“NASCAR’s Trouble at the Track,” an overview of the sport’s economic troubles, in Forbes Magazine.
Well, the twice-yearly Fontana race weekend is over. Based on what I’ve been reading, some considered the racing terrific — history was made by Busch and repeated for only the fifth time by Kenseth (wins first two Sprint Cup races of the season in a row). Still, many others are saying all three races — truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup — were B-O-R-I-N-G!!! And many have noted that attendance was down — AGAIN — and that television ratings (not yet announced) would also be down — too much competition with golf, Tour of California, and the Oscars.
So, what’s NASCAR to do?
First, I suggest going back to one race in Fontana and moving the second Sprint Cup date to Kentucky (I know, ISC giving a date to Speedway Motorsports Inc. is probably not going to happen). At least NASCAR could try it out to see whether Kentucky is viable (apparently it is for Nationwide and trucks).
Second, NASCAR needs to start races at a reasonable time; unless a race is a night race (like RIR), the race should start by 2 p.m. Eastern time. And, finally, NASCAR needs to do better research about competing events in and around the various tracks so as to maximize both attendance and TV viewership.
And that’s the view from here.
Although TV viewership was down slightly for the Bud Shoot-out and Dual 125s from last year, both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup TV ratings were up from a year ago. Sunday’s Daytona 500 scored increased average audience, total audience, and household ratings compared to 2008. Still, these ratings are only about 1% above last year. Supposedly, the race was a sell-out but one must wonder how many tickets might have been “freebies” just before the race started.
Still, NASCAR has to be pleased with both the TV and track numbers. But I continue to hold to the belief that California next week and Atlanta two weeks later will be a more correct reading of how NASCAR might fare this season. Also, it will be interesting to see how many teams attempt to make the show at California and Las Vegas, both long commutes for the underfunded teams.
My prediction is for full fields because the season is young and those teams without full-season sponsors need to show their merit on the track to entice additional sponsor dollars. But if those sponsor dollars don’t appear, the view from here is that the fields will not be full before arriving in Richmond on May 1.
— Economy waving yellow flag on NASCAR (Indianapolis Star).
— NASCAR could learn from Waffle House (Fulton County News)
— Being his own boss puts Stewart in fast company (USA Today)
— NASCAR expects lower attendance in 2009 (Reuters)
— How NASCAR became a U.S. institution (Guardian)
— Will economy put the brakes on NASCAR’s surge? (Salt Lake Tribune)
— Saggine economy has affected NASCAR and its fans in similar ways (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
— Fox’s cartoon gopher Digger goes after dollars for NASCAR (USA Today)
— In economic downshift, NASCAR lives within means (Florida Today)
— Racing’s hard times hitting area businesses (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
A lot has transpired since we left Homestead last November — much of it unsettling. However, after finishing my cup of tea, I looked down at the tea leaves to see what they might be saying. So here are my five prognostications for 2009. All deal in some respect with the current economic times and what Mike and I fondly call THE BUSINESS OF NASCAR.
#5: Success breeds success — but small success. For example, Juan Montoya appears to be on most everyone’s radar screen as possibly breaking through this year. If he does, his success will pale compared to the top contenders for the Sprint title. Still, if JPM does well, it might encourage other second-tier teams. And don’t forget Tony and Ryan.
#4: After the first few races, the starting grid will not be full. True, “field fillers” will be around but with costs spiraling, the field fillers won’t have deep enough pockets to hang around all season (see the Camping World Truck Series for proof).
#3: The dearth of big-time sponsors provides a fertile field for short-term, smaller sponsors who can get in on the action at a much lower cost. And, if they’re savvy, they’ll arrange contracts that allow them to stay on at the same price in the following year or two. Problem: keeping track of your driver because the paint scheme changes after other week to accommodate these new sponsors.
#2: Rich get richer: Any way you spell Hendrick, Childress, Roush, and Gibbs, you come up with dollar signs. Because they have the deep pockets, they have all the toys at their shops that continue to give them the advantage over the other guys. It’s doubtful anyone from outside these four shops will be in the Chase come September.
#1: Greed takes second place. Even the high rollers in Beverly Hills are reported to be shopping quietly and not flaunting their wealth. NASCAR will also stop talking $$$. When Kyle Petty says that NASCAR is 3.5 hours of weekly racing and the rest of the time is business, NASCAR will quickly recognize the need to tone down its business hype.
And that’s the view from here.
I have been thinking about humility a lot lately — not sure why but I do think it is a good issue for all of us to consider.
We often are too tied up with following the economics of others that I think we miss a part of who we are. And that’s a good issue to ponder when it comes to NASCAR and its fans.
Let’s examine …
Just who is NASCAR? And who are its fans? No, no, I don’t mean the endless dissection that results in a freeflow of statistics. I mean who are we and what do we (as fans) want? What will make us satisifed? What do we seek?
This is a valuable question to ask because it is why NASCAR is continually validated-by sponsors, fans, et.al.
The answer is that I don’t know …
Because, honestly, I mean, really honestly, NASCAR doesn’t even need (dare I say it?) to … exist.
So, there it lies, in all its stone coldness. What we want I can’t say. But I can say something to NASCAR, something that I think they ‘get’ but of which I still need more proof. That something is the theme of my little corner here … being humble.
So NASCAR — go back to your fans, show them you get it, tone down the ‘rockstar’ image.
… And be humble that anyone comes at all.
That’s My View from Here
Last November I was quoted by Sarah Rothschild in the Miami Herald regarding the effect of the halting economy on NASCAR. That quote dealt with the diminished discretionary money that fans could use to attend races. I suggested that tracks should consider lowering their ticket prices, “but that’s not going to happen,” I stated. Well, lo and hold, we’ve seen several tracks do just that, as well as take other steps to make racing more affordable for fans.
Still, costs are not coming down and NASCAR, track owners, and team owners will continue to see a decline in revenue from the various sources. In fact, faced with the prospect of race attendance falling off, Bruton Smith has suggested that the television networks consider a local blackout if a race hasn’t been sold out — much like the NFL has done with televised games that haven’t sold out locally.
The sentiment has not been held by Paul Brooks, ESPN senior vice president, who indicated that ESPN has no such intentions; he feels that fans shouldn’t suffer simply because they can’t afford to attend a race. And David Hill, CEO of Fox Sports, in a Dustin Long (Landmark Communications) column when asked about Smith’s comment, stated “I thought it was total bull—-.I thought he had absolutely turned his back on the fans….”)
In fact, the local fans will probably be in the stands because they’re not faced with three-to-five night hotel minimum stays, long drives even with falling gas prices, or the need to spend money for meals. Rather, it’s the fans who in the past drove a couple of hundred miles for an extended weekend at the track that will probably be the casualties of the economy.
What I think this entire scenario surrounding the upcoming season suggests is that those of us who follow NASCAR closely will see many new innovative approaches to maintaining the fan base. Clearly, it’s time now for NASCAR to tighten its belt and the belts of all those involved in the racing community. Now is not the time to gouge the loyal fan; now is the time for NASCAR to tell everyone involved in the sport — from track owner to team owner to hotel operator to concessionaire — to treat our fans with the respect their loyalty deserves. Lower ticket prices seem to be the first such step in the approach to serving the fans.
And that’s the view from here.
Next week, my prognostications for the upcoming season — for what they’ll be worth.
So are you tired of it yet? Have you seen enough, heard enough, felt enough, maybe even cried enough? Do the numbers coming from your TV set, your radio, your government just make your eyes glaze (or tear) over?
Are you wondering where and when it will all end?
Have you had enough of $1,400 wastebaskets, large bonuses for failing managers, and folks who just straight out don’t ‘get it’?
Had enough of the feeling of a general economic ‘funk’?
Yeah, me too.
So what does all of this have to do with NASCAR?
Let’s be real — every fan, whether casual or fanatic, realizes that deep down sport is a safety valve, a pleasure, an escape.
NASCAR is no different.We get a rush from watching drivers ply their craft one inch away from a competitor while going 200mph. We love the carnival atmosphere, the chance to, well, ‘release’ – release from whatever daily ills and pressures we are feeling; and – for a few hours, at least – be somewhere else, doing something else, and having a few moments of pleasure.
In my mind, NASCAR has a heavy responsibilty and has gone silent. With Daytona right upon us, the excitement seems muted, the discussions softer, the rivalries more dim.
With that ‘funk’ I alluded to earlier, folks just are saying “I don’t know” . What it is they think is missing is hard to describe – but, well, they just don’t feel quite right.
That’s why my (wish?, goal?, desire?, fantasy?) for this year is to see NASCAR become a beacon for saying to its fans,and the public in general — “It’s going to be ok,and we may be a bit battered but we are coming out of the darkness and into the light — and you are too.”
Remember — Hope always springs eternal.