With empty airwaves to fill, Fox Sports took a gamble last Sunday by broadcasting a round of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, and surprisingly, the pilot sim racing broadcast became the network’s biggest hit in weeks. Fox was so pleased with viewership that it announced Tuesday that it plans to broadcast the entire eNASCAR iRacing season.
Nielsen Media Research ranked last Sunday’s race, which was won by triple Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, as Sunday’s most-watched sports broadcast on cable TV with 903,000 viewers, and the single most-watched broadcast since the sporting world began retreating from the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this month. The race also ignited more Twitter activity than any other broadcast on Sunday, with over one million impressions, and according to Nielsen, it ranks as the most-viewed televised esports event in history.
“The response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible,” commented Fox NASCAR commentator and quadruple Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon. “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.”
Said Texas round will be a followup event held at a simulated Texas Motor Speedway, which will hit the air on Sunday, March 29, at 1:00 EST on Fox’s biggest channels. That means Fox, FS1, and the Fox Sports app, as well as possible syndication on regional Fox affiliates according to Fox Sports NASCAR pundit Bob Pockrass.
Other series are also jumping on the esport-streaming bandwagon, as Formula 1 will replace this year’s canceled or postponed races with “virtual grand prix,” the first of which already took place in virtual Bahrain last Saturday. While the race encountered some technical difficulties and was shortened from 50 to 25 percent of the original race distance, it was still fun to watch.
Needless to say, the future of esports is now.
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