The problem of slow ticket sales experienced by NASCAR the past couple of years just seems to continue.
Despite last minute cuts in ticket prices, last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), won by Jamie McMurray, experienced its lowest attendance ever at 140,000. As recently as 2007, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event attracted a crowd of 270,000, but it has seen sharp declines in attendance over the years, with the audience shrinking by 40,000 in the last year alone.
Revenue has also taken a big hit. In the mid 1990’s, the race was able to bring in $30 million, while this year’s earnings may settle out below the $10 million mark.
As this year’s race date approached, IMS officials, responding to fans who said they couldn’t afford to attend this year’s event, moved quickly to decrease general admission prices for the race to $40. GA pricing will drop further for the 2011 race, to $30 in advance and $35 at the gate. Next year’s lower row seats in the Southeast, Southwest and Northeast Vistas and H Stand grandstands will see a decline of $20, selling for between $50 and $65. Prices for premium penthouse seats will increase, however, by $10 to $15.
As additional remedies, some have suggested adding lights to the IMS and moving the Brickyard 400 to the evening, when cooler temperatures may attract more fans. An evening race also may draw more television viewers, a good thing considering that viewership was down 13 percent this year, according to ESPN’s data.
It is possible that this year’s sudden price drop may simply have occurred too late to make much of a difference in attendance and revenue for the Brickyard, and that brainstorming for next year will actually make a dent in the attendance problem.
However, the larger issue at work is that the economy has taken a bite out of all sports attendance, save the NFL’s, in recent years, and NASCAR has been particularly impacted. While industry execs have been fighting back this year with special promotions, price slashing on tickets and value-added packages, professional motorsports still finds itself hard hit, with an overall drop of 20 percent in attendance this year. Even with its own low audience totals, the Brickyard was the best attended NASCAR event so far this season.
Responsible at least in part for these particularly bad NASCAR numbers is the nature of motorsports’ fan base. A majority of fans are blue collar workers, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet in this economy, never mind being able to afford race tickets.
Though results of this year’s efforts have been disappointing, NASCAR officials continue to try to address these economy-based issues with their fans.
“This new ticket pricing program will make the Brickyard 400 more accessible to more fans while also providing more choices for value-conscious consumers,” Jeff Belskus, IMS president and CEO, told the Associated Press. At a town-hall style meeting of top NASCAR team owners this week, NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston also told the AP, “Cost containment is a key issue in our sport (and) we are always open to additional ideas.”