A Drop In Race Attendance: What Can Be Done?

As the camera follows the lead car as he or she comes across the front stretch, you can’t help but notice the empty seats in the stands. When the camera pans the crowd, the outline of the colored seat patterns can be clearly seen. Attendance on race weekends have been dipping for years and that was clearly evident this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Mar 17, 2013; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (2) and Kasey Kahne (5) race for position during the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kahne won the race. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

During Sunday’s race broadcast, all around the track, you could see empty seats. It almost looked like there were more empty seats than there were seats filled. Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the most iconic tracks on the schedule and if they are struggling to fill seats, then something needs to be done.

Looking at various ticket prices for racetracks across the country, the dollar amount isn’t unreasonable. The average ticket package is under $100 for the weekend. Most tracks allow you to bring in your own coolers and some, like Kansas Speedway, even offer free parking at their venue. Once you get to the track, you definitely get what you pay for, if not more. There is always something you can do and things to see and as a race fan, you couldn’t ask for more.

The biggest disadvantage to attending a race weekend is not the time you spend at the track, but your time away from the track. Hotels and campgrounds bump their prices sky high on race weekends knowing they will be booked to capacity. Doubling, even tripling their original nightly rates means that the average race fan could end up paying more for one night in a hotel then they are paying for an entire weekend of race tickets. Raising hotel prices doesn’t affect local race fans as much as those who travel hundreds of miles to watch their favorite driver.

Attendance at the track isn’t the only thing that has dropped in recent years. TV viewership has also been at a steady decline each weekend. When Danica Patrick won the pole position for the Daytona 500 this season, NASCAR and Fox shoved her name into any broadcast they could. She was in hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. She did interviews with dozens of different news organization ranging from local to national. Her name and face were everywhere. Danica Patrick is a marketing teams dream. With her pole win alone, attendance and viewership during NASCAR’s biggest race jumped up immensely. Many people complain about the number of times they hear her name during a broadcast, and they do tend to go overboard, but in the end, all her name is doing is bring new eyes to our beloved sport.

The biggest complaint that seems to arise from the TV broadcasts is the amount of commercial breaks the network takes during the race. There are a few instances where they go “side-by-side” and that is what fans like to see. It seems like more often than not, whenever the broadcast goes to commercial break, a caution flag is thrown. Ask any race fan, that is what annoys them the most.

If attendance at the track and TV viewership continues to drop, who knows what will happen to NASCAR. Scanning tweets, Facebook posts and article comments, one thing is abundantly clear; the problem is price. Between hotel costs and tickets for the race, the average weekend can cost well over $1,000 and in this economy that is a lot of money. Increasing TV viewership is a little trickier. Commercials are needed but I think NASCAR and the respective broadcast stations need to lean more towards “side-by-side” coverage.

Race fans will never give up on the sport they love, no matter what goes on, but something needs to be done about the drop in attendance at the track. NASCAR can’t really regulate what hotels and camp grounds charge on race weekends but I do believe that that is a reason for all of the empty seats. What are some changes that NASCAR fans want to see made in order to improve attendance? Comment below and let us know!

Topics: Bristol Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick, NASCAR

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  • http://twitter.com/Spin_47 Les Bailey

    Katie, I was at Bristol this weekend, and there were a lot of empty seats. As you know, this race was moved in the schedule to earlier in the year. We had snow on Wednesday last week, and are scheduled to have more on Monday, It’s a little too early in this part of the country for racing, even the local Saturday Night tracks are not open yet. Because of the weather, it rained Saturday night, I was thinking about not going, but put some faith in Mike Fuori’s forecast, and went anyway. Glad I did, got a good day that looked threatening at times, but had good weather, and a good race, and plenty of elbow room.