SBD/Issue 226/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NASCAR Attendance, Ratings, Sponsorships Down As Fans Cut Costs

Down Economy Continues To Drag Down
NASCAR Attendance, TV Ratings This Season

NASCAR has seen attendance "at nearly every track slip this year as recession-weary fans continue to cut costs" after years of "jam-packed races, sky-high television ratings and record merchandise sales," according to a front-page piece by Belson & Caldwell of the N.Y. TIMES. A "renewed excitement on the track ... has not fully translated into success at the gate," as attendance through the first 22 Sprint Cup Series races this season "declined at 16 races compared with a year ago." TV ratings, sales of licensed goods and sponsorships, the "lifeblood of the sport," are "also suffering." Other sports leagues "have been hurt the past two years," but racing industry execs said that NASCAR "has suffered disproportionately." The execs said that NASCAR "compounded matters ... by changing its rules in ways that made the racing safer but stripped the sport of some of the spontaneity that made it compelling." ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Acquisitions John Wildhack: "The racing so far has been terrific this year, as competitive as it's been in years." But he added it will "take time for the changes to resonate." Belson & Caldwell note with the economy "on the mend," NASCAR and its teams, sponsors, track owners and broadcasters "seem confident that the worst is over." However, the "larger question" is "whether in the coming years, the sport will return to its glory of the early 2000s as a money-printing juggernaut ... or whether it will become a more modest, streamlined version of itself." The "days of easy money may have passed." Driver Jeff Gordon "does not have a full-time sponsor for next year because DuPont ... has not committed to remaining with him," and Kevin Harvick, "who is leading in the standings this season, does not have a major sponsor for 2011, either" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/9).

SHIFTING THE SCHEDULE: Kentucky Speedway officials at a press conference scheduled for tomorrow are expected to announce that the track will host a Sprint Cup race next season. Driver Michael Waltrip "believes a race at Kentucky Speedway would provide a shot in the arm for the Cup Series." Waltrip: "The ratings are a little bit off and the attendance is a little bit off, and obviously it's a tough time economically. But any time you can give yourself a boost, then that certainly would help. I know a race at Kentucky would certainly do that" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 8/8). Meanwhile, Chicagoland Speedway officials today announced it will hold the first race in the ’11 Chase for the Sprint Cup (THE DAILY). ESPN's Angelique Chengelis: “That means now that July date is now open. That will go to Kentucky more than likely … and that comes on the heels of Atlanta's announcement this week that it will lose one of its two dates" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 8/8).

EMBRACING CHANGE: In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote while "many have talked about a possible big shakeup in the 2011 Sprint Cup schedule, the news so far doesn't really alter the lineup in a significant way." Utter: "Trading an Atlanta date for one in Kentucky still keeps a 1.5-mile track on the schedule. And removing Auto Club Speedway of California (a 2-mile track) from the Chase and replacing it with Chicagoland Speedway (a 1.5-mile track) doesn't change that Chase dynamic very much, either. I was hoping for more" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/8). New Hampshire Motor Speedway Exec VP & GM Jerry Gappens "did not seem concerned with the prospect of losing the Chase opener" to Chicagoland Speedway. Gappens: "Someone has to be first, second, third and so on. It is a privilege to be one of only 10 venues in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. I look forward to hosting and promoting any one of the 10 races, be it the first, second or season finale" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/7).

DRIVER REAX TO SCHEDULE CHANGE: Harvick said that the "impending wholesale changes to the 2011 schedule should not shock-and-awe anyone." Harvick: "All tracks need to be held to a standard. Whether it be safety, whether it be crowd attendance, whether it be whatever it is. Sometimes things become stale. It's a constantly evolving sport. ... If a market is stale, we have to go someplace where the grandstands are full." Harvick added, "The biggest boom we have ever seen in this sport came in 2001 when we went to new venues in Chicago; we went to new venues in Kansas and you had all this movement with the schedule and you created all these new fans." Driver Jeff Burton: "I'm not a big believer that change is always good; I'm a believer that good change is good. We've seen in Atlanta some good racing, but we haven't really seen the crowds there" (RACINTODAY.com, 8/6). Gordon said, "The sponsors, just like NASCAR and the rest of us, want to see a packed grandstand. They want to see a lot of excitement around the event. As long as we're going there (to Atlanta) once a year, I think it's good because we're still hitting that market." Driver Clint Bowyer: "Losing Atlanta is a disappointment to me. I think there are a couple of other tracks that have two races that I would, if it was my pick, go once to" (AP, 8/7).

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