Nick Bromberg · Tuesday October 5, 2010
The estimated attendance for the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway Sunday was 100,000, and as we all know, those official estimations tend to be on the very high side of the scale.
The grandstands at Kansas Speedway seat approximately 82,000 and to this person’s untrained eye, looked about 75 to 80 percent full. At the high end of the spectrum, that means that there were approximately 66,000 people in the stands.
So for the official estimation to be correct, that would mean that there were 34,000 people spread throughout the infield. Um… No. I’m not convinced that 34,000 people could line up shoulder to shoulder in the RV lot in the infield at the Speedway and fit.
But no matter the real number, the crowd at Kansas Speedway looked very good by 2010 NASCAR standards. And honestly, it had to. The track was going to get a second Cup race no matter what because the state approved the ISC-supported plans for a casino to be built just off of Turn 2. Of course, that alone doesn’t cosmetically justify a second date. The grandstands on Sunday had to look like they were relatively full to ensure it looked like Kansas deserved its long-awaited expansion, and that was accomplished.
However, that may have more to do with the smart planning by the folks at Kansas Speedway than anything else. In the first few years of the track’s existence, demand outweighed supply, and sellouts were the norm. Now, even with the elimination of mandatory season ticket packages, the supply heavily outweighs the demand, especially during non-Cup events. But that’s the norm everywhere, isn’t it?
Here’s one important difference: how they handled it. Kansas could have had a knee-jerk response to that boom and overbuilt to put more butts in the seats those years, a profit-hungry mentality most facilities jumped on during the same time period. That would have generated more revenue for the track in the short term, certainly, but how would those grandstands have looked Sunday if capacity was 100,000 or over?
The estimated attendance at the previous race at Dover was 88,000. Now that, too, was probably an overestimation, but that supposed 88,000 looked like 10,000 given Dover’s listed capacity of 140,000 seats.
Major League Baseball just announced their highest attendance numbers in years, but that’s an anomaly. The NFL and NASCAR are both suffering — the latter more than the former — because, quite frankly, the competition experience is much better on television. Sure, you can’t inhale the fumes of the gas or smell the rubber from your couch, but you sure as hell know what’s going on more than someone in the grandstands does. (Unless that person shelled out extra money for a scanner or FanView)
Should we really be blaming the fans and the hotels that price gouge on race weekends, though? Shouldn’t some of the blame of the empty stand phenomenon be spread to the track owners and operators who overbuilt to fill what they saw as a permanent increase in popularity?
Let’s be honest, assuming a lasting demand in any sport is absurdly foolish. Yes, at one time, every one of Dover’s 140,000 seats were filled, but at this point, the NASCAR boom can almost be compared to the tech bubble of the 1990’s.
During the summer, people inside and out of the sport were pointing to Iowa Speedway as a beacon of attendance in these rough times. You want to know what Iowa’s capacity is? 30,000. Yes, the track ships in temporary seating for race weekends, but that doesn’t come close to doubling that number. Kansas Speedway probably drew more than Iowa did for its Nationwide race Saturday. Kansas looked empty. Iowa looked like it was bursting at the seams.
In anticipation of next year’s Sprint Cup date, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is expanding the capacity at Kentucky Motor Speedway. The current capacity is a modest 66,000, yet Smith has plans to expand that to 116,000. I’m afraid that “absurdly foolish” quote may fit here.
Kentucky Motor Speedway is approximately 2.5 hours from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about five hours from Michigan International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Combined, those four tracks are going to host five races over a 10-week summer span in 2011. This year’s Bristol night race didn’t sell out. Do you really think that any of those races will next year, especially with Kentucky’s extravagant new addition?
Hey Bruton, I know you won’t follow my advice, but why don’t you make smaller expansions over the next few years? Isn’t a near-capacity crowd of 80,000 going to look better than the same attendance spread out over 116,000 seats?
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