SBD/May 24, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Struggles With Attendance, Last-Minute Ticket Buyers

As NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway “continue to deal with falling ticket revenue,” they also are concerned about a trend of fans “waiting to buy tickets until days or hours before the race, instead of planning trips in advance,” according to a front-page piece by Dunn & Scott of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Race execs said that lower attendance is “largely due to the economy.” But they also are “pouring money into making the race-day experience at the track more distinctive to attract more fans -- especially the younger audience, which has decreased.” While NASCAR TV ratings “remain flat,” federal securities filings show that admissions revenue “collected by NASCAR’s top track operators in 2012 fell for a fifth straight year.” A large portion of the stands at CMS along the track’s backstretch that “used to be filled with fans is covered with a U.S. flag that serves as a tarp,” while the 57,000 seats on Daytona Int'l Speedway's backstretch "will be closed for July’s Cup race because of the decreased demand.” But Scott & Dunn note NASCAR is “addressing the attendance problems” in a recently-announced, five-year “Industry Action Plan For Growth.” Among the document’s topics is the “Event Experience,” which focuses on how tracks can “(enhance) the ‘Big Event’ feel afforded to NASCAR races.” That measure is done by “reinforcing the Chase for the Sprint Cup as the sport’s marketing centerpiece and improving at-the-track experiences with concerts, enhanced driver introductions and ‘highlight(ing) iconic participation of pop culture stars.’” Singer Blake Shelton, for instance, will “perform a prerace concert” Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600. ISC Investor & Corporate Communications Senior Director Charles Talbert: “We think we’re pulling the right levers” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).

WAYS TO STAY RELEVANT: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes NASCAR is “shrinking, not growing.” Race tracks “struggle to sell tickets” and racing struggles to “be relevant.” Sorensen wonders, “How does NASCAR stop the slide?” Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “You’ve got to make this environment almost like the fair came to town. You’ve got to ... provide a lot more activity for fans and give them things that get them involved prior to the race and even after the race.” He added, "I know that stuff costs money. It’s not cheap. But it’s what brings people to the race track" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).

CHARLOTTE'S WEB: SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith has softened somewhat over his threat to move the fall Sprint Cup race in Charlotte to Las Vegas, but ESPN's Ryan McGee said, "You have to honor his bluff because his pile of money is so big and because his resume says he will take crazy chances." McGee: "If anyone else was doing this, then you just kind of call their bluff and say, 'Okay, whatever, you haven't even filled out the paperwork.'" ESPN's Ricky Craven said, "I'm not going to attempt to undermine Bruton Smith, and it would be a big mistake to challenge him or dismiss his thoughts and his ideas. But it's not reasonable, in my mind, that Charlotte would ever lose a race. This is home turf (for) so many of the teams. … At the very core, Charlotte is synonymous with NASCAR racing. So the idea of having one race a year in Charlotte is extremely remote." Driver Regan Smith: "I would hate to see a race leave Charlotte. … We'll all race wherever the race is at, but certainly I think we've all got our hearts here and would not like to see it leave here" ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 5/24).

TAKING THE CHECKERED FLAG: In Charlotte, Jim Utter lists the “25 most influential people, places and things in NASCAR.” The Gen 6 Sprint Cup Series car/competition takes the top spot, followed by the economy, fans, Twitter/social media and the France family (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/24).
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