Ok, that’s as close to mainstream media as I will get here. Interestingly enough, we don’t need to fix NASCAR. I hear you, “But Couch! Look at the stands! Look at the ratings! Look at the…” No. If you find pleasure and entertainment in looking at the stands and ratings, then this IS A GREAT time for you. I, like many others, watch what’s on the track.
So, what has happened? This doesn’t make sense. How can NASCAR go from top popularity to struggling. Now, I am no political science major, I’m not some marketing guru, I don’t even do long range planning. My long range plan is to hopefully have pork chops for dinner tomorrow night. It isn’t hard to see though.
The cycle. Let’s start with the 1950’s. Open wheel racing is at a peak, people are fascinated with it. NHRA drag racing is founded in 1951. 1959, NASCAR is born. By the early 60’s NHRA is fast on the rise. It’s fresh, it’s new, it’s loud, and there are events everywhere. The mid 1960’s everyone is TransAm road racing, LeMans is HUGE, at it’s peak. The late 60’s NASCAR is building up steam.
Then come the 1970’s. Open wheel is low, NHRA slowly starts to lose ground. NASCAR & TransAm are hosting events coast to coast at local tracks. They are affordable, families can go for an entire weekend and camp. We get to the 80’s, NASCAR is approaching it’s peak. TransAm is on the slide. Open wheel is starting it’s comeback. 90’s hit and you see NASCAR at its peak, open wheel is back in popularity. Sponsors, big corporations see stands full of fans and get in line to get on a car. TV sees this so they start paying money that sanctioning bodies can’t pass up to get these sports on TV.
Then IndyCar tries to off itself by fracturing down the center. NASCAR loses some huge stars, drivers that people grew up watching. Prices have gotten so high that families have to budget for just one race instead of three or four. Then NASCAR in conjunction with SMI and ISC leave the small local tracks. You get a ton of 1.5 mile tracks. So the racing is similar at all these venues. This is all because so many people wanted to go. Now you have hundreds of thousands of seats and suddenly people get burnt out. They’ve seen the races in person. Plus who wants to sit shoulder to shoulder with 110,000 people? So people start leaving.
Where do they go? They still love Motorsports. They go back to road racing, local tracks, places they can afford to go to regularly. With cable having all the races they can stay home and watch NASCAR. IndyCar reforms with the best of the best, they listen to fans and try to give them what they want, within reason. NASCAR has long term deals that keep them at tracks that people just don’t want to go to anymore. Now people stay home and rather than buy cable or go to the race, they live stream the race. They see it in different ways.
So that is just the first bit. The cycle has many more spokes that cause it to move, right now, NASCAR has lost a chunk of their fan base, kind of. Those fans are excited about IMSA WeatherTech series, IndyCar, F1, Pirelli World Challenge. They’ve got a great product at an affordable rate because they’ve all been on the bottom, they’ve all lost TV contracts, they’ve all had to go through empty stands. NHRA is even on the rise with bright young stars that have come on in the last 10 years and first class fan access. It’s ok! NASCAR will survive.
How will it survive? TV will eventually reduce how much they pay for the broadcast. Then they don’t have to have as many commercial breaks, since there are fewer commercial breaks the corporations that want that advertising will go back to cars. The cars will once again become the rolling commercial. Corporations will realize that fans now take in all sports in a whole new manner. Millennials want the experience, the face to face, the one on one time. So social media will become huge and drivers will be asked to use their social media to promote product. Sound familiar? Ask Nature’s Bakery, they were just the start.
Drivers will have to realize that the fan now is like the fan in the 60’s and 70’s. They want to see you, they want to shake your hand, and they want to buy you a beer. Because it’s all about, “What did you do this weekend?”
So, do we have to fix NASCAR? No. What do we do? We ride out the cycle until people want to go back to big circle tracks. If that doesn’t happen, NASCAR will move back to smaller tracks because SMI & ISC & NASCAR all do the math. It doesn’t pay to maintain 150,000 seats if you only have 35,000 fans. It’s a self correcting system.
What about the quality of racing? It’s so bad! No, no it isn’t. The TV coverage is bad because they follow the top 10. That’s not where the racing is, that’s between 15th and 30th. Listen to an in-car radio. Those guys are like hornets who just had their nest hit with a rock. Plus, many can’t afford to tear up their car. So they race, on old tires, pinching dimes. They aren’t your big names, but they have die hard fans and they fight for every position. Fans have to say, “It’s ok, I don’t need to see the biggest names on TV, I want the closest racing on TV.” They do it a little, not a lot. Trust me, there is great racing.
Well some drivers say the cars suck! Yeah, sometimes the cars aren’t great, but welcome to spec racing which is what NASCAR is today. Everyone has essentially the same thing. Fans demanded closer, tighter, cheaper racing. You got it. All drivers have to deal with the same thing out there. If the drivers don’t like it, Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA have a wide variety of BOP (Balance Of Performance) racing that they can go to, some love it, some hate it. It’s just a matter of what you want to drive, what fans want to see, and where you want to race.
Welcome to Motorsports. We have cycles, we have personalities, we have companies that want to make money, and we have people that love to drive fast. We also have fans that need to reeducate themselves about what racing is, man and machine trying to be the fastest in whatever discipline. If you don’t like the racing, tell your driver to quit sandbagging for 100 laps.
Whats wrong with NASCAR racing? Nothing. It has great racing. What’s wrong with NASCAR really? We are at the bottom of a cycle, waiting for contracts to expire so we can move some races where they need to be and so we can watch a race with commercial interruption instead of watching commercials with race interruption.
So feel free to listen to talking heads about ratings and attendance. Watch or don’t watch. Go or don’t go. NASCAR was here before many of us, NASCAR will be here after most of us leave. It’s like life, it’s going to go on with or without us.
I will see you in the box.