Woody: Was Bristol Half Empty Or Half Full?
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Like everybody else, I was surprised by the vacant seats at Bristol Motor Speedway last Sunday – gaps as glaring as missing front teeth in a smiling beauty-queen contestant.
Some estimates place the attendance at around 130,000 — 30,000 below capacity.
Since then all the talk has been how the empties are the latest evidence of the Rise & Fall of NASCAR.
Well … maybe.
There’s another way to look at it: Bristol out-drew the Super Bowl (80,000).
It had twice as big a crowd as any World Series game.
It beat the combined attendance of a half-dozen NBA games and Stanley Cup playoff games.
So when you look at it that way …
Bristol’s attendance dip is a microcosm of NASCAR’s overall perception problem: it is a victim of its success. When a track that once sold 160,000 tickets suddenly sells only 130,000, there is a natural tendency to dwell on the 30,000 empty seats instead of on the 130,000 full ones.
How many other sports would kill to have a crowd of “only” 130,000? Every one.
There’s no disputing that crowds are down and once red-hot tickets have become luke-warm. But that
doesn’t spell doom and disaster. If you’ve been dating five super models and a couple of them dump you, your social life is still in comparatively good shape.
NASCAR’s incredible popularity explosion couldn’t go on forever; it had to crest at some point. That crest seems to have arrived three or four years ago, and since then it has ebbed.
There are a lot of factors at play, and the experts can debate over them: over-saturation of races, high ticket/motel/gasoline prices amid a wobbly economy, boring racing, homogenized drivers …
I think its some of all the above. NASCAR finds itself caught in the middle of the Perfect Storm.
But like all storms, this one will eventually blow over. The economy will perk up. Host cities will stop robbing visiting fans. NASCAR will try to inspire its racers to race. It will eventually dawn on drivers how good they’ve got it.
NASCAR’s Good Old Days, like the Petty-Pearson rivalry and real country music, are gone forever and there’s no use dwelling on them.
Will Bristol ever again pack in 160,000 fans with 20,000 more on a waiting list for tickets? Probably not. But even if draws only half that many it will still surpass most NFL crowds and put every other pro sport’s attendance to shame.
And NASCAR’s TV ratings, while not what they used to be, still hold their own against every sport except the NFL – and it won’t have complete against it if the players and owners are stupid/greedy enough to go on strike.
Trust me – every other sport would be turning cartwheels if it could draw the “skimpy” crowd that Bristol had Sunday.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments