As the Wheel Turns: Will Sprint Cup Races Be Blacked Out If Not Sold Out?

David YeazellSenior Analyst ISeptember 5, 2009

As the wheel turns is an irregular publication that tries to answer questions, solve conundrums and extricate quagmires occurring on race day and throughout the racing community.

While I try to cover all the bizarre strategies by drivers or crew, and sometimes aberrant decisions by NASCAR, there are times when one event may take up the main focus of an article.

This is one of those articles.

During the recent broadcast of a popular NASCAR radio show, a media writer brought up the subject of NASCAR races being blacked out if the race was not sold out.

The host and the media writer both seemed encouraged by this idea.

When major networks advertise a broadcast schedule for the NFL, there is always a disclaimer that games are subject to local blackout. This blackout is instituted if the local game is not sold out by a certain time.

Like NASCAR, the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB have permanent stadiums located in select cities. Where NASCAR is unique is their stadiums, or tracks, are used only once, sometimes twice a year. A typical NFL stadium is used 10-12 times a season.

Not long ago there was a minor league hockey team in my town. For the first few years attendance was always at 75 percent capacity or more. Then, in year three the team started broadcasting home and away games on the radio.

Needless to say it was much cheaper to listen to the game then it was to buy tickets, pay for parking and concessions. Over the next two years attendance nose dived and the team eventually folded and left town.

Times are tough right now. It certainly is much cheaper to watch a race than it is to attend one. Some fans say it’s their vacation money they spend, or a treat to attend one or maybe even two races instead of several each year.

Television attendance, like track attendance, has been dropping steadily also. Is blacking out a broadcast really going to help things? Wouldn’t that cause ratings to plummet even more?

There are over 500,000 people in Atlanta. If the Pep Boys 500 is 4,000 tickets short of being sold out, is NASCAR going to black out the local broadcast?

Even if only 10 percent of Atlanta watches the TV broadcast, is it prudent to deny the advertisers 50,000 potential customers versus 4000 less fans at the track?

NASCAR has said they understand the economic pain fans are suffering right now. They have lowered ticket prices at some venues, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to fill the seats.

Reducing a ticket 20 percent is a great start. But if the ticket is $120.00 to start with, then it’s still almost $100.00 after discount. When you factor in taking a wife, girlfriend, or both, parking and any type of food or beverage, you are still out $300 dollars, or more.

Sure, there are cheaper seats. But any seasoned race fan knows you don’t see a race from the cheap seats. You see car tops and pieces of rubber between your teeth. Most tracks have jumbo screens you can watch. This does allow for more of the overall race to be seen. But, parking, food and beverages still cost the same in the cheap seats.

At this time, does a lazy boy, a cold beer and a 50” HD TV seem like a better set up?

Sold out races, except for maybe Bristol or the Daytona 500, are a thing of the past.

A friend who owns a local Harley- Davidson dealership told me he is selling more higher end motorcycles than he is the cheaper ones. If things are so bad, how is this possible? It’s simple. There are those with money who are unaffected by these tough times. They have the money to spend.

More and more NASCAR fans are showing they don’t have the money to spend. When the tracks get a handle on this, and react accordingly, then the seats will start filling up again.

Is it a quick fix? That’s doubtful. Can it be fixed? Yes, it certainly can be fixed. It will take time: maybe more time than NASCAR is willing to allow for some venues.

NASCAR has always been able to sell its self. The fix is not forcing ticket sales by blacking out local broadcasts.

This stratagem is neither a good tactic nor strategy. It will only alienate fans and drive away any potential fans. It's tough to be convinced that any advertisers would pay for exposure with the possibility of being denied locally.