One of my favorite sportswriters, Jeff Gluck of JeffGluck.com, recently tweeted a question on social media. He asked about NASCAR’s continuing decline in attendance revenue, “What is the reason it continues to decline now that the economy can no longer be used as an excuse?”
Jeez, Not Another One of Those What’s Wrong With NASCAR Articles
There is little doubt in my mind that greater minds than I are busy at work trying to address that very thing. One thing I know for sure, it’s not just one single thing at play here. Calling it a “Perfect Storm” might be a bit of hyperbole. Let’s just call it a “Storm”.
The Sport is Losing Stars
Since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt, there has been a void that many fans of the “Intimidator” have not been able to fill. There is not a week that goes by that I don’t chat with a former NASCAR fan who starts his/her answer to my question of why they are no longer fans, with “I use to be a Dale fan.” Dale’s death was 17 years ago but that pain inflicted on the sport is still being felt today.
Dale’s tragic death looms large but other stars have left the sport in the last decade. You don’t lose a Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. without it having an adverse impact on the sport.
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and William Byron have the skill to capture many of the fans of drivers no longer in the sport. The question remains, will they?
Technology advancements have equalized the field to the point where its more about the car than the driver. NASCAR President Brent Dewar told me recently that many of the newest changes NASCAR has made for the 2018 season were made to put the emphasis back more on the backs of the athletes.
The decline in on track excitement may not have started with the Car of Tomorrow (COT) but it sure brought us a new age of racing stinkness. For years, NASCAR has been looking for that right downforce formula. The new Chevrolets, along with last year’s new Camry, give hope that the corner has finally been turned.
The mile and a half tracks are pretty, I’ll give you that. Large concourses, lots of concession options, and pretty good sightlines are all good things, right? But who gives a crap if you have a good sandwich and good view of a product that is as exciting as watching your neighbor mow his lawn?
For many fans, the off-track entertainment options are nice and all but isn’t it all about the race? Like Bill Parcells was once quoted as saying, “I don’t wanna hear about the pain just show me the baby.” In the end, for NASCAR it should be more about the on-track event.
These mile and a half tracks have not given fans the kind of excitement that would encourage them to come back or encourage the casual fan to attend. These tracks have been a failure where it matters most. Racing.
Traditionalist vs Millennials
I often hear from fans the dislike of some of the things NASCAR has implemented recently. Many refer to these new rules as gimmicks. Have age racing and the new playoff done more to attract fans or more to turn fans away?
In fairness to NASCAR, many of these new rules were implemented as a result of sagging attendance and declining TV ratings. NASCAR gets credit for taking some action instead of standing pat while the ship continues to sink.
I think the jury is still out on many of these new rules but I would hope that tweaks or additional action is being debated among the NASCAR brain trust. At least there’s an attempt by NASCAR to do something.
I know the economy is better, at least that’s what I read in the paper but my wallet hasn’t heard that yet. A couple of years ago after a bad storm, a large area was without power for days. There were many gas stations, seizing on the opportunity, that raised the price of gas.
People were all up in arms yelling and screaming about the unfairness of it all. You could hardly blame them. Even some States Attorney Generals brought price gouging charges against these businesses, levying large fines against them.
NASCAR fans tend to travel distances to the track, often finding the need for food, gas and lodging. When you have a free moment, go to a hotel reservation website. Look at an area where there is a NASCAR event scheduled. Check the rate of a hotel room nearby on a random weekend. Now check the rate of that same hotel for the weekend of the NASCAR event. See a trend?
I understand businesses are free to make a profit. It’s their livelihood. But for many fans whose wallets have not yet discovered that the economy has improved, the cost associated with attending a race is not yet doable.
I hate writing about what’s wrong with NASCAR articles. There’s a lot more to be excited about this sport than in a long time. Social media has allowed us to follow the drivers more than ever possible before. Technology has given us in car scanner, raceview and Hi Def clarity to enjoy the races.
There’s a whole new group of young drivers ready to carry the sport into the next decades. The cars will get better, the racing will improve and new innovations will move the sport into its next chapter. There’s a lot to be optimistic about. NASCAR and its partners are going to right this ship. Probably a lot sooner than many of us think.
While many will want to wallow in the “What’s wrong with NASCAR” seats, I’ll walk by you and sit in the “We’ve got a bright future” section.
Thanks for reading. Listen to WTBQ Radio on Monday and Friday mornings as I join Frank, Taylor and the Morning Show gang to discuss the current happening in NASCAR. 1110AM, 93.5FM or online at WTBQ.com. Follow me on twitter @JimLaplante
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