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Woody: Fans Balk At Motel Fleecing

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 24 2010

Lots of fans show up for the races at Bristol. They have to stay somewhere. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

A few years ago some Tennessee politicians made a big grandstanding deal about clamping down on ticket scalping, with special emphasis on Bristol race tickets.

The polls thumped their chests and declared that they would NOT STAND BY and allow race fans TO BE GOUGED by scalpers who had the audacity to sell a $40 ticket for $45.

Interestingly, they didn’t seem concerned about a motel renting a $50 room for $150.

It’s still perfectly legal for a motel to jack up its rates during a race weekend. Around Bristol, where 160,000 fans flood into the area two weekends a year, the gouging has always been especially brutal.

It wasn’t uncommon to be charged more than twice the normal rate for a room, usually with a three-night minimum.

Although motel room scalping is perhaps at its worst at Bristol because of the supply-demand, it’s almost as bad in other towns that host NASCAR Cup races.

That’s why an Associated Press story caught my attention last weekend. A race fan was given a pair of Bristol tickets but decided not to go because motel rooms are so expensive.

The story is significant for two reasons:

First: There were freebies for Bristol, once one of the toughest tickets in sports.

Second: It shows that even race fans have their limit.

During these lean economic times fans are starting to pinch pennies, and the single-biggest expense for a race weekend has always been lodging. The cost of a ticket is small compared to the cost of a race-week motel room.

Lowering ticket prices won’t improve sagging attendance unless they also lower motel prices. Even free tickets won’t do it; as the fan in the AP story said, he’ll stay home and watch the race on TV.

While towns with NASCAR Cup races are probably the worst offenders, others don’t hesitate to put a similar squeeze on visitors. A “hotel tax” allows burgs to blatantly wring extra dollars from the wallets of out-of-towners. Tourists are considered fair game because it’s “outside revenue” that’s collected.

Why do they do it? Because they can. They’ve done it in the past, visitors have paid up, and towns figure they can continue to get away with it.

But maybe they’ve figured wrong in the case of race fans. Maybe fans are finally reaching their breaking point. Maybe they’re starting to decide that enough is enough, especially when times are hard. Maybe, like the fellow with the free Bristol tickets, they’ll simply stop coming.

Frankly there’s not much that NASCAR or the tracks can do to curtail motel-scalping other than try to pressure them, through the local Chambers of Commerce, to stop fleecing the fans.

Someone might also alert our grandstanding politicians that if they REALLY want to do fans a favor, forget about scalpers who sell a few tickets above face value and crack down on motel owners who double their rates on race week.

Maybe a slew of empty rooms will send a message: price-gouging, in any guise, is getting old.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 24 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Muddphoto says:

    I haven’t been to Bristol in about 10 years, but I used to drive over the mountain to stay in Boone for the races. Zig zaggity road to more affordable rooms.

  • joe says:

    Where can I find one of those $150 Bristol rooms? Most of the ones I know about are $200 and up, and they aren’t even that nice.
    Disgusting.

  • Randal says:

    Double??? How about a triple increase!!!! I paid $576.20 for 2 rooms for one night at a Ramada Limited. Neeless to say I will never stay in Bristol or Johnson City again. Ashville was $150 a night and thats where I’ll be from now on!

    Rant over.