Aerial shot of Kentucky Speedway shows empty stands for the inaugural night race, Saturday, June 28, 2014. Photo via Twitter
What exactly is wrong with NASCAR racing today?
Are fans just getting plain tired of the constant changes? Tired of being treated unfairly and rudely at the track?
Or does it feel as though fans are just being taken advantage of?
A majority of the time, racing is exciting, but it does depend on the track. I’ll give it that. Green-white-checkered finishes has the fan (as well as myself) sitting on the edge of their seat, getting ready to crush that beer can (or bottle of water for the under 21 fans).
Yet, we do get in some long lulls of, yes, hate to say it, but boring racing. Sometimes it can be classified as the old cliché of just watching a “bunch of cars going around in circles.” Watching the race from Michigan International Speedway (June 15th), I thought to myself, “What am I watching exactly?”
There was nothing about racing happening on that Sunday.
At one point, there were 18 cars on the lead lap with green flag runs like it was going out of style. Driver’s complaining about the wind, pushing cars, making it unbearable to race…
So I ask this:
Why are some teams (Chevy – Hendrick Motorsports: Jimmie Johnson/3 wins, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2 wins) doing great, while other top competing teams are not?
Well according to Brad Keselowski, (Ford – Penske Racing/2 wins) one factor is that, we, the United States that is, is not producing top racing engineers for race teams.
OK – so our training programs are too low of a standard for Penske Racing?
According to AutoWeek, Team Penske has turned towards our Northern neighbor, Canada, to look for top racing engineers. “It’s just very hard to get engineers with the educational background and commitment that we need to be successful at this level from the United States,” stated Keselowski.
Race fans at Homestead-Miami Speedway show their support for their drivers. Photo by Sandi Goodall/Racingal.com
Fans are complaining there are way too many changes within NASCAR teams every year and it’s hard to stay focused. Race fans want to keep it simple. Pull out that same ‘ole t-shirt that was worn the previous season for the Daytona 500. At times, it’s hard keeping up with who is with what team, keeping up with the forever changing sponsors as well as driver merchandise. It gets awfully expensive. With that in mind, fans are just choosing not to buy their driver’s merchandise as much as they use to. Have you noticed the average looking race fan is in regular everyday clothes in the stands (sans driver t-shirts)? Sometimes it’s only the headsets that give it away, or the type of drink (beer, soda, energy drink – product placement – more to come on this topic) they have in hand to know who their driver is or that they are even at a race.
With that said, NASCAR is in the process of looking into plans of reducing souvenir rigs at races (aka as “Souvenir Row” at most tracks) and possibly eliminating them altogether. But do not fear, NASCAR is actually looking at possibly setting up stores at the entrances, such as what the PGA Tour currently do at their events. The evaluation of the merchandising rigs comes as declining merchandise sales continue in NASCAR. Sales reportedly fell from more than $2 billion in 2008 to $1 billion in 2010 alone.
NASCAR continuously changes the set-up/aero dynamics of what was once known as the Gen 6 car. They heard the uproar from fans (as well as the manufacturers) about how much the cars looked alike. They now have “stickers” and different front ends to help identify the manufacturer better. But was that enough?
Now they have a bad case of the “Aero Push” from down force they need to fix.
Then there’s Goodyear Tires. Oh, gosh – when they started producing different tires for different tracks using different compounds…. That’s a whole other article in itself.
NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Brian France recently met with Media and discussed that the competition group at NASCAR is basing decisions on science and technology. The new engine package that has been discussed this year are those efforts in part of NASCAR’s plan to lower the barrier of entry into the sport for owners and manufacturers.
Then came even more changes – the “No Hide-Height Rule” brought out by NASCAR. Also, don’t forget the new NASCAR Deterrence System (Technical Infractions) implemented this season where you have to try to remember at what level a team/driver has been penalized and look at the chart for the penalty incurred.
Carl Edwards does a guess appearance as announcer on ESPN. Photo courtesy of ESPN.
The Chase format changed as to where races have not become “a good points race” to a driver. We don’t hear that anymore. The question is, has NASCAR hurt themselves by doing this? My point is since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (who already holds two wins and Jimmie Johnson with his three), this season, giving both the “berth” for the Chase already, are their fans really inclined to watch more races leading up to the Chase, skip some races or just wait to tune in for when the Chase actually starts mid-September?
With ratings on the decline, NASCAR pretty much chose the escape clause, or easy way out if you will, by signing multi-billion dollar contracts to premium cable networks, such as TNT and Fox Sports 1. ESPN chose not to be a part of this. At some point, if not already, home cable bills have already seen an increase to help pay for this by their cable carriers. Fox Sports 2 is a paid channel. Some cable companies don’t even offer Fox Sports at either level. I, personally, will not subscribe ($10 to Brighthouse) to watch NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying and practices.
Viewership is down. The NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Michigan earned a 2.7 U.S. rating and 4.254 million viewers on TNT, down 4% in ratings and down 6% in viewership from last year and the lowest rated edition of the race since at least 1996. The previous low was a 2.8 rating for last year’s race. Michigan’s race also ranked as the lowest rated and least-viewed regular Sprint Cup telecast of the season.
Before that, Pocono had been ranked as the lowest rated and least-viewed regular Sprint Cup race of the season (June 8).
NASCAR on TNT tied the second-largest audience on cable – matching an hour of WWE Raw on USA Network . Dover‘s race (June 1) was at a 3.5 rating, which tied as the second-lowest ever for NASCAR Sprint Cup racing on FOX, matching the Kansas race (May 10) three weeks earlier. (Source: Sports Media Watch / Bloomberg / TV by the Numbers)
Could viewership be down because of too many commercials? I hear it all the time and see it on the social media networks. So I wouldn’t doubt it. Below is a quick breakdown of commercials from the last (mentioned) three races.
TNT – Total # of commercials: 118
Number of times TNT utilized ‘Side-by-Side’ commercials during this broadcast: 0
TNT – Total # of commercials: 117
Number of ‘Side-by-Side’ commercials during race broadcast (split-screen): 0
FOX – Total # of commercials: 127
Number of ‘Side-by-Side’ commercials during race broadcast (split-screen): 12
It’s time that NASCAR looks at and admits the only way to save this sport is by retrieving “new fans.” The “old fan” is all used up – like an old rag so to speak.
Mike Helton just made an appearance on Race Hub a couple of weeks ago. When asked about whether race attendance is a concern, here was Helton’s response:
“Obviously the product is a priority, and I say ‘product’ for everybody. But the viewership and the live attendance is something that the whole industry uses to judge successes, and that’s something that we’ve all collectively been working on ever since the swing through the economy. We think we see signs of that. We’re encouraged by the uptick. We’re encouraged by the enthusiasm that seems to exist among the community now.”
Blinded, in denial – maybe. Or just refusing to see the facts and admitting the sport is in trouble. And did you notice – he used that word…. “economy.”
Take for example Roush Fenway Racing. During the Michigan race back in June, a track in which Roush (Ford) practically dominated prior, only resulted in Top 20’s (Biffle -20th, Edwards, 23rd , Stenhouse Jr., 27th). According to Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine, “RFR failed to field a (June) Michigan contender really for the first time since 2000.” True. And everyone was in shock.
Then you have the top Chevy team of Rick Hendrick of Jimmie Johnson that has won the last five point races. As Larry McReynolds (Fox Sports) pointed out, “We have had 15 races so far this season. Team Penske has won three of those 15. Of those remaining 12 races, nine of them have been won by the alliance of Hendrick and Stewart-Haas. The scary thing is, I don’t see that trend slowing down anytime soon.”
According to Humpy Wheeler in an interview with AutoWeek, “NASCAR needs villains, but, instead, we have too many pretty boys. There just aren’t any personalities.”
Would you agree that it’s the personalities killing this sport?
Changes to Qualifying
NASCAR changed to group qualifying from single-car runs at the beginning of the 2014 season (Jan. 22) to help with Friday afternoon ticket sales, and to add more “excitement” to qualifying, which was a great move. Additional updates came in February after the new qualifying was implemented.
But teams are smart. As we just saw during the Coke Zero 400 qualifying – weirdness played out as no one was eager to lead the way to be the first cars out, so cars sat on pit road as the session clock ticked away. The problem is, teams have figured out a way to post their fastest lap – then slow to a crawl thereafter– to be sure they do not help another driver get a fast lap time advantage.
There is a flaw and NASCAR knows it. They are already looking for another way to tweak qualifying at the larger 2+ mile plate tracks (Daytona & Talladega). This will prevent teams from trying to scheme ways to post the fastest laps during the three qualifying sessions. Look for more changes by October.
Banners Over Stands
Sample of advertising banners over unsold area of stands. Dover Field 5/30/2014 | Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Attendance is way down. Back in 2013, NASCAR stated they would no longer provide attendance estimates at each race. ISC (International Speedway Corp) began significantly decreasing the number of seats starting in 2010.
You will notice banners at tracks draped or hung over unsold seats. At least this way, tracks had figured out a way to bring in funds they are missing out from the non-sales of tickets.
Daytona Rising is costing more than $400M. Blows my mind. Larger sized seats, but less seats are being placed in the newer higher sections. Hotels, casinos, restaurants are coming! How many race fans will be able to afford to stay there? How about two meals at one of their restaurants? Ticket costs will be, and already are, outrageous. For tickets, (Oldfield/chairs) Row 5 on the front stretch cost is $90/ea. Depalma Box is $144/ea.
Here’s the cost of the new seating on the front stretch (Daytona Rising) for the 2015 Daytona 500:
400 Level Grandstand Sections (466 to 482)
Starting From $600/per ticket
The thing is, yes, there are fans out there that WILL pay the $600 per ticket cost to be the first ones to say “I was there in the new section!” And guess what? Only 22 tickets are still available! Unbelievable. These are the fans NASCAR LOVES.
We, as race fans, as well as NASCAR, cannot blame the economy for rating drops any more. That’s old news. If it were the economy that was the problem, wouldn’t it encourage folks to watch races from home as a cheaper alternative than to attend a race in person? TV rates show otherwise. So what is it?
What this sport overall needs to do is this: GET THE ORIGINAL, OLD FAN BACK.
And I’m not talking just NASCAR.
Teams. Drivers. Sponsors.
Be more appreciative.
Involve the fan more. Get the drivers more involved at the track with the fans. Don’t make the fans have to chase you down for an autograph. Don’t go hiding in your multi-million dollar motor home. Be out and about.
Have more social media interaction with fans – show up for a Tweet Up and I’m not saying to have the driver’s PR person do their tweeting or updates for them.
Always remember, it’s the fans who put the driver where they are and who grows this sport. It costs over $20 million a year (Google) in order to own a top NASCAR racing team. Where does the money come from? Teams have sponsorships BECAUSE of the fans.
• Sponsorships: Goes after consumer audiences. Sponsors are targeting the viewers, the fans!
• Sport Marketing: Designed to meet the needs and wants of the consumer (the fan!) through exchange processes.
• TV advertising: Celebrities (drivers) appear using the products of the company (Coke). Through important personalities of each sport, it has the possibility to get to its target audience. (the fan!).
NASCAR knows fans are the most loyal of fans out there. They need to show us more appreciation. Don’t just go building things just to make us pay for it. A lot of people see this as greed. The Mid-Way areas are fine, but it’s like walking through the Mall past all the Kiosks.
I’m talking like putting fan/grandstand shots on TV and not just during the National Anthem; Hand out or barrel-shoot free t-shirts in the stands – hey – it’s free advertising for the track – if it has to do with racing, the fan will wear it; Post tweets on the Sprint Vision TV screens at the track; Share more updates from fans on Facebook/Twitter (seems like you have to be top media or a driver’s wife to even get a response from someone); Pick a fan to wave the green flag the day of the race; have random drawings for certain things… free hot dog at Martinsville…ANYTHIING!
There’s a lot that can be done to involve the fan more and treating the fan with a little more respect and less ignorance. If we, the fans disappear (POOF!) so does the sport of racing, NASCAR teams and NASCAR itself.