ORLANDO, Fla. — Let all of us who grew up watching NASCAR hope and pray that the stories are true.
If NASCAR is, in fact, for sale then maybe our beloved-but-broken Great American Sport can be saved, after all.
Let’s be honest, shall we? NASCAR is dying before our very eyes and the potential sale of it by the founding France family might be the only way to save it from going the way of horse racing.
Although the France ownership group is not confirming the recent Reuters report that the family is selling NASCAR; they’re not denying it either. This is a good thing. The France family, particularly Chairman Brian France (the grandson of founding father Bill France Sr.) is taking the Thelma and Louise route and essentially driving NASCAR off of a cliff.
Even those within NASCAR’s inner circle just roll their eyes when Brian France’s name is mentioned. He is aloof, distant with fans and media and becoming less and less visible as the face of NASCAR. Sadly, he is considered an outsider in the sport his own family founded.
It certainly hasn’t helped that so many popular drivers — Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick — have retired in recent years and left the sport to a current crop of drivers that don’t exactly move the needle.
Fans are staying away from NASCAR tracks in record numbers, television viewers are tuning out NASCAR races in record numbers and corporate sponsors are bailing out on NASCAR drivers in record numbers. NASCAR’s best hope for survival is for new blood, new ideas and a fresh, new start.
Perhaps more than any other sport in today’s crowded entertainment landscape, NASCAR faces obstacles that are going to be difficult to overcome. NASCAR’s season is too long, the races are too long and our attention span is too short. Ironically, a sport that is based on speed is becoming obsolete because it lasts too long. Almost every sport is trying to quicken the game-day experience, but this goal is difficult to attain for NASCAR.
Many sports fans simply aren’t willing to invest the entire day (and sometimes night) it takes to attend a NASCAR race. By the time you drive to a track in a non-metropolitan area such as Darlington, Martinsville or Bristol, endure the traffic getting into the track, watch the race for four hours (without any weather delays), endure the traffic leaving the track and then drive home, you’re talking about a 10- to 12-hour day.
Forbes did an article on NASCAR’s woes and used a recent race in Richmond as an example of the massive decline in attendance. The Richmond race “drew a crowd estimated by news media at about 42,500 — not bad for stands that now seat about 50,000. But there used to be 112,000 seats at Richmond, which were filled for 33 Cup races in a row through 2008.”
Translation: NASCAR cannot remove seats and downsize its track fast enough to keep up with the mass exodus of fans.
Alarmingly, NASCAR has lost more than half (54 percent) of its attendance in the last decade and the TV ratings are plummeting at an equally startling rate. A troubling example are the ratings from the most recent telecast from the Geico 500 in Talladega — one of NASCAR’s most famous and prestigious tracks. According to Forbes figures, TV ratings for the Talladega race have plunged 30 percent in just two years.
Sadly, it’s time for the old-school, grass-roots, family-owned business to give way to a new-age, cutting-edge, creatively innovative corporation. It’s become clear that the creators of NASCAR are now overseeing the death of NASCAR.
If the France family truly wants to save their sport then the time has come for them to sell their sport.
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