NASCAR Sprint Cup: 10 Reasons Attendance Is Falling Across the Board
It is hardly a secret that attendance has dropped off at NASCAR tracks and nowhere was that more evident than recently at Bristol Motor Speedway. There is a convergence of reasons that have led to this phenomenon.
NASCAR racing, especially at its highest level, the Sprint Cup Series, has displayed some of the most competitive races we have seen in years.
The 2011 Chase for the Championship was one for the record books with the total domination of Tony Stewart, the title winner, who won half the races and tied Carl Edwards in the final points.
The 2012 season is off to a hot start with NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for nine consecutive years, currently second in the point standings and contending for wins.
Danica Patrick is making Cup appearances along with her full-time competition in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. She brings attention to the sport whether you are a fan of hers or not.
Changes with teams have made stronger contenders out of some drivers, while others fight to maintain a reasonable position in the points. Points are precious, as are wins, if one is to make the Chase.
With all the great racing we have seen this season, it seems there is more at play than just the economy that has caused the drop in ticket sales at each venue.
In this slideshow a variety of issues will be addressed that have created this situation. It just may be that times have changed and even a rebounding economy may not solve the problem.
New Generation Fan
The love of NASCAR sometimes passes down through generations when young children are exposed to the sport through family and friends as they grow to adults.
Overall, the younger generation doesn't get exposed to working on cars, going to local short tracks and having the fascination with automobiles that the prior generations did.
The "car guy and gal" generation has been replaced by those who prefer the latest and greatest in technology. Most people would not be able to work on the new cars even if they wanted to.
Instead of being concerned with how much horsepower a car might have, the interest is focused on how to interface electronics with the car, inputs for devices and technological features.
Certainly, people are still into cars and how fast they go. Likely those people also enjoy motorsports, but the percentage of those people has declined.
Car of Today
The COT was introduced in 2007 by NASCAR. It was known as the Car of Tomorrow and has now become known as the Car of Today.
The COT was used during a partial schedule in 2007 with an original mandate of using it for the full Sprint Cup schedule in 2009, but it was moved to 2008.
The boxier styled cars were supposed to reduce costs for teams across the board and be a much safer race car with changes that increased driver protection.
The fans didn't accept the uniformity of all the cars that had no resemblance to cars seen in the local dealer showrooms.
The COT no doubt contributed to some fans drifting away from NASCAR.
The 2013 edition of the Cup car is going back to resembling models you might see on the street in hopes of drawing fans back to the old saying of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
Many NASCAR fans have always been either Chevy or Ford loyalists. Now we have the Toyota Camry very much a part of the sport as is Dodge, at least for 2012.
The price per gallon of gas might indeed be cheaper if our cars could be powered by Diet Dew as decaled on this race car.
Unfortunately, the price we pay at the pump has become a burden on the general public, despite the addition of ethanol.
Traveling to a race is expensive and even if it is a one day trip, the cost of getting there has reached a level many cannot afford or justify.
Fans fortunate enough to have luxurious motor homes or those camping with a pick-up truck must prioritize the value of going to a race as do the fans who buy tickets for the grandstands.
There are many spectacular tracks on the NASCAR circuit, such as Talladega, Daytona, Bristol and Charlotte Motor Speedway to name a few.
Fans can never get the true impact of Sprint Cup racing if they have never seen a race at one of these great tracks in person.
Today, we have our high definition, big-screen televisions in the comfort of our homes. Some enhance the experience with surround sound or the magic of media rooms.
Even if money is not a problem, it may be hard to take ourselves away from the comforts of home to view a race in person.
Television coverage can sometimes be annoying with commercial interruptions or poor commentary by certain analysts, but still there is no place like home.
It is sometimes thought there are fans who go to races just to see the wrecks. Perhaps there are those types of people, but for the most part, a fan just wants to see good, action-packed racing.
The plethora of 1.5-mile tracks and a few other tracks lend themselves to extended periods of long, green-flag racing. Despite who is leading, let's face it, the racing can get boring.
NASCAR has been blamed for needless cautions, be it valid or not, but it does reset the stage for more action with restarts. It is not always a good thing, though, if you ask David Reutimann.
The bumping and banging that is part of racing results in crashes. As long as everyone is safe, that is a good thing.
Races need action that include wrecks, spins and debris cautions. It keeps the fans from switching stations, then coming back for the final few laps to see how the race plays out.
Lodging is one of the most important parts of the NASCAR experience for those who attend races. Fans may stay from one night to more than a week.
Those who wish to stay for less than two or three nights often are out of luck with the minimum number of nights mandated by local hotels and motels.
These same hotels and motels are also allowed to gouge the public with room rates going to two, three, four or more times the regular nightly rate during NASCAR events.
Some tracks are working hard with those in the lodging industry to cut room rates, but those rooms are scarce and often rooms are limited in some areas so there are no deals.
Bristol Motor Speedway is one such area that severely lacks places for people to stay unless they choose to do the camping thing or travel for more than an hour to get to the race track.
It is no wonder that people think twice, especially in a tight economy, about the hassle and expense of lodging. They instead opt to stay home and watch the show on television.
Aging Fan Base
The baby-boomer and beyond fans are the ones who built the diehard fan base for NASCAR. It is the aging, loyal fans who helped make the sport what it is.
As the senior generation continues to mature, they are not being replaced by the younger people who will be loyal supporters of NASCAR and continue the same size fan base.
NASCAR has pulled out the stops for attracting the coveted 18-34-year old demographic. They do draw them in, but their attention span is shorter.
It seems inevitable that in the future there will be fewer fans at the races unless NASCAR pulls some magic rabbit out of a hat.
The sport of NASCAR has become such a high-dollar sport, that drivers must live the jet-setting lifestyle to not only get to the races, but meet the obligations they face.
There is a disconnect between the average fan and the drivers who make millions of dollars each year. Obviously, not all drivers make that much, but the bulk of the drivers in the top series of NASCAR do.
The days of watching the drivers up close and personal are long gone. They are isolated by their handlers, and with few exceptions, the drivers go from plush motor homes to haulers and to the garage area then back again.
Drivers try to interact with fans during pre-race ceremonies and fan-zone type activities, but it is difficult as they go about doing their jobs.
During the bigger race weeks like Memorial Day and Speedweeks, a fan might be able to get a photo and autograph at special events.
Some fans feel that drivers land in these plush rides without going through the school of hard knocks much like the "Intimidator" or Richard Petty and David Pearson did.
Life isn't quite as tough for most as it was back in the day for NASCAR's best drivers. It just may be that fans miss having more drivers that seem to be one of them.
Social Media and Technology
The world moves at a fast pace and we are indeed in an age of instant gratification. We seek ways to find information on the fly and interact with a keypad.
Even drivers, like Brad Keselowski, are tied to their mobile phones and cars are tuned with laptops. Tweeting is an instant way to keep people informed and it allows NASCAR's drivers to draw in fans.
Social media, YouTube videos, live streaming of events on computers and mobile devices are supposedly a good thing, but does it really make for long-term fans that broaden the NASCAR fan base?
It probably does not.
The convenience factor of all this fast-moving technology allows people to check in on the sports they enjoy without going to the venue or sitting for hours in front of the television.
The sport was built on strong driver rivalries like Richard Petty and David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip and others.
Today the fans have their favorite drivers, but the rivalry factor is no longer a big part of the sport. Multi-car teams, sponsor demands and the political correctness of NASCAR forces drivers to show less personality.
The loss of strong, polarizing rivalries and controversial personalities may be another reason that fans have pulled back from NASCAR.
Drivers perhaps need to have at it more with trash talking and a few fist fights now and then. After all, NASCAR is not just racing, it is entertainment.