2011-01-06 / Sports

Slipping Revenue Hurting NASCAR

By Gerald Hodges
THE RACING REPORTER

Many sports writers and racing philosophers have attempted to point out what is wrong with NASCAR. I’m not going to try and follow their words, because I don’t have any concrete answers, especially when it comes to the drop in television viewers.

But I have attended the races, talked with fans, track and stadium personnel, as well as NASCAR officials. And without a doubt, the economy is hurting the sport.

One main theme that NASCAR has focused on for the past year or two is the loss of fans from ages 18-35. This is the largest single group of fans that are leaving the sport.

If NASCAR officials could come to a point when they can call an orange an orange, and not try to make it into an apple, they might be able to find the correct answers..

Stock car racing was born in the South, raised in the South, and continues to be a Southern sport. NASCAR has tried to make its brand of racing into a worldwide sport, but let’s face it, not everyone cares for it.

Racing in itself hasn’t lost its appeal to younger fans, but stock car racing as it currently exists has. Kids today are turned on by things like extreme motocross and XGames.

The younger generation craves more excitement. I believe that is why the National Football League is doing so well. They have more hard-hitting, down-to-earth, shove-it-down-your-throat action than other traditional sports, especially NASCAR.

The younger group cares more for this type action than baseball or NASCAR.

There used to be lots more younger people that followed veteran racers, but all those old drivers are dead. The new ones will never have the appeal or charisma of the older ones.

Jimmie Johnson has been called the world’s greatest stock car driver. But where is his greatness? It’s certainly not in his thrilling on-track performance he put on for the past five years.

Jimmie Johnson is the perfect example of a “Corporate Driver.”

Compare him with Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was not one of those darling, politically correct drivers. He was just the opposite. Drivers and fans knew he was going to put on a show and give it his all during every race

Johnson has all the best of everything. Earnhardt didn’t. Richard Childress told me in 1996 that the team had fallen behind the ‘learning curve.’ “We relied too much on Dale,” he said. “We knew Dale could take a car that was not up to par and win more races than someone with better and faster equipment.”

A hero is one that performs heroic deeds through his own abilities.

If you will look back through history at popular drivers, you will find the ones that are best remembered are the ones that persevered over difficult situations.

While many NASCAR races have become boring during the middle stages of a race, the slipping revenue that fans have available is also part of the slump in track attendance.

It isn’t just NASCAR tracks that are hurting. With the exception of the NFL, which is having a banner year, most other forms of sports and entertainment venues are hurting. They’ve felt the pocket book pinch for several years.

The last two years was tough for the entertainment and concert business, as high ticket prices kept many fans at home. Promoters now say they plan to make shows more affordable in 2011. But they’ll also try to sell more T-shirts and other merchandise to make up for lost revenue.

Heading into last summer, usually the busiest time of the year, prices were set too high despite the sluggish economy. Managers and promoters believed fans would keep paying for the one or two concerts they see on average each year.

Instead, many stayed home and dozens of shows were canceled. Lots of venues filled seats with fire-sale prices.

Records show that most NASCAR tracks’ revenue began to slip in 2005. The next year was even worse. This is when most track owners knew they had to change their pricing strategy.

But general attendance is only one of several revenue streams.

“It would be hard for us to make it, if we didn’t have sponsors,” said Atlanta Motor Speedway’s general manager, Ed Clark. “We rely on that money. It helps us turn a profit, but more importantly, it helps keep the fans ticket prices lower.”

With lower revenue, it doesn’t take many companies discontinuing their sponsorships or luxury suites to eat into the bottom line, Clark said.

In 2009, ticket prices began to come down at least $ 10 at practically all NASCAR tracks. Some of the more expensive seats were more heavily discounted. Although the average ticket price is expected to fall a little more in 2011, attendance is still expected to drop.

Bill Haley is a district sales manager for a retail office supply company in Marietta, Ga. He lives just west of Douglasville, Ga. His home is about midway between the Atlanta and Talladega tracks.

“It has just gotten too expensive for me,” said Bill. “My income is down from two years ago. We used to attend four to six races per year. Paying over $400 for decent seats for four people at each race is just too much.

“Talladega has reduced their prices about 15 per cent, but we’re still going to have to limit the number of races to one or two next year.

“Just can’t afford to go like we used to.”

Combine the economy, long-boring races and you have a partial answer to the unfilled seats at most NASCAR races.

Racing trivia question: Who was the driver that won three Cup championships while driving for Junior Johnson?

Last week’s question: Which Cup team will Ryan Newman drive for in 2011? Answer. He will continue to drive the No. 39 for Stewart- Haas Racing.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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