Saturday, April 14, 2007

NASCAR Race Attendance & TV Ratings: Downward Trend or Fed Up Fans?

Hello again from Indy race fans-

Every now and then someone writes in the MSM or TV's talking heads rattle on about the lack of butts in the seats at NASCAR races or a decline in TV ratings. I have my own theory and wonder whether it is even a real issue, or whether it falls into the Barnum category of any publicity is good publicity. My observation, from personal experience at the Brickyard and from watching races on TV, is that race tracks are not selling out like they used to and it may or may not be about the NASCAR product. The photo with this article is in Turn 1 at the 2006 Brickyard and there were actually more empty seats there this year than for the Indy 500 for the first time in my recollection.

The most obvious culprit is the economy. Corporate ticket buying undoubtedly has come down as mergers and acquisitions squeeze marketing budgets. A side effect is people are scared of losing their jobs; if they are not comfortable that their company is going to be there next week, or are afraid of getting downsized in a cost cutting spree, then people naturally are going to keep their money in the bank and stay home and couch race.

I don't believe that is the real issue however. What I believe is happening is a function of a personal decision whether or not to be a race fan. Race fans are a special breed of sports fan, braving ridiculous traffic in and out of tracks. Getting there early for a good parking space. Waiting hours and hours for the race to start. Drying out after rain delays and more waiting. Dealing with drunks and expensive concessions and souvenirs. Long lines at restrooms. Surviving extreme heat in aluminum bleachers in the summer. Dragging coolers, cameras, kids, and other gear miles to seats, only to wait some more. Hurry up and wait all day. Then the reverse pilgrimage back to the car when the race is over. More drunks. More ridiculous traffic. Tired, hot, short tempered, and dreading the next day's alarm clock to go back to the workday grind.

Who in their right mind would put up with that? True race fans, that's who. The ones that deal with all the above and can't wait to tell their friends. Or who call their friends while the cars are on the track just to be able to share the noise with someone who can't attend. The ones who have their year planned out around which races to attend.

That's the personal decision I'm talking about. And I think that lots of people become NASCAR fans from the marketing juggernaut that is Nextel Cup, and from watching the races on TV. So maybe they decide to go see a race. What happens? They can't stand the crowds, or the waiting, or decide that couch racing is infinitely easier, especially when they can TIVO the whole thing and watch at their leisure. It's just too damn much trouble for most normal people to put up with.

But then no one ever accused race fans of being normal. I know I certainly am not, and have not. Will I see you at the race track?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Helio Rules at St. Pete in Indy Racing League Round 2

Helio, Helio, wherefor art thou Helio?

In the lead on the temporary circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Where else would he be? At least it seems that way with the way he has controlled these St. Pete events, and not even consistent pressure from Scott Dixon could force him off his line. Penske precision in the pits got Helio in and out unscathed every time and he never put a wheel wrong all day. The same could not be said for teammate Sam Hornish, Jr., however as he drifted wide in Turn 1 and lost three spots in one corner. It's tough to drive with one eye in the mirrors but Helio seems to have mastered it.

With the deadline for Indy entries coming up soon and two oval tracks up next on the schedule, could Helio just be practicing his fence climbing for 500 win #3? And how many pit stops will it take to finish Indy now with the smaller fuel cell? Nine or 10 minimum would be my guess, so now there's even less margin for error on pit road than ever before, and everyone knows the margin is razor thin on the race track at Indy anyway.

Is it May yet?