night Football

  • 2017: 10.757 million
  • 2016: 11.390 million
  • 2015: 12.896 million

Thursday Night Football (NBC/CBS/NFL Network)

  • 2017: 10.937 million
  • 2016: 12.438 million
  • 2015: 12.425 million

So how do those declining NFL viewership numbers compare to NASCAR?

It’s not even close, especially when you look at the time NASCAR decided it wanted to change the airing of its 2017 October Monster Energy Cup race from a Saturday night to a Sunday afternoon, up against some televised NFL games.

The race drew 2.9 million viewers on NBC, which was the lowest-rated Cup Series race on broadcast television since at least 2000, plus it was the least-watched race since at least 2001.

Compare that to the very same Sunday when the NFL games on CBS and Fox drew a combined 25.5 million viewers.

In 2019, Fox televised the NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta, and 5.067 million viewers tuned in, which was a 10% drop from 2018 when 5.609 million race fans watched, and even that race had experienced a 15% drop in viewership.

Monster Energy Cup Series race

2019 – 5.1 million viewers, down from 5.6 million in 2018

Xfinity Series race

2019 – 1.1 million viewers, down from 1.2 million in 2018

Great Outdoors Truck Series

2019 – 956,000 viewers, slightly up from 931,000 in 2018

NFL viewership is slightly down, but NASCAR viewership is becoming miserable, having seen a 19 percent drop in viewership since 2017 and a 29 percent drop from 2016.

Which is viewed more – the Super Bowl or the Daytona 500?

It’s estimated that 98.2 million people worldwide watched the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII last season, which is the fewest people in eleven years.

The year before that, 103.4 million people worldwide watched the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII and the season before that saw even higher numbers when 111.3 viewers tuned in to Super Bowl LI.

In 2019, it was estimated that 9.17 million viewers tuned into the Dayton 500 to watch Denny Hamlin win in his #11 Toyota.

The year before that, about 9.3 million viewers watched the event.

Compare those totals to the Daytona 500 in 2002 when 18.78 million viewers saw Ward Burton win with his #22 Dodge.

NFL viewership numbers obliterate NASCAR’s in every category.

NFL vs. NASCAR: Attendance

Who had more fans attending games last season, the NFL or NASCAR?

This one also goes to the NFL, and again, it’s not even close.

In 2017, approximately 17,253,425 people attended NFL games, while 4,059,000 NASCAR fans showed up to live races.

Over four times as many people went to football games over NASCAR races in America, and if the number of race fans keeps declining at its current rate, that difference will continue to get larger.

Who has a higher average ticket price, the NFL or NASCAR?

Last season, the average cost of an NFL ticket was $92.98 according to data from Team Marketing Report, which was up 8.3 percent from the previous season.

For NASCAR races, the average ticket price starts at $19, making it a far more affordable outing.

The average cost of a Super Bowl LIII ticket on secondary ticket providers like StubHub, Ticketmaster, TickPick and Vivid Seats was well over $5,000.

Last season, Daytona 500 tickets cost around $95 with the official ticket exchange.

Which league’s attendance is on a rise, whose is falling?

On September 24, 2017, Donald Trump tweeted:

Some numbers back him up on that, showing an 8% decline in attendance since the 2016 season.

This is said to be due to both the sudden attention to concussions and the resulting CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) as well as from a negative response to NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

(For more details on the players’ respectful protest, please read our extensive article explaining the NFL kneeling controversy.)

Live attendance is way down at NASCAR events, as evidenced by the empty seats that have been rapidly increasing at every stadium since 2009.

For instance, during a recent NASCAR Cup race at Fort Worth, TX, only about a third of the roughly 100,000 seats were occupied.

At another race this season at the Bristol Motor Speedway located on the Tennessee-Virginia line, about 35-40,000 race fans attended, but that stadium has a seating capacity of 162,000. 

So NFL attendance numbers are on a slight decline whereas NASCAR attendance is rapidly declining.

NFL vs. NASCAR: Ratings

Which league has the better ratings, NFL or NASCAR?

According to the Nielsen Ratings, NFL television ratings rose 55 from 2017 to 2018, with an average viewership of 15.8 million for NFL games.

Television ratings for the first 16 NASCAR events, which is the Fox portion of the season, were down approximately 20 percent, with an average of 4.1 million viewers per race.

The NFL overall ratings overshadow even the best NASCAR races.

America’s preference: the NFL or NASCAR?

If you go by the numbers, it’s not hard to see that the NFL is preferred by a lot more people than NASCAR and the revenue generated seems to back that up.

Take a look.

NFLNASCAR
Revenue
$14 billion$660 million
Average Team Worth
$2.5 billion$140 million
Average Salaries (Rookies / Developmental Drivers)
Rookie: $365,000 per yearDevelopmental driver: $100-300,000 per year in base salary, $200,000 in prize money
Average Salaries (Global)
$1.9 million per year$500,000 per year
NFL quarterback: $4 million per year
Average Salaries (Top Salary)
$30 million per season + $5 million in endorsements = $35 million$16.8 million + $5 million in endorsement deals = $21.8 million
Average Viewership
NBC’s Sunday Night Football 18.175 millionMonster Energy Cup Series race 5.1 million viewers
ESPN’s Monday Night Football 10.757 millionXfinity Series race 1.1 million viewers
Thursday Night Football (NBC/CBS/NFL Network) 10.937 millionGreat Outdoors Truck Series 956,000 viewers
Average Attendance
17,253,425 total4,059,000  total
Ratings
NFL fell 9 percent in 2017NASCAR saw its overall TV ratings decrease by 20%
Highest viewed game drew 26.88 million viewersHighest viewed race (Daytona 500) drew 9.17 million viewers

Conclusion

As with the other American sports leagues we’ve compared to the NFL (NBA, MLB, NHLMLS, and UFC), NASCAR just can’t measure up to its powerful football counterpoint.

The NFL has endured kneeling and concussion controversies and its commissioner Roger Goodell is currently doing his best to expand the league worldwide, but there is so much money involved right now that it is difficult to imagine them losing their dominance any time soon.

There are less and less NASCAR race fans emerging in America and until that is fixed there is no sense in spending a lot more money trying to make it popular worldwide.

But as far as profits to be made and fortunes to be granted, the NFL offers more opportunities than NASCAR for making it rich and famous, since most drivers are not in the upper tier of millionaires and a lot more NFL players are.

The NFL is a multi-billion dollar monster that crushes its competition financially and in terms of viewership, but competing with professional football in America is not that big a priority for NASCAR right now.

Rediscovering NASCAR’s popularity by creating newer (and younger) fans is not only the key to making the sport of racing in America more lucrative, it is critical to its survival.

The NFL has a long way to go before the same is true for them.

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