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Friday, January 23, 2009

Blacking out race broadcasts to boost ticket sales is possibly the worst idea ever

Bruton Smith is usually a pretty smart guy. If he wasn’t smart, he wouldn’t be a billionaire and chairman of the massive Speedway Motorsports Inc., the only company that blocks the France family from completely running every aspect of NASCAR.

But he stuck his foot in his mouth with his recent statements that struggling NASCAR tracks could increase their ticket sales if races that weren’t sold out were blacked out on TV for local audiences -- just like the NFL did several times in 2008 to the fantastically terrible Detroit Lions.

The good news is that the networks and NASCAR and nowhere near dumb enough to actually do this, so don’t worry. But just for fun, let’s examine the multitude of reasons why Smith was miles off in his assessment of how this would help tracks.

First off, the economy is terrible right now, and may get worse before it gets better. You can’t force people to buy race tickets if they can’t afford them. If you take the step of blacking out the race locally, and people can’t even watch at home, then you are pretty much telling NASCAR fans to go to hell, and the sport would lose thousands of fans as a result. The next week, when the race came on, those viewers might go out and do some yard work just to spite the jerks who didn’t let them watch the race a week earlier.

Second, how far out would the blackout extend? Would the MIS race be blacked out only in the Village of Brooklyn, the entire Jackson area, all of southern Michigan? Who would make that call? And would these blackouts also extend to the lower-level series? I have never been in attendance at a Nationwide or Truck race where the crowd filled the entire grandstands, not even at little Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Third, this is not the NFL. I’m not opposed to blackouts in that sport, because games that aren’t sellouts are usually brought on by pathetic teams like the Lions. I was not upset about missing the blacked-out Lions games this year, and don’t know many people who got upset. But NASCAR tracks aren’t usually full of empty seats because of a bad product … Instead, it’s a combination of the venue being much larger than a NFL stadium and the struggling economy. I know for a fact there are plenty of people who would have loved to go to races last year at MIS and elsewhere, but simply couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, people were practically throwing their Lions tickets in the garbage this season to avoid attending their games. It’s not even comparable.

The key point is that nobody would win if NASCAR races were blacked out. The bigshots in Daytona would get a ton of hate mail and lose fans of their sport. The fans would lose because they couldn’t see their drivers in action. And even in a best-case scenario, the track wouldn’t see a big enough boost in ticket sales to offset all the negative effects of a blackout.

As I said before, Mr. Smith is usually a pretty smart guy. But this time, he has come up with the worst possible option for boosting ticket sales.

I have a better one, Bruton: Lower ticket prices.

More Cup races for Keselowski
It appears Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski will be busier than previously planned in the Cup series this year. Keselowski, already slated to run seven Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, has added ten more races to his schedule --- driving the #09 Phoenix Racing Chevy with Hendrick engines. He is a true talent, and things are happening very quickly for Keselowski. His talent will almost certainly put him in a full-time Cup ride at Hendrick in 2010 if Mark Martin is willing to finally hang it up or drive elsewhere part-time.

More teams trying to get in show
As I predicted a few weeks ago, this is the time for entrepreneurial types who want to get into NASCAR to try to make races. Cars have disappeared, leaving spots, and many people are heeding the call. In addition to Tommy Baldwin’s new team, Joe Nemechek and Jeremy Mayfield are among the people who have decided to bring their own teams to Daytona and hopefully beyond. Nemechek is being especially bold, planning full runs in both Cup and Nationwide as an owner-driver. Most of these new teams will probably fail quickly, but who knows? Maybe someone can strike gold and get into the top 35.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife and I gave up on going to Nascar races in 2007. It's not the cost of the tickets either. There still well under $100 in most areas. No big problem. The reason we stopped? The hotel prices and minimum night stays of three nights. Richmond is just four hours from me, we wanted to do a night race. At $275.00 per night, times three nights the hotel would of cost $825.00. That's a deal breaker. We only wanted to stay Saturday night for the race, and head home Sunday morning. This, in my opinion is the issue.

January 25, 2009 at 8:40 AM 

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