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Fri, Oct 24, 2014

WOODY: Empty seats scary sign for NASCAR

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Before launching into a doom-and-gloom rant about the sea of empty seats in which NASCAR is drowning, let’s add a tad of perspective: It’s not just a racing problem.

The mid-summer classic Major League All-Star Game didn’t draw flies. And its TV ratings were abysmal.

In our market, “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” had more viewers that night.

Meanwhile over in Knoxville, Volunteer football is scrambling to peddle tickets to its formerly sold-out football games.

Once red-hot Big Orange tickets have cooled in recent years, due in part to sub-par performances on the field.

The NHL has a small, dedicated clique of fans, but its TV ratings rank somewhere below “Bowling for Towels.”

But just because other sports are singing the turnstile blues doesn’t ease NASCAR’s pain.

It’s partly a victim of its own success; during the 1980s and 1990s it was the fastest-growing sport in the country, and on a per-event basis NASCAR attendance eclipsed every other sport, including the NFL.

When a sport that was once so fat suddenly turns skinny, it’s all the more noticeable.

NASCAR tries to put a positive spin on it, claiming that its declining attendance is nothing to be concerned about – even as tracks are dismantling seats.

The first hints of trouble started a few years ago when Bristol Speedway failed to sell out.

There was a time when a Bristol ticket was hotter than a $10 Rolex.

Even with 160,000 seats, the track couldn’t meet demands.

It sold 160,000 tickets to each of its two annual Cup races and boasted that there were 25,000 more fans on a waiting list.

Well, there’s not a waiting list now.

The giant grandstands yawned half-empty for some of Bristol’s recent races.

The same goes for the Brickyard 400, which should be named the Bore-yard 400. Last Sunday’s 20th annual race was a predictable snoozer, and considering the race’s ho-hum history, NASCAR should be glad that ANY fans at all bothered to show up.

Empty seats doomed Nashville Supespeedway, the Field-of-Dreams track built on the Wilson-Rutherford County line.

Due to dismal turnouts, the track was closed two years ago and remains closed today.

There were troublesome signs from the start, when the track’s inaugural race in 2001 didn’t sell out.

If they couldn’t sell out that first race after all the opening-day hype, future races were in trouble.

After the opening-day disappointment, parent company Dover Motorsports began dismantling some of the 50,000 seats.

When the final lap was run in the final race, there were about 25,000 seats remaining, with perhaps 3,000 of them occupied.

What accounts for NASCAR’s attendance problems?

It’s a combination of a persistently rotten economy and increasingly rotten racing.

Fans aren’t going to shell out big bucks from shrinking budgets to watch PR-programmed drivers cruise around in boring little circles as they did last Sunday at Indy.

As NASCAR struggles to plug its fan drain, it can find a bit of solace in knowing that it’s not alone.

Most other sports are enduring similar ticket travails.

But knowing that someone else has a headache doesn’t ease your own migraine.

And right now NASCAR has a doozy.

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NASCAR, Racing, Sports, Voices
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