NASCAR: Changing Dates On The Schedule Is Pointless

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2017 NASCAR schedule was released today and as was expected, not much changed. If NASCAR was serious about repairing its sport, they need to cut dates, not move them.

NASCAR has been shuffling dates in its schedule for years trying to find the right formula for where each date will be best received. So far in 2016 the television ratings have been flat or fallen every week but one. Attendance has been soft to say the least. In SEC filings by SMI and ISC, they both commented on weaker ticket sales to NASCAR events. So why does NASCAR not do the right thing by its sport?

What is it going to take to get Brian France and NASCAR to realize the schedule is just too long. There is no argument from anyone about that fact. Even the drivers comment about it openly, with Brad Keselowski even developing his own schedule. The NASCAR season runs for 10 months. Only December and January do not have a race on the schedule. The only people who think the schedule is fine are the track owners who get money from the TV contract for the dates. There is not a time of the year when NASCAR fans sit back and say they wish there was a race on. That creates demand.

With the all star race and the Sprint Unlimited there are 38 race weekends a year for Sprint Cup. Most off weekends for the cup series there is a race for the Xfinity or Camping World Truck series. The basic principle of supply and demand dictates that there are too many dates on the NASCAR calendar. There are so many facts showing that there is no desire by the majority of the fan base for so many races.

Attendance keeps falling even though tracks keep reducing seating capacity. If fewer and fewer people are coming to races, then there are too many races. You might say going to the races is too expensive, well then the television ratings should be rising since more people would be watching from home. Unfortunately the opposite is happening. I wrote this week how happy we were that the overnight rating did not fall for the first time this season. So more people are not tuning in as well.

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Walmart is the largest retailer in the USA by in far. They announced this year that they are closing stores that are not performing. By closing them, they can spend their monies on the profitable stores to better serve their customers. The NASCAR schedule is full of non-performing races. All you have to do is tune in and see the empty seats to identify the races that need to go away. If you want to be even more accurately focused, you take the bottom ten television ratings and the bottom ten attended races and eliminate any race that is on both lists.

All this seems so easy until you remember that just last year NASCAR signed five year sanctioning agreements with all its tracks on the schedule. They essentially locked in the schedule for five years right in the middle of the biggest fall the sport has ever taken in its popularity. Another decision from NASCAR that is all about the dollar and not about the sport. By removing the flexibility to add or take away dates in the schedule, you essentially limit any ability you have to come out of the fall.

I do not think there is any way with the current contracts that NASCAR is going to be able to get out of its way to right the ship. Reducing the schedule would help all stakeholders in the sport. It just takes a big picture perspective to see it. That is something that NASCAR in the Brian France era has not shown it has been able to do.

It would massively reduce costs for the teams if you cut six to ten dates off the schedule. Hotels, fuel, tires, equipment, the list is endless on the costs per team to get to the track every week. You want to make the teams in the middle to bottom of the field more competitive, make it less expensive to race. Fewer weeks would do that, less sponsors to have to find and teams could concentrate money on development rather than travel.

Tracks would be able to sell more tickets to races if there were fewer races to go to. If a track only has one race, there is only one opportunity to go, so there is an increased demand for tickets. So many of the facilities that host races are just over half full, combine the two crowds, you get a sell out. When the demand for tickets goes up guess what happens to the price on those tickets, it goes up! The costs for operating a half full facility are much higher than for a sell out because of the staffing needs versus ticket revenue.

If there were fewer dates on the calendar to televise, the networks broadcasting the events could put more effort behind the races and drive up the excitement. Now there is a race every weekend until almost Thanksgiving, that limits promotion time. If there were weeks off without racing, there could be a build up to events that creates excitement and gets more people to watch. Networks are now doing this with regular programming going to a two seasons per year format. There are now fall premiers and spring premiers that allow the networks to drum up excitement after breaks in the action.

The importance of the television ratings cannot be understated. Fans hate it but it is true. Sponsors only are willing to shell out the millions of dollars to the race teams if they think they are going to get people to notice them. The fewer people watch NASCAR the fewer companies are going to be willing to sponsor the teams. That leads us down a scary path in the sport. It could make the struggles the teams went through after the stock market fall seem like nothing if sponsors all the sudden think NASCAR is not worth it.

Ideally NASCAR would cut the schedule and move the end of the season so that it competes less with the NFL and college football. That it a fan base that is shares, but loses to in the fall. Of all the changes that NASCAR has done to improve the sport, the one that would have the greatest effect they refuse to do. Another case of the conflict of interest within the France run NASCAR and the France family controlled International Speedway Corp owning half the tracks on the schedule. Until this changes the only real looser is us the fans.