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NASCAR on TV: What Impact is HDTV Having on Sports Attendance?

By admin | January 6, 2014

Is watching racing on HDTV better than being there? 

By Richard Allen

Several years ago when HDTV was just beginning to come into its own, I remember hearing a commentator say that the new innovation would have a far greater impact on attendance at sporting events than anyone could imagine. I am beginning to wonder if he was right or if there are other factors also playing a role in the drop-off in seats being sold in stadiums around the country.

There is nothing like attending a live sporting event in person. The feel, the energy and the excitement are unrivaled. However, being there does come with some drawbacks.

This past October I took my youngest son to his first University of Tennessee football game, and it proved to be an unforgettable experience. Tennessee beat South Carolina with a last second field goal in one of the most exciting games I had ever been witness to in person. And my son was thrilled to have been there.

But at the same time, being there came with a significant price. By the time we got through traffic both to and from the game, we had basically used up the entire day. We had to pay $20 to park over a mile from the stadium. Concession prices were ridiculous. There were long lines for the restroom. And, we bought lunch on the way there and dinner on our return trip home. The tickets for the game had been purchased in a special deal for only a few dollars, but when all was said and done, those cheap tickets wound up costing me over $100.

It seems as if more and more people are opting to avoid all of the pitfalls mentioned above in favor of staying home and watching sports on television. And that is especially true when the quality of the picture on an HDTV screen is better than actually being there. Not only can a person watching from home have the same clear definition as someone in the grandstands, but television offers replays, close up views, multiple angles and more.

Also, of course, hot dogs aren’t $6, lines for the restrooms are not nearly as long and the viewer doesn’t have to spend half the day in traffic.

This realization seems to be taking hold. Look at the NASCAR attendance drop-offs of recent years. There seemed to be more empty seats at some of the recent college football bowl games than ever before and even the vaunted NFL had difficulty selling out some of its first round playoff games this year.

But to say that attendance woes at sporting events are entirely related to the quality of the picture on the TV screen would be a bit of a stretch. NASCAR has also offered up some rather lackluster racing over the past few years. College football’s BCS system has rendered every bowl game but one useless, and there were serious weather concerns for a couple of those NFL games going into this past weekend.

Another personal experience from this past year also demonstrates a reason for some people staying at home rather than attending an event. In March, I took my oldest son to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Bristol Motor Speedway. While it was an entertaining race…and post-race, there was definitely something missing.

As some of you may already know, I tend to be very active on social media during the races. I have the Trackpass feature from NASCAR.com, which allows me to listen to driver/crew chatter and I relay much of what I hear onto Twitter. Also, I interact with those who I follow and those who follow me. For me, it makes for a much more entertaining experience. Without those things in Bristol, I wasn’t getting the full experience I had grown accustomed to.

Let’s talk racing. Follow RacingWithRich on Twitter  and on Facebook.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, there is nothing like attending a live sporting event in person, if the sporting event is worth attending. For NASCAR in particular, they have to find a way for the leader to get passed somewhere other than on pit road. And they have to find a way to make the 200-300 miles in the middle of the race more than just an act of teams positioning themselves for the final fuel mileage stretch.

I have no doubt that HDTV has affected sports attendance to some degree. The days of needing 100,000+ seats encircling sporting venues may be behind us forever. But HDTV isn’t the only reason fans aren’t showing up at some of these events.

Please also consider reading “NASCAR on TV: Is DVR changing the way fans watch?”

Topics: Articles |

9 Responses to “NASCAR on TV: What Impact is HDTV Having on Sports Attendance?”

  1. Michael in SoCal Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Like you state, with Social Media now involved in watching live sporting events, combined with large HD TVs, no lines for anything, and a price you can’t beat, I prefer to watch from home mostly. Amongst my friends, all big-time LA Kings fans, not one of us is attending the big outdoor game at Dodgers Stadium because the price is ridiculous, and the seats are a mile away from the ice. Gonna be much nicer to watch from home, without the hassle of going.

  2. Tony Geinzer Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I don’t know if Every Game at Home has won, Rich, but, we need to badly reverse that. Social Media has tried, but, it is not the whole pie. Rich, I think having every Cup Weekend on Network TV Again would help, and I don’t know if when we need to actually take care of our cars and not just steady pirate every high end show or CD instead of in other words, working for it. I hate to be the Oddball here, but our laziness as a community lead to corruption,
    bad acting and worse? I know you tend to keep things softball as much as possible, but, the merits of an actual product, property or being there for more than being there carry a hand, IE, bringing Sprint Cup back to Nashville and Non-Cincinnati Kentucky.

  3. Russ Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 6:15 am

    In my case, scheduling something beyond a few days beforehand is virtually impossible. So even in the rare event I could attend, it would mean either bad seats or scalper prices. Easier to just watch on TV.

  4. Bill B Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 7:41 am

    I think it has more to do with society and less with hi-def tv. People today have no patience. They want everything served up to them in 150 words or less…. “I don’t want to read a four page article, just give me a summary”. “I don’t want to watch a 3 hour event, just give me the highlights”. “I don’t want to listen to the entire cd, just let me hear the hits”.

    It seems attention spans are growing shorter and people are unwilling to just sit back and be consumed/entertained by one thing for more than 15 minutes (unless every minute is high-intensity excitement). People have so many options for everything today that everyone wants it “their way” and “they want it now”. And then, when they get it, they get bored with it relatively quickly and move onto the next shiny object that catches their attention.

    I will also agree with Tony G that laziness plays a role. It’s so much easier to just watch it on tv than to go through all the trouble of attending it live. Less costly, less time, less dealing with other people, etc..
    There are so many facets to this issue but I think HDTV is at the bottom of the list.

  5. GinaV24 Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 8:27 am

    IMO, it isn’t HDTV or social media that has made me go to less races, it is the product on the track. If it was as much fun to go to a race as it was in the not so distant past - say about 10 years ago - before the spec car, the plethora of 1.5 mile cookie cutter tracks and of course the bane of my existence, the chase, then I would still be going to a lot of races, but its not. The truth is, at least for me, the racing is boring and I’d rather stay home where I can do something productive and just follow the race via computer with the radio feed and twitter. Not wasting my entire weekend, vacation time and of course the money it costs to go to a race is far more valuable to me now than actually being there. NASCAR created the mess and they have a long way to go to fix it. A few tweaks to the Gen 6 car isn’t enough.

  6. Al Torney Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Auto racing is not really a good tv product. In addition the tv numbers have declined more then track Attendence. I attended 6 to 8 races a year. I have no plans to ever attend a race again. In my case the economy has absolutely nothing to do with it. I can afford to go. The racing is no longer genuine. It’s all about perception. Doesn’t have to be true but if I think it is that’s it. There are so many things wrong with the sport today that it would take hours to discuss them all. An example, fans believe there are phantom cautions thrown to create close racing. If the tv networks would show the debris every time they could erase the perception. They don’t so the fans believe they are fake. Some have the perception that some teams are treated better then other teams in terms of penalties. I truly believe that the fans today really believe that the sport today has very little legitimacy left. Lucky Dogs and wave arounds are not racing. Very few like the tv coverage. You may actually enjoy a race and read a ton of negative reports about the race and decide it was that enjoyable after all. And when. Brian put Gordon in the chase it didn’t bother me until he said he did it because he’s the man. It immediately came to my mind that he could tell his boys to give a certain driver a restrictor plate with a little bit bigger holes at Daytona. They tried to fix something that wasn’t broken. Shame on them. And now they are saying that reducing seating at the tracks is great. Thanks to NBC and Fox they will be making the money the next ten years so why should they worry? It became a show me the money sport and the fans don’t like it.

  7. Michael in SoCal Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 10:34 am

    I also agree with GinaV24’s comment, especially in regard to racing on the 1.5 and 2.0 mile Dull Ds. Just too boring to justify the cost in time, money and effort.

  8. SV Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Last year for Christmas I got a 60 inch screen. I was super excited for the Daytona 500. And boy did the pictures look pretty. Then Darrell Waltrip started polishing Kyle Bush’s knob and the director focused his shots on just the leaders and the next thing I knew I was looking at Trackpass on my laptop which I refer to as NASCAR’s EKG. Is there a heartbeat of excitement anywhere on the track? Or should I give up and take a nap? I caught up on my sleep a lot last year. I even attended the November race at TMS. And took a nap. In the stands.

    HDTV has had no impact negatively on the sport. It could HELP the sport if there was something to see and TV was willing to make the show exciting. And I don’t need a Waltrip to lecture me on how great things really are. They aren’t. Haven’t been for a LONG time. I expect very little to change this year so I let Trackpass lapse and I won’t be renewing; I’ve had it every year since it was offered. If I’m watching, it’s in my DVR so I can fast forward everything.

    I bet by this time next year I’ll even forget to record the races…

  9. The Mad Man Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I couldn’t tell you what impact HDTV is having on the sports world or in the world of sports entertainment whose niche is occupied by the WWE, TNA, Roller Derby & NASCAR. Yes NASCAR. I can’t afford the jacked up prices for HDTV. Cable rates are bad enough without the additional cost.

    I agree with GinaV24. The “product” neeeds to be repaired. And the way it’s presented needs some major overhauling. Hopefully when NBC starts broadcasting the races, they’ve done their research into what will keep the home viewing audience happy. With the over-abundance of boring cookie cutter tracks and the snoozers called plate racing, I find I’m spending more time checking my eyelids for light leaks or spending more time enjoying family and friends and will watch the race later on DVR so I can fsst forward through the boring stuff and the multitude of commercials for the single car coverage which really isn’t racing but yet anothrr commercial thanks to the commentating clowns in the announcer’s booth.

    I’ll let you know about the impact of HDTV if and when I can afford it.