Since NASCAR no longer provides attendance figures for its races, one can only assume by the photos and the inability to hide empty seats from TV cameras, that despite Kentucky Speedway owner Bruton Smith asking for forgiveness for the track’s 2011 snafu, fans are reluctant to accept the billionaire’s apology.
Or, perhaps fans are willing to let bygones be bygones; they just aren’t willing to shell out big bucks to watch a snoozer of a race. NASCAR spin doctors can do their best to gloss over empty seats, to explain away sliding TV ratings and less than full fields in all of its “Big 3” series, but the bottom line is people simply aren’t buying as much of a product that is its own version of a down-sized box of corn flakes still being sold at its old price.
I have been a race fan for decades. I don’t live in the southeast USA where NASCAR was born, so the race tracks I went to years ago were dirt, and still are. Grassroots racing is suffering. Most tracks have seen attendance drops, and just like with NASCAR, local promoters want to blame the economy. I am sure that the economy hasn’t helped the situation, but I am just as sure that many people have the same entertainment dollars to spend; they choose to spend them on other options.
At one time I would go to as many as 30 nights of racing a year. I would go to weekly racing at a track about an hour away, and I would venture to special races 100 miles or more away. Now I do not attend weekly races as all, and go to maybe 10-12 specials a year. I am willing to drive further though, and on a number of occasions will stay overnight after attending a race. I still have the same amount of entertainment dollars as I did 5-10 years ago, I just spend them on options other than racing because I do not like the product being put out as much as I used to. It is simply not the same quality.
Local tracks suffer immediately for ignoring fans, while NASCAR owners the France family and NASCAR Sprint Cup tracks are seemingly immune from such pain because of the incredible amount of money spent on NASCAR race by TV networks-spent despite ratings that spiral down, not up. Empty seats in grandstands are made up by bigger amounts received from TV. The feelings of one network TV executive carry far more weight with NASCAR officials than the feelings of 10,000 fans.
If you think this is going to change anytime soon, guess again. NASCAR has contracts with FOX Sports and NBC that run through 2024. The contracts are worth billions of dollars. So like so many others things, the rich continue soaring in private jets and the middle class fans passionate about the sport don’t have a voice.
Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to have racing put out a product like it did in the early 1990’s? Fans want a product like that, and if they got that, it seems like seats that go empty at almost every track would actually have fans butts plopping down. More fans at the track mean more souvenir and concession sales. More fans would return to the telecasts they now avoid like the plague. Isn’t more income a good thing? Wouldn’t more fans at the track and watching on TV be good for corporate sponsors who foot a major part of the bill of putting race cars on the track?
I don’t have an MBA. I don’t work on Wall Street or Madison Avenue. I don’t have a NASCAR pedigree. But I think I have a little common sense. Thousands and thousands and thousands of other do too. Why is it easy for us to see the problem, to offer suggestions and potential, but nearly impossible for the powers that be to come up with anything but gimmicks that don’t seem to work.
Yes, I am a frustrated fan. But one who still cares, who really does want the NASCAR golden years to be in the future, not the past. Thanks for stopping by.