Jesse Medford · Thursday May 31, 2012
If you are a race fan, you have heard about Rusty Wallace’s recommendation for NASCAR to shorten their schedule. If you haven’t heard about it, you must have been enjoying your extended Memorial Day Weekend under a rock at the beach somewhere. Just in case, here’s the gist of what Rusty said Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, taking out the virtual knife in claiming the schedule must be cut from 36 races to 32.
“It’s the classic case of supply and demand,” Rusty said. “Too much supply and not enough demand.”
The NASCAR Hall Of Famer to be has a great idea in theory. Is it any coincidence that the decline in interest of the Sprint Cup Series started shortly after they increased to 36 races in 2001?
However, contraction, like in many sports will simply never happen. NASCAR gets paid by the tracks to bring the Sprint Cup events to them, raking in even more dough by the networks to televise these races. Cutting back just wouldn’t make as much money for this sport. Why would NASCAR give up the big checks that the track owners are paying them, not to mention all the other tangible and intangible sources of revenue they get over the course of a race weekend?
But let’s play Devil’s Advocate here, just to see how Rusty’s plan would play out. If NASCAR was to take away a supply of races, so a fan has fewer options, it could spark more demand and increase the odds that when a fan has the option to attend a race, or even watch on television, he or she will take advantage of the opportunity. In this case, an 11 percent cut, opening up a full extra month of weekends is significant enough to make a difference.
As a small example, when a race was taken away from Auto Club Speedway in 2010, they received a little bit of a spike in attendance at the Fontana, California racetrack for their lone remaining date. It could also be argued that a West Coast race being taken away from an oval, especially one with two stops during the season could increase attendance at other facilities close by. With less options to choose from, yearly travel would be redirected for fans in between multiple locations who still wanted to attend 2-3 races a year.
“Ultimately, the decision on race dates is up to NASCAR,” David Talley, Auto Club Speedway Director of Communications told Frontstretch.com. “We’d hate to see anyone lose a date, as less dates means less exposure.”
Is that really true? Of course, track operators will never get excited about taking a race off the schedule. But with empty seats approaching 50% at some tracks, that supply and demand scenario seems like a good idea on the surface. How could you argue against the possibility of any idea that would put more fans in the seats on one race day?
There’s more advantages that could be gained with more off weeks. Most race viewers would have extra weekend afternoons to enjoy time with non-NASCAR fan friends and family. Some would instantly yearn for a race to watch on those off-weekends, making them less likely to miss the sport when it returns. A small handful of Über fans would even go to their local tracks, helping keep the roots of the sport healthy from the ground up.
Economies would be better in The Caribbean and Charlotte, from all the vacation and stay-cation money spent by the race teams while off. Fans’ local economies would see a little bit more money from the extra shopping for the barbeques going on and non-NASCAR related weekend daytrips. The local tracks would sell more tickets and concessions.
Who stands to lose, you may ask? The track owners, silly!
Do you think Bruton Smith would take this loss of race dates so easily if he lost an event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway? He would no doubt start a lawsuit the day of the announcement. And don’t forget about the local economies taking a hit around the track. Smaller towns like Bristol, Tennessee and Martinsville, Virginia depend so much on the race coming to town. Larger cities like Phoenix, Arizona or Indianapolis, Indiana wouldn’t be affected nearly as much, but if their politicians got involved in lobbying to keep the date, it could get ugly.
Team owners also would side for an extended schedule in the long run. Yes, four less races gives them more time to fine-tune their cars and line their pockets with the sponsorship money saved on less travel expenses. But they, too, would eventually complain after hearing pushback to their sales pitch about not enough races for the money they are asking to sponsor the stable of drivers they have mired in the middle of the pack.
Based on Brad Keselowski’s tweet from the last few days, he likes the idea of shortening the season. Don’t feel sorry for those millionaire drivers, though; instead of working, they’ll have more weekends off to spend money on their hobbies and rich lifestyles that they so desire to spend more weekends doing. If anyone has a true case for needing more time off, it would be the lowly crew guy working all of those early morning and late hours in the shop. Feel for them, as you should, but anybody who believes a professional race car driver is in need of sympathy should think again. A guy that works about the same number of hours as an elementary school teacher during the course of a year, but makes a thousand times more money isn’t exactly hurting for time off.
The television contracts bring in another huge dilemma when it comes to shortening the schedule. These same networks, which at times have acted like they don’t have interest in the sport they are paying millions for would suddenly care enough to cry foul. Don’t believe me? It has happened elsewhere. When the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins were facing contraction from Major League Baseball in 2001, FOX SportsNet Minnesota sued and earned a ruling in their favor which forced the league to back off. The Expos later moved to a new home in Washington, D.C while the Twins built a brand new stadium and are doing well.
As a lifelong Twins fan, I followed this saga with great interest and was very concerned at the development of the team dissolving into oblivion. It’s the same dread any serious Sprint Cup fan living near Atlanta Motor Speedway would feel if the prospects of not being able to go to an event near home were to come true. It’s exactly how someone who lives near the tracks in North Wilkesboro or Rockingham felt when the series left them behind – only their nightmare became reality.
How can that type of contraction change a fan following? In hockey, when the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, I quit following the NHL entirely. NASCAR could count on that effect many times over if the dates they cut removed tracks off the schedule completely. Fans are losing patience with the perceived decline of the sport, so when the resentment hits home in your own community, that becomes the final straw for many people.
The NBA discussed contracting the Charlotte Bobcats, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets basketball teams as part of their labor talks last year. The player’s union proved to be too much for the NBA to handle, especially when it comes to the chances of the league reducing the number of jobs available. Not only does it cost top level roster slots, it decreases the opportunity for new players to break into the league. Shorter schedules would affect racing in a similar manner, as NASCAR would be faced with fewer opportunities for the already challenged “young guns” to cut their teeth.
None of the big four in professional stick-and-ball sports have ever reduced the number of games played in a non-strike or lockout season. If you are thinking NASCAR has already set a precedent, by reducing the number of races with the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series, remember those are far smaller in scope. The second-tier divisions, more like support series don’t have track owners willing to give them money, hand over fist, to bring their cars into town. So if you truly believe that NASCAR will shorten the Sprint Cup Series schedule, think again.
It isn’t happening, Rusty.
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