What Drove the Core Fans Away?
I have NEVER EVER claimed to be an expert on racing, but I have spent about 50 years around it. I know lots of people in the sport, and fans of the sport.
I recently posted a comment on Facebook giving NASCAR a grade, and I caught hell over it. One person asked “if you hate NASCAR so much, why do you waste your time watching it?” Well, let me answer that.
I have been a fan of NASCAR since the 60’s. I got in trouble all through school for drawing race cars. I related everything I did to racing in one way or another. As I got older it became a way of life for me, and in a way it still is.
I was a fan when legends of the sports were driving; drivers like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Jody Ridley, and these men knew racing; they could work on their own cars, and most did.
Races were a speed contest of 500 miles. It was a battle, making a car race for 500 miles, and having a driver who could pilot it that far. It was more than just who led a lap, or who raced well for 30 or 40 laps; it was the total package.
Slowly but surely NASCAR went through changes, and as the times changed, so did racing. I went right along with it, because the ideal of the sport stayed the same. It was about who had the total package, and how problems were dealt with during the race and how to overcome the issues that arose.
Then came the era of Brian France; the sport had thrived under his father, and it had grown to be the #2 spectator sport in the world. Brian felt he needed to make his own mark on the sport. He wanted to shake things up, so out came the “Car of Tomorrow” and rule changes, as the car lost its identity, and drivers were held in check by the rule “Actions detrimental to the sport of stock car auto racing.” The sport started to lose its mark. It lost its appeal, but the true fans, the ones who had made the sport what it was at the time, stood by, hoping the fad would pass.
But it didn’t; in fact it got worse. By making the cars all the same, with only decals being the identity, the sport again stumbled. Drivers were not happy, and when they voiced concerns they were hit with fines and penalties. This action truly changed the sport. It robbed the sport of the individuality that made the sport what it was. And the downward spiral began.
The powers that be made it known that drivers could speak their mind all they wanted to, as long as it didn’t criticize the management. Management ruled with an iron fist. It didn’t take that long to backfire; the fans started to lose interest, and attendance numbers bore this out. NASCAR soon saw the writing on the wall, and began making wholesale changes, bringing in aero packages, to “improve” the show they were giving the fans. Adding more and more frills to the sport with driver introductions, required media day attendance… the list goes on and on, as the powers that be caved in to the money, and the businesses that were standing in line to get on board. But instead of staying with” the one who brung ya” format of racing, NASCAR felt it was mandatory to give the sponsors what they wanted, sponsors who jumped on board because of the product… the product of side by side racing. Slowly that product went away. It became a sport of money, money and more money. Those who had the money made the rules, sort of like the inmates running the asylum. Again, the fans left in droves.
But NASCAR knew what was needed; they had conducted polls; they had done research. I personally don’t know where they did all this but they SAID they did… no one ever asked me… but I digress…
NASCAR had a gushing wound in the sport, but instead of taking a stand and doing what was needed, by bringing back the type of racing that made the sport so great, NASCAR decided that they would just throw on a few Band-Aids, with spoilers, or airfoils, or restrictor plates, and the fans left in droves again.
NASCAR saw that changes had to be made; the TV cameras were showing empty stands and folks were seeing the sport decline; NASCAR decided that they couldn’t have that; they had to do something! Action was needed and in a hurry! So, knee jerk reaction, if the stands are empty take them out! Here was a sport on a downward spiral, in need of help, BUT instead of making all those empty seats full again, perhaps by giving away tickets to charities or Veterans, NASCAR took them out! They could have cut prices in half and filled the seats, and STILL have been making money, but that didn’t fit the “models” that the “polls” and “research” had shown. Never once did the brass at NASCAR walk through the stands and ask the fans who paid their hard earned money what THEY wanted. Why? Because to NASCAR that didn’t matter; they already had those fans’ money, so didn’t need to please them. And THAT is the problem that NASCAR didn’t address. Instead they chose to mess with the format and change the rules again. And again…
All this happened over a 14 year period. Yes NASCAR has been in steady decline for 14 years. Look back at attendance numbers over this time frame. According to www.sportsmediawatch.com, ratings have dropped 20% each year over the last 3 years! That’s down 60% over a 3 year time span, but NASCAR doesn’t have a problem.
The time has come for the brass at NASCAR to make a change; leadership has faltered and changes need to be made or NASCAR will continue its downward spiral. If they want to know how to fix it… I’ve got the solution. It’s really easy, but for NASCAR brass, it’s a novel concept they will never see…
You want fans in the stands? Here is how you get them.
- Think of the fans first.
- Get rid of the current car and go back to stock sheet metal,
- Cut the cost of racing by going to hard tires, and 9:1 engines.
- Drop prices of seats.
- Get fans back by showing you care about what they want; get in the stands and ask them.
- If you have cheating, take the win away
- Stop trying to clean up the history of the sport. It is what it is; moonshiners made this sport; embrace it don’t hide it!
- Let the fans know they matter. Without the fans there is no racing.
- Take the muzzle off the drivers and let them say what they want!
- Give the sport back to the people who made it great… the fans.
I admit I may not have all the answers. I am not a corporate lackey who knows all the ins and outs of business, but I do know what fans want. I know what the sport needs to get fans back in the stands and it isn’t the direction they are going now. When you constantly overlook the history of the sport and try to reinvent it, you will destroy the sport. The history is the basis of the sport, and the way they have tried to sanitize it is one of the nails in the coffin. But some think that the sport is evolving; that this is just a rough patch, and that the fans today want this version they are promoting. While this may have some truth to it, what about the millions of fans who have supported it through the years?
Can NASCAR afford to ignore the core fans while they attract a new era of fans?
Why can’t they find a middle ground, to please BOTH sides of the fence? Because the way it is now, it looks like NASCAR don’t care about the very crowd that made them what they are.
This is just my view, my humble opinion, good or bad, I call it like I see it.