Where Are All The NASCAR Fans These Days?

It was truly a chamber of commerce weekend in Bristol, Tennessee last weekend.  You had picture-perfect weather, a lot of competitive racing and even plenty of the wrecks that we’ve heard the fans love so much.

Everything was there for a great Food City 500 race weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway except the crowds. It was just a few short years ago that Bristol was the absolute toughest ticket to get in the racing world.  There was a waiting list to get race tickets for this venue that was purported to be 5-7 years!

NASCAR quit putting out official attendance figures a few years ago and track officials quit commenting on them around the same time, but from the eyeball test, the Bristol Motor Speedway looked around a third full for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race won by Carl Edwards.  One third of the listed capacity of 160,000 seats equates to about 55,000 fans in the grandstands!

The crowd was even more sparse for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and the Friday qualifying crowd was virtually non-existent!

This was supposed to be the year the spring race bounced back, the second year the race had moved from March to April.

There was the much-hyped debut of Colossus TV, the gigantic hanging big screen TV monitor, and ticket packages have been tied into the Pilot/Flying J Battle at Bristol football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

There was even Peyton Manning, the most beloved sports figure in the state of Tennessee, showing up in a special Nationwide Insurance promotion with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Sunday crowds were clearly better than the last two years for the spring race when March and then April showers not only brought May flowers but washed away race fans.

But, this weekend had perfect weather and a great Xfinity Series race leading into the Food City 500, but obviously that was not enough to entice race fans to attend the race.

While Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota was dominant on Sunday, the racing overall was intense. And you had three popular drivers finish in three of the four spots behind him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 13-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver, finished second, followed by rookie Chase Elliott in third. Knoxville driver Trevor Bayne, who has been a fan favorite since his upset win in the 2011 Daytona 500, was the best-finishing Ford driver in fifth.

But with all that going on, the spring race at Bristol still failed to capture the magic of the August Night Race.

It’s almost assuredly the Night Race will match the near sell-outs of the past two years and there’s a good chance it will sell-out as we are hearing the football game will three weeks later.

There’s no denying there is a lot more prestige associated with the Night Race. While the Food City 500 is a great race, it’s never mentioned among the top-five races on the Sprint Cup tour.

That leads to rumors that NASCAR might take away the spring race and move it somewhere else.

The question is where, since many tracks have removed seat capacity with the series’ attendance as a whole way off from a decade ago.

But, one choice could be Las Vegas where there are plenty of hotel rooms and plenty of entertainment options outside of the speedway.

For the spring race in Bristol, fans aren’t willing to pay for way overpriced hotel rooms and parking.

One sign advertised parking for $40 for Sunday’s race.

That is just for parking. At that price, they should wash and vacuum your car and drive it up to the speedway to pick you up.

Once you add in the $300 or more for hotel rooms that normally cost less than $100 a night, you’re driving the fans further away.

While the Tri-Cities area as a whole has done a good job embracing the races, the area has also gained the reputation for being among the worst places to rip-off fans.

Something else that has to change, and that is the way that NASCAR televises the broadcasts of the races.

Many fans don’t have FoxSports 1 or NBC Sports Network as part of their cable or satellite package. So what if there was a great finish at Martinsville if over half your fans don’t get to see it?

In my opinion, NASCAR’s greed is absolutely killing the sport. ESPN offered so much beyond just its race coverage with it (ESPN) truly being the first place where many fans go for sports. FOX and NBC would be fine, if it was FOX and NBC broadcasting the majority of the races.

The bottom line seems to be that NASCAR really does not care if there are fans in the seats at these races because the TV contract will pay the race teams, the track owners and NASCAR $4.4 billion over the next 10 years! The reported split in those monies are 20% for the team owners, 60% for the track owners, and %20 for NASCAR.

Since there are only  four or five track owners, the France family and Bruton Smith own the majority of the race tracks, that is a tidy sum coming their way!  Additionally, the France family controls all of NASCAR so that is a double dip for them as well!  It is quite obvious that Smith and the France family receive the bulk of the $4.4 billion dollars over that time period.  Both of these entities are worth billions for a reason!

With the above information now you can see why NASCAR and the track owners really are not the least bit interested in the amount of attendance at their races when the bulk of their income comes from the TV broadcasts.  Many facilities have down-sized the grandstands by as much as one third!  Therefore, there really is little to no concern about the ticket prices and the amount of fan attendance that shows up for any given race.

Therefore the logic is that the amount of fan attendance, and the money generated from them, is just gravy on the already lavish meal ticket from the TV contract!


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