By now most of us have read or heard of “The Article” from USA Today that was written following Sunday’s Firekeepers 400 at Michigan in which Kyle Larson was dubbed the “Poster Boy”. While I disagree with this assertion of the article there are parts in the article that have been attacked through social media, and that is where I have to agree with the article in some form.
Is it possible to disagree with parts of an article but agree with others, sure there is, this is a prime example. However this week the entirety of the article has been attacked with outrage but offered no constructive conversation or solution to any of the charges laid forth.
So let’s start with some of the facts stated. There is an identity crisis within NASCAR, one of which rivalries are not being developed both on and off the track.
Today we see drivers hanging out, partying together, working out and going on bike rides both while at the track on weekends and during the off-week. They working together on multiple business projects as partners or golf and play basketball during the week.
All of this has developed a friendlier atmosphere in which drivers and teams regardless of affiliation are more apt to go and have a conversation post-race than to engage in an on/off-track rivalry.
Even Brian France has addressed the situation saying that NASCAR is a contact sport on multiple occasions, however we are seeing less and less of that occurring.
As for the fans in the stands and start times this is obvious a very complex issue all and into itself.
Let’s address the ticket situation first, this past week at Michigan there were reportedly 45 – 50,000 in the stands for a track that seats 71,000. This is already after removing stands in recent years and not counting infield, suites and others possibly at the track.
Each and every track is under the same pressure, in a world of increasing entertainment opportunities; they fight for that ever shrinking entertainment dollar. But the problem goes way beyond the track itself, in many aspects beyond their control. Somewhat two fold here which also in part is due to the start times which I will address in a moment.
As a matter of practice most venues market to what they believe is their optimal base, fans within a day’s drive or approximately 300 miles from the venue. Anyone outside of that scope will more likely be looking for and needing accommodations in the form of hotels, motels, camping at the track or surrounding area.
Accommodations are the single most expensive part of the weekend. Going to an event at a track such as Martinsville, Bristol, Dover or New Hampshire fans will find hotel prices sky rocket on weekends or having to drive up to an hour plus to find reasonable rates.
This is something tracks have attempted to address over the years with little to no success in many cases with many of these weekends pushing very high triple-digit weekend rates and mandatory minimum stays.
One such attempt recently is NASCAR as the sanctioning body is partnering with Hotels for Hope as a way to help in the search for hotels but also as a way to help the NASCAR Foundation.
For the start times, this was addressed not only in the article but across social media this weekend including references from FOX own staff.
This including several pit reporters questioning the late start times and even Mike Joy a lead booth announcer with other industry insiders saying late start times were tried nearly years ago and never moved the needle in terms of ratings to quote Joy himself on Twitter.
Joy further went on to explain that the late start times were reducing the effectiveness of the optimal ticket sales radius in a conversation with ESPN’s Bob Pockrass.
My theory is each hour later start time reduces effective ticket buying radius 60 to 100 miles.— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) June 19, 2017
Most fans must get to work Monday morning. https://t.co/zYu99TSNXv
While this was done to help out those on the west coast, even Indy Car driver Graham Rahal questioned the late times in response to a tweet from Dale Jr.
living in SoCal part time, watching things at 9 am is perfect on a Sunday! By noon everyone's headed to the beach.— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) June 19, 2017
Wholesale these are two issues that we will need to come to grips on and find an even balance on, not everyone will be happy, which is always going to be true.
The solution to this is going to be moderately earlier races in the day with a somewhat standard start time to allow fan attending to plan and make their way back home from Sunday events to go to work on Monday, later races ensure lower ticket sale and smaller optimal sales radius.
Sure, there will be those who will always choose to take that next day off, but with the economy and work environment ever shrinking its prudent NASCAR and stakeholders remain focused on those attending events weekly.
In turn this also helps TV, the later the race in the day the more people who tune out. Putting a race in the middle of the afternoon on the east coast during the summer, most fans have moved on and going other places.
Give them the earlier race to watch and their afternoons back to enjoy other entertainment it’s a win-win for all.
In all as a sport we attacked the article when in reality we always ask for solutions. It’s time to get back to looking for those solutions.