NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France knows ratings are down and he knows attendance is down. He admits it’s something they worry about.
“Of course we do,” said France at his mid-season state of the sports press conference at Daytona on Saturday. “Some markets are just more challenged. Some are doing better than they did last year. It’s a mixed bag a little bit.”
NASCAR no longer provides attendance estimates for race weekends, it is up to the individual tracks to do so, it they so desire. The tracks owned by International Speedway Corporation (a division of NASCAR and the owners of Kansas Speedway) reported an overall increase of 15% in attendance during the second quarter compared to a year ago. But that’s good news for some tracks, while France admits other tracks, like Dover continue to struggle to draw fans in.
“On balance attendance is up,” said France. “Historically important events will work themselves out with time and some is that is on us too. We’ve got to constantly figure out how to make tighter, better.”
TV ratings for the sport are down between five and 15% each week depending on the track. For the first night race at the Kansas Speedway the viewership was down about 11%. Despite the decreased viewership, it still out performed he NBA playoffs head to head. France believes there is a bigger reason ratings are down, beyond the simple inference that fans are losing interest.
“They are down for obvious reasons,” said France. “At Daytona (ratings were down) simply because of running the entire day and not until the evening. And then lots of rain and lots of World Cup competition and other things. When you go around and really look at it and look at all the digital interest that we have today and that’s not obviously scored (in the ratings) currently, we’re real pleased with that. We’re not off that much even with our challenges. We’re never pleased when our ratings aren’t growing at the rate we would like, but we understand this is a circumstances will always have us going one way or the other from time to time.”
France says NASCAR continues to try to develop new ways to attract fans and make a trip to the track or sitting down in front of the tv to watch a race an overall more enjoying experience. Some of the changes are major, like the new ‘Daytona Rising’ project at its flagship track. Others more subtle, like perhaps changing the experience of souvenir row.
“We really want to have a higher quality merchandise available in more places and make it more convenient for our fans,” said France. “Just how that gets done, the tracks and the teams and everybody else will come together and figure that out.”
France also says with the new tv contract starting next season, they are certainly exploring changes to the schedule. But those won’t be released until the fall. He says it’s all about making racing more attractive to the fans.
“There’s been some weather issues as you well know in the last several years at Bristol for an example. And then some other things that we would naturally look at as we go along in the schedule. And now that the Chase format has changed there is additional interest to move from one place to another so there will be a robust discussion for those reasons a more comprehensive look at what the best schedule will look like.”