Earlier this year a trusted colleague, who just happens to be more ‘connected’ than myself, told me to hold on. NASCAR as we have come to know it is in for some big changes. In the end, this particular colleague said that while these changes may sting for a bit, just like a child who gets a vaccination, it would eventually work out for the good.
Now whether this prediction turns out to be as painful as it sounds, we simply do not know yet. However, it did give me a sense of déjà vu. Where had I heard that before? Ah yes! Here it is…from over four years ago! The following was written by me in May of 2006. Usually I just link stuff like this, but I feel it needs to actually be re-read. I have added some current commentary and/or quotes that will be in italics, just as this intro has been.
There is an old saying that goes something like this:
What goes up, must come down.
This bit of worldly wisdom, thanks to the laws of physics, applies to everything on our planet, with the possible exception of gas prices – which apparently obey their own special laws. NASCAR, though, has no such exception.
For years, NASCAR has continued to grow and grow, fueled mostly by the personalities of stars like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, just to name a few. For the last 35 years, these three men among others are examples of those who have carried the sport.
As a kid in the early ’70s, everyone wanted to be Petty. Red, white and blue STP stickers were everywhere. My friends and I had them on our bikes. Older brothers had them on the rear or side windows of souped-up jalopies. Whenever you saw the number 43, the first thing that came to mind was a blue and red Dodge Charger.
While Petty raced into the ’90s, the ’80s saw the emergence of men like Earnhardt. Earnhardt led the craze of new faces that dominated the sport in a time when electronic technology and communications were changing the way the sport was viewed almost as fast as a lap at Talladega. Earnhardt in particular latched on to his “bad boy” image, utilizing his “Intimidator” nickname to take the marketing of drivers to a new level.
As time went on, the era of the ‘90s ushered in the likes of Gordon. Young girls swooned. Marketing boomed. Technology was now changing faster than a lap at Bristol. This thing called NASCAR had become huge.
While NASCAR was already in the midst of an exponential growth spurt, there is no doubt in my mind that the tragic death in 2001 of Earnhardt shot it into space. The man WAS NASCAR. The incredible growth caused by that aftermath gave NASCAR more money than GOD.
NASCAR itself began changing to keep up with the marketing times and to keep the cash coming in. A new, hipper CEO named Brian France, announced billion-dollar television deals. Fresh young drivers are marketed as not only racers but outright sex symbols. NASCAR openly caters to the young, trying to shed its redneck image. Times are good.
NASCAR, earlier this year, announced that they were cutting race purses by 10% in all three major series. They have recently announce they are cutting purses in the Nationwide Series an additional 20% in 2011. This is designed to “save the tracks” money, and it does, but the biggest saver is the France family controlled ISC, who owns the majority of the tracks.
ISC has taken a major hit in the wallet the last few years and are furiously trying to make up for it. So much so that they have made major changes at the top executive levels, the latest of which is evidenced from this recent ISC press release.
Through all of this, NASCAR forgot one thing; people are fickle. By 2003, television ratings started to slip. Brian France, eager to maintain record profits, develops the new “Chase” format in a direct and blatant attempt to usurp the NFL as king of the fall ratings.
2004 looks pretty good. Ratings have gone back up. The new “Chase” format seems to have worked. 2005 is even better. NASCAR is enjoying record ratings growth. Brian France, so impressed is he with his own creation, briefly toys with the idea of legally rearranging the letters of his first name. Brain France is more to his liking!
Now, it is 13 races into 2006. The television ratings have been DOWN from last year’s for ALL BUT THREE RACES so far, some remarkably so, and not just the ones that were affected by rain. The bosses in Daytona must be choking on their caviar and demanding to be told what is going on!
The ratings have continued to drop since 2006. Oh sure, there is the occasional race that does better than the previous year, but overall averages are down, down, down. In May of 2009 however, NASCAR finally had this brainstorm about the ratings:
“As you look at the current snapshot, it’s been a challenging year,” said Paul Brooks, president of NASCAR Media Group. “That being said, we’re still the No. 1 sport on television six of the last nine weeks. The flip side is that we hear great things, that it’s not a NASCAR issue. It’s a broader economy and advertising issue. The biggest impact is with our TV partners and their commercial sales. We’re mindful of that… but our position in the sports and entertainment landscape is strong.”
NASCAR’s Brooks went on to theorize about some of the possible reasons the ratings may be down.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be breaking away from pit stops, which is the traditional model,” he said. “What we’re hearing from fans is that they want to see that. That’s an important part of the race.”
Michael Smith, a writer for Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal also backed up NASCAR’s assertion that it wasn’t their fault in May of 2009.
“There’s also the Dale Earnhardt Jr. factor. Earnhardt, the sport’s greatest selling force and biggest star, has yet to hit his stride at Hendrick Motorsports. With Earnhardt standing 18th in points and owning just one top-five finish this season, he’s been unable to provide a Tiger Woods-like surge for NASCAR through his performance.”
Now that we know what Tiger was doing back then, maybe Dale Jr. should go after that ExtenZe sponsorship to help NASCAR out!
Listen closely, Daytona bosses, and I will tell you again; people are fickle. Especially the young ones you have tried so hard to bring into your coffers the last few years. They just don’t have the attention span. Remote control technology baby! Satellite and Cable TV! Flip, flip, flip, FLOP!
Now, I’m not saying ALL the younger generation kids are that way, but that is the way society is nowadays. It’s instant gratification; they want it NOW! And even when you give it to them NOW, they are soon bored with it and move on to something else newer and cooler.
Multitudes of fans that are of the “older” generation (and by older I mean 35-55-plus) have been openly insulted by NASCAR and called “redneck” and “too white.” Many, tired of the insults and loss of traditions, have simply given up on NASCAR, or at the very least, only give it a passing interest. It is a shame.
OK, we’ve talked about the purses being cut (aka lower sanction fees for tracks), we’ve seen how the past effort for the younger, casual fan has worked out…What is the plan for the future? Here is Eddie Gossage’s (president of SMI’s Texas Motor Speedway) plan:
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between the hard-core NASCAR fan that’s a little bit older and the flat bill-wearing, Red Bull-drinking crowd that we need to grow as well. They both like cars and pretty women; that’s the common denominator.”
Where do the pretty women come in, you ask? That would be “The Great American Sweethearts”, a trio modeled after the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders that will handle the track’s newest ad campaign. Yeah, good idea! Let’s go for that ‘flat bill-wearing, Red Bull-drinking crowd!’ Can you say “history repeating itself?”
Mark these words. In a marketing sense and in exponential growth, NASCAR has been running the high line a long time. Now though, the tires are starting to wear. They better bring her in and make a few adjustments, or they will soon find themselves hard in the outside wall!
The original title of this article in 2006 was; Is the NASCAR Bubble About to Burst? The answer to that is, YES! It did burst and it is not done bursting. It will burst more before it stops. The good news is this: Hang on! The cars will still go round and round in some fashion or another. The prices will continue to come down even more for us fans. While the prices come down, there will be better seats available and, maybe the best perk, less crowds and traffic!
So hang on long time, redneck fan and enjoy it as NASCAR gets ready to pucker up and kiss our asses! Many changes are afoot, just hide and watch!
Stay off the wall, (If you can, NASCAR) (NASCAR didn’t and is now off the track seeking repairs!)