Is NASCAR Losing Fans Like Me?
Every week we see the television ratings after a NASCAR race and it seems just about every week the news is bad. The pundits seldom talk about this but when they do they blame it on the hundreds of channels of stuff available and point out that other sports are also seeing their ratings drop. There is some validity to that but there also seems to be something going on with NASCAR that I just can’t figure out. Is NASCAR losing the interest of fans like me?
I confess to being a racing junky! While I enjoy some of the traditional “Stick and Ball” sports if there is a race on television it is probably going to get my attention more than just about anything else. It doesn’t matter if that race is Moto GP or the Blancpain GT Series or a Lucas Oil Dirt track race I will watch. But over the many years my absolute favorite has been NASCAR.
A few years ago if the good old Speed Channel showed a NASCAR Driver Belching Contest I would have watched. But lately I am finding it harder and harder to enjoy anything other than the races and some of the races have actually put me to sleep. It is not that the coverage of the sport on television has gotten worse or that I am simply getting so old I can’t stay awake past 8pm, it is that NASCAR of today simply is not as compelling of an event as a few years ago. Sadly I think the sanctioning body and the race tracks realize this too.
Just a few years ago almost every NASCAR race was sold out many of them so far in advance that you had to be on a waiting list to get a chance to buy season tickets or you had to pay a premium for the tickets from ticket exchange websites or ticket scalpers. Remember the commercial by Bristol Motor Speedway showing a lady excited because she got the race tickets in her divorce settlement? Now tracks package the NASCAR race with a pre-race musical concert and all sorts of special experiences. The race itself no longer is enough to sell tickets and they know it.
The sanctioning body also realizes they are losing interest from the fans based solely on the racing action on the track. NASCAR leader Brian France knew the races couldn’t compete during the NFL season and that was one of the reasons given for the Chase format to decide the champion. They knew they had to do something to boost the ratings. Looking at the ratings from the last five years it is obviously not working at all. The television ratings continue to only be good for the big races of the year like the Daytona 500 which shows that racing fans have not bought into the playoff concept in racing as expected.
Even the television broadcasts realize the action on the track is no longer capable of keeping the interest of the average fan. During the regular season the hype is all about which driver will “Win and Get In” the NASCAR playoffs and during the Chase it is all about the special points’ board on the side of the screen showing which driver is on the “Chase Bubble” to get eliminated unless they get the win. The race itself used to be enough to keep our interest and now they need all of these special effects to explain things to us and attempt to keep our attention. Television ratings continue to suffer despite all of this hype and as my co-host at RaceTalkRadio said they are “Deploying the television ratings pork chop” by adding injured driver Dale Earnhardt Jr to the television broadcast for Talladega this weekend.
Last week on the Thunder Crew show I joked that Kentucky Blue Grass should not be able to destroy a stockcar when we were discussing the Kansas Speedway race and Brad Keselowski’s trouble. The reason NASCAR was my favorite type of racing was because of the action on the track. Drivers could race close to each other lap after lap putting on a show and if they touched the cars were not damaged enough to slow them down. Now a simple touch of the fenders can cause a tire rub easier than it did 10 years ago and end someone’s day. Look at the exciting finish of the 1979 Daytona 500 and you soon realize all of the cars involved spun earlier in the race and still were the fastest cars on the track at the end. Nowadays NASCAR has turned into “Formula One with Fenders.” Maybe its time for NASCAR to re-think the entire bodies on these cars to allow closer racing to return before NASCAR loses the interest of fans like me even more.