By admin | August 5, 2009
By Richard Allen
Have you noticed all those empty seats and statistics showing lowered television ratings in NASCAR lately? If you have followed the sport at all during the 2009 season then you almost certainly have.
Well, NASCAR has an answer as to why those things are happening. Simply, it is the economy causing the reductions in the grandstands and television screens. However, there is something wrong with that explanation.
If the economy were the only reason for lowered attendance at the track then television ratings, at least in theory, should rise if the sport were as popular as it had been in the past. Even if fans were unable to afford tickets and a trip to the track, they would still watch on television if they enjoyed the product being offered.
Even with a lagging economy, if the sport were entertaining enough, people would find a way to make it work. They would skimp somewhere else and make the sacrifices to attend something they love. However, they are not inspired to do so. That is why the attendance is falling off. The sport is not as inspiring as it once was.
To further counter the “it’s the economy” argument, consider this. In recent weeks I have been to numerous dirt track races held at the tracks here in east Tennessee. At 411 Motor Speedway, Volunteer Speedway, Tazewell Speedway and The Mountain Raceway the crowds have been large and enthusiastic.
“I believe our crowds have been better this year,” said 411 Motor Speedway promoter Chris Corum. “I’m not so sure the economy hasn’t actually helped us.”
Granted, tickets prices are not as steep for dirt racing as they are for a Sprint Cup race. However, the folks who attend dirt races are the most likely to be affected by an economic downturn. Many fans and competitors alike in that form of racing are involved in the housing trade as well as industrial jobs. Those sources of employment are the hardest hit when the economy goes sour.
No matter the cost of the tickets, whether it is $10 at 411 or $100 at Bristol, if a person does not have it, they do not have it. However, if the show they want to see is good enough they will be inspired to find a way. It is not just the economy, NASCAR is not inspiring them to find a way.
“The fans that follow dirt racing are hard core fans,” Corum added. “They know the sport inside and out. They know what body, chassis and engine every one of the drivers are using”
NASCAR had those type of fans several years ago. The hard core fans who centered their lives around that form of racing. However, NASCAR brass decided over the last decade or so to abandon long time markets such as the Carolinas and Tennessee to chase after new fans in California and other big city markets.
Those new fans turned out to be fickle, or at best casual. When the times got tough, they dropped NASCAR. Now, NASCAR finds itself needing those core fans and they are no longer there.
Corum says those fans have found a new home. “People who may not be able to afford going to a Cup race anymore might choose to come to their local short track instead,” he declared.
Sorry, NASCAR. The bad economy excuse does not fully explain your dilemma. You have lost your core fans and you can no longer inspire new ones. Changes better be made soon because the economy will eventually turn around. Then, there will be no excuses aside from the product on the track for having less than full grandstands and blank television screens.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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