By admin | January 28, 2009
By Richard Allen
It is never a good thing for the economy to go bad. However, the recent economic downturn could force NASCAR to refocus its business model and that could be a good thing for the future health of the sport, if it has not come too late.
During the high economic times of the 1990s and the early 2000s NASCAR got the notion its product was ready for a more national stage. So, the sanctioning body decided to drop long time venues like North Wilkesboro and Rockingham in favor of more glamorous locales such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.
Initially, the sport experienced moderate success in those new cities. Soon, however, the newness wore off and the casual fans in those places found other things to occupy their attention as has been evidenced by recent poor attendance, particularly in Los Angeles and Miami.
Now, with the economy experiencing a slump unlike anything seen in recent years, sponsors, team owners, and most importantly, fans are having to watch every dollar carefully. With less disposable money to spend, people are less willing to be frivolous. That means casual fans will be even more scarce than they have been of late.
If NASCAR wants filled seats, they will have to find their most loyal fans. Those fans reside in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama. Given a choice between NASCAR and the NFL, the folks in Miami will choose the NFL. Given a choice between NASCAR and the multitude of things to do in Southern California, the folks in that area will choose things other than NASCAR.
NASCAR needs to come home to the places where people will put stock car racing first. The problem for NASCAR is that many of those former fans are just that, former fans.
Many tracks, including Daytona, are offering special discounts to get patrons in the seats. Lowering ticket prices could be a step toward renewing their relationship with the old fan base. Other moves by the sanctioning body could go a long way toward making amends with those who used to live and die with the sport.
Returning driver accessibility to the levels of the bygone era and attempting to develop more Southern drivers would appeal to many. And, of course, improving the on track product is the most important thing of all, but that is a topic for other columns.
During high times NASCAR was able to get away with ignoring its roots. Hopefully, they will see the need to come back home before it is too late.
I am not saying I am glad the economy has gone bad. I do not want someone who has lost a job and may happen to be reading this column to think I wanted the current recession so that NASCAR would return to its roots. What I am saying is that NASCAR actually reflects the nation as a whole. It allowed greed and overconfidence to cause it to misread its proper place in the grand scheme of things.
Now, it is time for the NASCAR organization to get back to the things it does well in the places best suited for its product.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*Click the link below to listen to my latest podcast, “Does NASCAR need TV blackouts and fist fights?”
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