By admin | March 21, 2011
By Richard Allen
When the Fox network first came on the air with coverage of the Jeff Byrd 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway I thought the shot they were showing of the grandstands could not have been live. There was no mistaking that empty seats were in abundance at a track that just a few short years ago was a virtual lock to sell out every Sprint Cup race.
In my opinion, there are three key factors that have caused the drastic decline in demand for Bristol tickets over the past few years.
One factor is that officials of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owners of the track, have failed to change with the times. Even as the economy sinks, the track has stuck with a very high ticket price. Most tickets for Sprint Cup races are priced over $100 each even though demand is obviously not strong enough to support that price. While the track offers various package deals, there is no doubt that such an amount is not reflective of the current situation in regard to the economic state of most fans.
High ticket prices are not only a problem for Bristol, but other tracks as well. And added to that is the gross gouging that takes place at hotels and other businesses around most race tracks on event weekends.
Also, attendance at other races as well as television ratings indicate that this form of racing is in a period of contraction. When the sport reached its high point of popularity about a decade ago track owners clearly overestimated the need for seating at their facilities. Thus, once NASCAR’s appeal began to dwindle, the grandstands revealed gaping empty spaces.
But most importantly, the biggest factor is the track itself. Between the facility’s two races in 2007 the half-mile venue was resurfaced and the steepness of the banking was altered. Anytime officials from the speedway speak publicly they offer up reasons for the changes to the track. But clearly, fans have not accepted the ‘new’ Bristol.
“They’ve ruined their best track” and “It just ain’t what it used to be” are comments I hear often from those living here within a short drive of the track.
The once famed ‘bump and run’ is rarely seen and the racing seems too much to resemble that of the cookie cutters. The appeal the track once held was that it was one of the few places where raw emotion could still be seen in a sport that has become far too sterile over the last two decades. Now, Bristol is little different from any other venue on the Sprint Cup schedule. It has simply become a place to say you’ve been to once but there seems to be little need to make a yearly trek.
It is very difficult to build up any business to the level Bristol Motor Speedway once reached. What will no doubt prove even more difficult will be to rebuild something that has obviously fallen from a once high pedestal.
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