What’s wrong with NASCAR?

The Charlotte Observer has a longer article out looking at why NASCAR attendance is tanking. The problem:

Speedway Motorsports, based in Concord, International Speedway Corporation and Dover Motorsports are three publicly traded companies that own and manage racing facilities that host NASCAR races.

At SMI, which owns nine tracks including the one in Charlotte, revenue from admissions fell 28 percent from 2010-2015. At ISC, which owns 13 facilities, admissions revenue fell 19 percent over that time. At Dover, which owns four tracks, admissions revenue fell 51 percent.

The companies cite a host of factors, including weather and competition from other sports, for the decline. But the struggling “middle class,” also a talking point in the current election cycle, has also started popping up in SMI’s and ISC’s securities filings as a reason.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it. When your revenues are down substantially compared to the depths of the Great Recession in 2010, then your business has a much, much larger problem than whether the state of economy is a bit overstated. No, the real issue is that far fewer people are interested in NASCAR in general, and in see a race in person in particular. Which gets us to:

SMI Chief Executive Officer Marcus Smith notes how capacity at other sports venues has similarly fallen over the last two decades. The emphasis has turned, Smith told the Observer in a recent interview, to building stadiums more for their experience, rather than just for the sport itself.

At Charlotte’s BB&T Ballpark, for example, instead of remaining in their ticketed seats, people are often standing and socializing, grazing through the various local food vendors and craft beer stands.

The same sentiment is true at NASCAR races, Smith said. People are there to enjoy themselves as well as to watch the race. That was one reason for adding the a carnival-like “fan zone” with food and beer stands and games outside the Charlotte track.

“With stadiums that aren’t as modern and that don’t have as much public funding as other professional sports, it’s taken more time to get that kind of infrastructure that’s more modern,” Smith said.

So might we see more NASCAR tracks asking for government money to help keep up with the times in the future? Probably, especially if NASCAR ever decides that it needs less than 36 races plus two big special event race weekend a year.

Michael Lowrey

Michael Lowrey is a contributor to Carolina Journal and a policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation. Lowrey has written numerous articles for the foundation on topics su...

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