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Five reasons why NASCAR isn't racing to oblivion

Updated on October 26, 2013
Defending champ Keselowski is a tremendous ambassador for the sport- and he didn't even make the top five
Defending champ Keselowski is a tremendous ambassador for the sport- and he didn't even make the top five | Source

There are plenty of articles out there critical of the decisions NASCAR has made over the years. I've written my share and without a doubt there will be more in the years to come. That criticism comes in large part from wanting the sport to do better, from wanting NASCAR to be as good as it can possibly be. And part of writing on the sport involves doing a great deal of reading what others are writing as well. I came across an article on Friday that moved me enough that I felt it deserved more than just a one or two sentence comment or email to the author; the article was, “Racing to oblivion,” written by Autoextremist columnist Peter De Lorenzo. In it, Mr. De Lorenzo essentially argues that the insular environment in both NASCAR and IndyCar has pushed those series beyond the point of no return and will ultimately result in their failure

With all due respect, despite a handful of poor decisions of late, the reality is that NASCAR isn't going anywhere. Both in financial terms and fan engagement terms, NASCAR remains a player in the American sports landscape. Listed below are five reasons why the sky isn't falling and NASCAR isn't racing to oblivion any time soon.

NASCAR will receive billions in revenue from its television partners over the next decade
NASCAR will receive billions in revenue from its television partners over the next decade | Source

1. That's $8.2 billion with a B

Earlier this year, NASCAR signed a pair of television contracts that will pay the series an average of $820 million per year. Over the following ten seasons (2015 through 2024), NASCAR as a company will take in $8.2 billion dollars in television rights fees before a single ticket is sold or a single sponsorship signed. Despite the steady drumbeat of stories about NASCAR's aging fanbase and declining ratings, two networks thought enough of the product to pay a huge sum of money for the rights to broadcast racing. Moreover, these agreements represented a huge increase on the current contracts- meaning that NASCAR is going to have more money to play with on the R&D front and in race purses. Higher purses and more research will funnel down to the teams in many different ways and will only help improve stock car racing in the long run.


2. “The Outlaw” makes the Chase

While his actual Chase effort has fallen short, the fact that Kurt Busch and his single car team made the playoff field is a shot in the arm for a host of other small outfits. They now believe that with the right driver and the right technical alliance, they too can make the Chase at some point in the future. That's clearly the thinking at Germain Racing, who will join Furniture Row as technical allies of Richard Childress Racing. The reborn Phoenix Racing under Harry Scott's ownership will continue their work with Hendrick Motorsports but now they appear to have sponsorship as well. More competitive teams means more competitive racing and that's something every fan appreciates.

Kurt Busch gave hope to every single car operation that they too can someday make the Chase
Kurt Busch gave hope to every single car operation that they too can someday make the Chase | Source
Kyle Larson answers questions with defending champ Keselowski
Kyle Larson answers questions with defending champ Keselowski | Source

3. They're still trying

Lost in the Chase news was a practice session at Charlotte two weeks ago that demonstrate NASCAR hasn't given up on beating the aerodynamic advantage of clean air. That session (and the countless hours of wind tunnel work leading up to it) may prove to be the very salvation of the sport. Financial reality dictates that the dozers won't be plowing under the intermediate tracks any time soon. So the challenge is to find a way to make those tracks better. These tests show that NASCAR is willing to open up the book and find a creative way to reduce aerodynamic advantages. In the past decade, NASCAR has implemented a number of different changes in an effort to improve racing. Some have worked, some haven't. But the fact that they're willing to (privately) admit the problem and spend real money to fix it shows that they're still trying.


4. The next big thing(s)

NASCAR is on the verge of the best crop of young drivers to hit the sport in nearly 15 years. This year saw Ricky Stenhouse in a full time ride at Roush Fenway Racing and while the results aren't stellar, he's getting his shot. Next year will see Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Kyle Larson run the Sprint Cup schedule in competitive equipment. Behind them are a host of other talented young drivers including Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney among others. The sport desperately needs the next big thing to step up and capture the crowd the way Jeff Gordon did in the 90's and Dale Earnhardt Jr did in the 2000s. Racing is an entertainment product that depends on fans identifying with the athletes and younger fans haven't had many to choose from of late. That's changing in a big way.

5. Attendance and ratings aren't what you think

Stop me if you've heard this before. “NASCAR's TV ratings and attendance figures are in a steep decline. People aren't showing up at the track and aren't watching on television. It's not just the economy, people aren't interested in racing anymore!” It's a story written regularly since 2008-9 when the economy melted down and many forms of entertainment took a financial hit.


Here's the reality. While NASCAR doesn't have the same level of buzz it did a decade ago, they've essentially stopped the ratings bleeding. Average ratings for the first 35 races this season (including the Sprint Unlimited, Daytona qualifying, and All Star Race) are 3.64 with 5.8 million viewers. The average TV audience for a NASCAR race between 2009 and 2013? 3.73 with 5.8 million viewers. In other words, it's been a completely average season for NASCAR on TV and a tight title race could actually make it an above average one.

While Dover's attendance has suffered of late, most tracks have stabilized
While Dover's attendance has suffered of late, most tracks have stabilized | Source

The attendance figures are a trickier matter. NASCAR stopped reporting track attendance figures of this year so there's little data in terms of fans in the stands from 2013. But a look at the 2007-2012 attendance figures shows that while some tracks are in a steep decline (Michigan, Dover and Indianapolis chief among them), most are not. Tracks such as Pocono, Martinsville and Las Vegas held virtually steady while Fontana and Watkins Glen saw their numbers increase in 2012. A look at the SEC filings from Speedway Motorsports and International Speedway Corp (who own the vast majority of NASCAR's tracks) show the companies remain profitable with steady revenue.


Would they- and NASCAR as a whole- welcome growth? Absolutely. But the climate of negativity surrounding NASCAR's future prospects is far from reality. The aging fanbase and aerodynamic concerns are major ones that cloud the outlook for NASCAR 25 years down the road. But the series has time to work on those and will have a huge influx of new dollars to work with in the next decade. In other words, they're hardly racing to oblivion right now.

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      Russ 3 years ago

      I think the issue is one of whether the glass is half full or half empty. Yet in response to each of your points.

      1. Yes NBC and Fox paid for the privilege of carrying Nascar. However these are start up sports networks that had to be sure they outbid the competition to get content to air. They are probably kicking themselves to find that ESPN and TNT choose not to bid. And if reports are true that ESPN was more interested in acquiring the rights to the NBA, what does that say?

      2. To say that Furniture Row's limited success along with Phoenix being bought insures more competitive fields is optimism carried to the extreme. NO NEW TEAMS are coming in. Those that are there are quickly becoming satellites of the 4 mega teams. HMS, JGR, RFR and RCR. Satellites don't beat the supplier.

      3. Only a fool would think that ISC and SMS would do anything detrimental to the properties they own at the expense of hundreds of millions. Its actually funny when writers try to pretend that each of the tracks is an independent entity. Almost as funny as the belief that they would forsake a track they own for one where someone else would make the profits.

      4. The next big thing? As in any sport there is a changing of the guard, any it doesn't move the needle. But hope springs eternal.

      5. Level ratings or attendance is a positive? How much has the population grown over the period you use? Millions, yet no more are watching? Seems to me that at best the sport in treading water. ISC isn't pulling thousands of seats out of places like Richmond and Daytona because they expect a sudden resurgence. I suspect that that it has more to do with tax lax than attendance.

      But to paraphrase Dennis Miller "that's only my opinion, I could be wrong".

    • anotherleftturn profile image
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      Mike Roush 3 years ago from Newark, DE

      Russ, thanks for your in-depth response; and a Dennis Miller quote responding to a NASCAR column? That may well be a sign that the sky is falling :)

      I think the key point here is not that NASCAR doesn't have issues- it does. And no, the sport isn't growing as it was during the 90's and early 2000s. But there's a difference between "not growing" and heading off a cliff. Perhaps it is a matter of perspective but I think NASCAR is far more likely to survive and grow once again than it is to go bankrupt.

      I've read literally hundreds of articles the past few years talking about how the sport is failing and that ratings and attendance are dropping like a stone. The perception of decline remains strong and authors continue to churn those articles out even though they don't match reality any more. Before NASCAR can grow, they had to stop the bleeding first. By all statistical measurements, they have.

      Finally, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the "changing of the guard". Attracting the next generation of fans depends on having drivers they can latch on to- particularly those who weren't fans of the sport to begin with. It was true for Earnhardt in the 80's and for Gordon in the 90's. Earnhardt Jr. had the potential to do the same in the 2000s but he didn't have the same measure of success the first two did and NASCAR as a whole suffered as a result.

      NASCAR desperately needs one of these younger guys to match success on the track with charisma off of it the way generational talents have before. That alone will correct for many of the problems the series faces today.

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      The 8B will not amount to nothing if the drivers hold their collective stance and demand for safe barriers in and around all Nascar sanctioned tracks. If a driver suffers a concussion after a collision against a non protected wall, and is sidelined for a race or two, what happens next

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      Greg 3 years ago

      Is NASCAR or Indy Car Racing going away.. No, of course not. Will they be TV staples? No again! Here's what you failed to mention.. The sport has been dead flat! Your numbers, not mine. Any thing that remains flat over that near decade of time, will eventually crumble OR be replaced. Where are the innovations that bring fans into the stands? There are none!! Where are the commentators that ready to speak about improvements, not bash, but be constructive? My hopes is that someone will replace the France family as the protectors of this sport. This last France has never earned the privilege of owning or even running this kind of enterprise.

      NASCAR, get with the program or you'll find that the track promoters find easier, cheaper and more profitable venues than NASCAR. It's all about the money!

    • anotherleftturn profile image
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      Mike Roush 3 years ago from Newark, DE

      Greg, the opportunity certainly exists. Bruton Smith has competed with NASCAR before and could easily take his slate of tracks to form the core of a new stock car series. But doing so would cost him billions as well (tracks receive 65% of the television revenue) and as a publicly traded company, turning down that kind of money for an unknown venture would have complications. It's why he's maintained an uneasy partnership with NASCAR for decades despite having the means to do otherwise.

      If Bruton stays with NASCAR there simply are not enough available tracks to form a viable alternative series. Iowa and Rockingham are the only independent non-Cup tracks out there with extensive SAFER barriers. ISC tracks certainly will not sanction events for an alternative series. They would be left with third-rate venues that NASCAR left behind for a reason. Would the racing be better? Maybe. Good enough to compete with NASCAR? Probably not.

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