The Changing Face of NASCAR
by Gemma Granger
NASCAR has been on a pretty unbelievable journey over the past three decades. Though the business has been around for much longer than that, it is since the 1990's that the races have really taken off, exploding with large audiences both at the track and on television. That trend has slowly been reversing over the past few years, with television ratings and attendees to see the race in person down - or, at least, we think they're down; we can't be quite be sure of that. If the numbers are decreasing, then the organization will have to change in order to keep up with the times and to inspire the new generation of fans who will keep NASCAR alive. One thing is clear: NASCAR continues to be a phenomenon. From bringing families together, maintaining southern traditions, and giving a forum for the appreciation of vintage machines, NASCAR is a ride that isn't over yet - but it is going through a change.
How is NASCAR Changing?
It seems a long time ago that NASCAR was taking over the world. The heights of the early 2000's have slipped somewhat; in other words, there are simply less people interested in NASCAR than there used to be. Stadiums have been removing seats from their venues, sometimes in significant numbers. International Speedway Corp have taken out a huge percentage of seats in some of their stadiums - some by nearly 50%. Their Chief Executive even suggested that they might not be finished yet, with even smaller stadiums a reality in the not too distant future - and certainly if the current trends continue.
It is not just at the track that figures are down, either. In many ways, it's easy to understand why figures of people attending live events might have fallen in relation to the 1990's and early 2000's. It's expensive to take a family to a live event these days, especially as there's less money circling around when compared to the boom years of yesteryear. One damaging aspect that might have had an effect are the high gas prices that have been routine over the past few years. Though gas would eventually become very cheap, even cheaper than anyone could have predicted, those high prices may have had a lasting effect - when driving for hours to see a race became too expensive, people may have been turned off the sport altogether. Perhaps all it took was one missed year to start a trend that is hard for the organization to reverse.
Television Viewership is Down
Television figures are perhaps what worries NASCAR executives the most. Though subscriptions to watch sports remain expensive, a 'lot of people still have them - and actually it's never been easier to watch live sport, what with it being available in so many formats these days. In 2014, 18 of the 21 Sprint Cup races had less viewers than in the past. Though it's easier for these numbers to sound alarmist: we're actually still talking about huge numbers, millions of viewers. So while it's hardly a catastrophe, the decrease in numbers - down ten percent from the year before - are large enough to cause concern.
Why is NASCAR Changing?
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing NASCAR's slump in popularity. One reason might be that its success was simply hard to sustain. NASCAR's boom years really were boom years, growing year and year in staggering numbers. So while, yes, a decrease of 10% in viewers might not be wonderful, it's coming on the back of huge growth that have cemented the sport as one of the nation's biggest. They also talk about the decline of baseball and while that might be forthcoming, there are not too many sports that don't have some phantom threat hanging over them.
The other reason NASCAR is changing is the retirement of the old guard and new stars not quite matching them in popularity. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart won't be sticking around forever - will the drivers that take over their mantle garner enough interest with the audience to keep them coming back? Time will tell, but it's clear that those in charge need to think about new and exciting ways to keep the sport fresh, and how to bring some of those lost fans back into the fold.
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