Opinion: Attention Deficit

It seems every week of the racing season there is a reason why attendance is off and television ratings are sagging.

It's a laundry list that keeps growing and in no particular order here are some of the things I've heard as to what has and will keep fans away from attending or watching NASCAR races:

The Weather. The Economy. The Olympics. The Masters. The NFL. Jimmie Johnson's Dominance. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Struggles. Deer Hunting Season. Horrible Television Coverage. Over Saturation. High Ticket Costs. Outrageous Hotel Prices.

So far Global Warming and Health Care Reform have not been blamed. Yet anyway.

I'm puzzled by a lot of what's going on and when I saw the sparse grandstands at both the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series races at Nashville last weekend, I began to wonder just what NASCAR or its track operators can do to turn this trend around.

On a picture perfect weekend weather-wise with affordable ticket prices and a solid showing of Sprint Cup stars in both fields, the seats at the Music City complex were pretty empty.

There doesn't seem to be any one thing to point at as to why more fans didn't bother to show up in Nashville. A variety of excuses ranging from other commitments on the Easter holiday weekend to the racing being less than stellar have been cited.

Obviously the folks at Nashville Superspeedway aren't alone. Other tracks have been working hard to sell tickets and in the last two years, I've seen more deals and fan-incentive programs rolled out by speedways from coast-to-coast than I can ever remember.

And in some cases it's working. Even short of selling out, 140,000 in Bristol is a pretty impressive number. Daytona and Las Vegas were attendance hits with Martinsville forced to deal with weather issues but still able to generate a sizable turnout. Atlanta and Fontana struggled to move tickets to say the least.

I have no doubt that the financial picture is still bleak for millions of people out there and many race fans have been forced to either eliminate attending events or to cut back on the number of races they're able to attend. Hopefully that will get better and although the stock market is creeping back up and the unemployment numbers aren't gushing as much blood as we've seen before, it's rough out there for many.

But that would lead me to believe those fans might be inclined to tune into more races on the tube. But television numbers this year are again flat or even a little bit down from last year which blows that theory out of the water.

Which leads me to the product, the actual on track action that is the bottom line for anyone to buy a ticket or flip on their television and/or radio. While there are occasional blowouts, like Kyle Busch's stomping of the field in Friday night's truck race as well as stretches of boredom in the middle of some 500 mile races, I don't see how you can describe this year's racing as anything less than stellar.

Whether you agree or disagree with the way the policy has been enforced, NASCAR's hands off approach has generated some pretty fierce racing and a feud or two between drivers already this season. The sanctioning body has bent over backwards trying to find ways for fans to embrace or rediscover the sport with everything from three green-white-checkered finishes to throwing out the much-maligned rear wing in favor of a more traditional spoiler the latest initiatives. Standardized starting times and double file restarts were also introduced to appease fans. I can't think of any other sport that has done so much in response to what fans seem to want than NASCAR.

But yet so far I don't see much change in the interest level. Hopefully it will take some time while these new elements make an impact and the attendance and television numbers will climb.

However I'm hard pressed to understand just what it is that some fans feel is missing from today's NASCAR that keeps them away from the sport.

Maybe it's Tiger Woods or Kim Kardashian. That's as good an answer as any.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2010

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