By admin | July 26, 2010
By Richard Allen
During the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday the empty seats around the facility were unmistakable. Scores of unfilled bleachers rimmed the historic track as it hosted what many consider to be the second biggest race on the NASCAR schedule.
NASCARâ€™s own estimate of the crowd at Sundayâ€™s race was 140,000. The 2009 estimate was 180,000 while in 2008 there were 240,000 in attendance. 280,000 saw the 2007 version of the race.
The 140,000 fans make up the 3rd largest crowd of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The Daytona 500 had 175,000 people and the race in Las Vegas drew 150,000.
So, was it a good crowd in Indy or not?
One way to look at it is that losing half an audience in three years is essentially a disaster of monumental proportions. Many would contend that there canâ€™t be any way to spin such a drop off in a positive way. Those folks would argue that no matter how bad the economy, that many people could not have been affected. More than the economy, people seem to be just losing interest in the sport according the so called naysayers.
Along with poor attendance, those who insist the sportâ€™s popularity is waning would point to lowered television ratings as evidence that fewer and fewer people care about â€˜watching cars ride around in circlesâ€™.
However, there is another view of Sundayâ€™s attendance in Indianapolis. It can be argued by those with a more positive outlook on NASCAR that few if any other events around the country are bringing in 140,000 fans. Drop off from three years ago or not, that is an impressive number in these hard times according the more upbeat.
Should the view of NASCAR in 2010 be optimistic or pessimistic? Is the sport really in the midst of a popularity freefall or is this just an unfortunate blip created by a poor economy?
My view is that NASCAR has taken a fall that is going to be extremely difficult to recover from. While the argument that the crowd was quite good considering the economic situation is plausible, the fact that television ratings have taken a dip in almost every year since 2004 indicates a serious issue.
In hard economic times people tend to fall back on things that bring them joy and comfort, if only for a short time, so as to avoid the pressures of day to day life. Baseball attendance actually fared reasonably well during the Great Depression, which was a far worse economic disaster than the modern fall. For that matter, the dirt races I have been to this year have boasted record crowds on more than a few occasions. If people still loved this sport they would be watching even when they canâ€™t afford to make the trip to a track.
NASCAR has some serious problems which the recent report by AP reporter Jenna Fryer shows they are clueless about. According to that report, NASCAR has chosen to fine drivers who are critical of the sport to keep them quiet instead of working to resolve the issues at hand.
History is littered with dynasties that fell when they became reactionary toward those who offered any sort of realistic criticism.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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