I just read a great article in the Wall Street Journal about NASCAR’s declining popularity and revenue. I’ve been a fan since Dale Jr’s rookie Cup season. Not by coincidence. Since that time the sport’s popularity has declined steadily. After Matt Kenseth cruised around in circles in 2003 and won a title after winning one race all season as Ryan Newman won eight races and placed sixth overall, NASCAR came up with the Chase concept. They wanted to make it more exciting for the fans. So, now we have the “Chase”. Some fans dig it, some don’t. But, you can’t make everyone happy.
NASCAR also wanted to be diverse, because in their minds, diversity = more exposure= more money. This generally works out well for businesses and industries. It worked a little bit. We had Juan Pablo Montoya for a while. (The jet dryers at Daytona remember him well). We have Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick, and last year’s Xfinity Series Champion, Daniel Suarez. It gave us some great drivers and even better humans to represent our sport. We need that. Good people to represent the sport. Never know when someone is going to get caught up in a Methamphetamine Invest, or a Domestic Violence incident.
The problem is that NASCAR’s loyal fan base failed to get the memo on how businesses create revenue. When they took Wilmington’s race, and then Rockingham’s and Darlington’s, and gave races to California, Kansas, and Chicago, it kicked their fan base right in the gut. The model just didn’t work. At all. They should have stayed where they knew they’d sell tickets and T-Shirts.
NASCAR is a Southern sport. Always has been and always will be. Not many people elsewhere care about stock car racing. Moving those tracks’ races was like moving the Olympic bobsled training facility to Ecuador. Or raffling off a Boston butt at the Veggie Grill on Sunset Boulevard. It just was not a smart move. We could have diversified the sport without abandoning the fan base.
Two other issues as I see it: The length of the season and the length of the races. We are moving at a faster pace as a society. Technology has allowed even the slowest among us to multi-task get stuff done. Quick. Everything is fast-tracked now. Well, not everything. NASCAR isn’t.
Thirty six races. Mid-February to late November. They basically get four weeks off, then they’re back to the grind.
Five Hundred miles. We have four and five hundred mile races. And one 600 mile race. Why? In 1948, I imagine people didn’t have much else to do on Sundays. In 1970 Sunday was pretty dead. 1980 the same. 1990 too. But with the turn of the millennium, our lifestyle changed. The internet has allowed us 24/7 entertainment. Who wants to sit and watch a four hour long race? Not many people. That’s who.
MLB had to make rule changes to speed up the games. NFL too. Why hasn’t NASCAR? They figured taking the Southern 500 from Darlington Speedway was a good idea, but didn’t consider shorter races? Smaller venues? MLB also has seen smaller venues become popular. Smaller crowds were showing for games. So they did the obvious; downsize the facilities. The days of seeing 150,000 people at a stock car race are over with.
NASCAR needs to pick itself up, dust off, and reconfigure some things. I hope these new rules changes are a step in the right direction. I hope.
Just my two cents.