With the economy in such sad shape, will anyone show up at the races in 2009?
Teams are laying off workers, there is the possibility of short fields in 2009, sponsors are pulling away from tracks and teams and Detroit’s Big 3 is struggling to just stay alive and cutting back on NASCAR spending in the process.
But there’s yet another symptom of the bad economy that is likely to have a growing impact on NASCAR this season -- NASCAR fans will likely decide in increasing numbers not to go to the races.
When things get tough, as they have for so many American families in the past few years, the first thing to go is discretionary spending. When your boss tells you he has to cut your pay, give you less hours or fire you, your thoughts turn to whether you will be able to feed your family and keep a roof over your head … not whether you will be able to attend the Talladega race.
And the recession that began in Michigan and the Midwest and crept out slowly over the nation has now put many, many American middle-class workers -- the backbone of the NASCAR fan base that attends races -- in these tough situations.
Anyone paying attention over the past couple years no doubt has noticed that there has been a healthy increase in empty seats at most of the tracks on the NASCAR circuit. And that’s on Sunday … I would guess the numbers are down even more for the races in the Nationwide and Truck series.
Part of the problem is that attending a race is very expensive when you consider the price of race tickets and everything else it entails. To get a bad seat, it’ll cost you at least $50 bucks at most tracks. And if you want a good seat on Sunday, you’re going to spend close to $100, or possibly a lot more than that. Multiply that by two or more, add in the cost of food and drink (with ridiculously high on-track prices if you don‘t bring your own), travel costs, maybe some camping fees, etc. … and what you have is a big pile of money that you will have to hand over.
In the past, when the economy was stronger, people could afford to do this. A man could take his wife and kids to the track for the weekend or longer and enjoy a summer vacation. Sure it cost him some change, but he was doing all right for himself.
Now, with things so tight for everyone -- including those still employed -- more and more people will not take the time to go to the race. They’ll pull up in their armchair, kick up their feet, crack a beer and enjoy it in high definition TV.
If NASCAR is smart, it should make an attempt to slow the almost inevitable plunge in attendance this year by slashing prices on tickets, camping, food, etc., at all of its ISC tracks. This would be a good business decision, because if fans see that the sport recognizes their economic woes and are trying to help out, they are much more likely to attend races this year.
Then, in future years, when those fans have more money again, they will remember the places that are affordable and be more likely to attend races at those tracks.
If NASCAR takes the lead by doing this at their own tracks, it would have a ripple effect and Bruton Smith would have to do the same at his tracks to remain competitive.
This sport would not be possible without all the great people who support it, and in this tough time it is crucial that the powers that be do all they can to make it affordable for those people to attend the show.
Otherwise, there’s going to be a record amount of seats without butts in them at almost every track in 2009.