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DATE News (chronologically)
05/17/10
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Empty seats in NASCAR  UPDATE NASCAR, one of North America's biggest professional spectator sports, is experiencing a prolonged slump in ticket sales due to the still weak economy.

The auto racing league, which often pours more than 100,000 fans into the stands and infields at several tracks, has seen attendance drop at nine out of its first 10 races this season, according to USA Today. Some races are even logging non-sellouts for the first time in years.

Overall, attendance for 2010 is down about 10 percent compared to the same period in 2009, NASCAR says.

Earlier in the year, Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owner of nine NASCAR tracks said it recorded a decrease in earnings for 2009, with revenues also dropping to $550.5 million, down from $611 million the previous year.

NASCAR is trying to lure fans by lowering prices tickets and merchandise, and running various promotions, but only some of the deals seem to be taking hold. Roger VanDerSnick, chief operating officer of International Speedway Corp. (ISC), told USA Today that the season's attendance woes have not been a surprise, but that still doesn't lessen the sting. ISC owns 12 NASCAR tracks.

"A number of our ticketing strategies are working. But our sport is comprised of middle America, and (it's) going to take time before the economy starts driving employment and consumer confidence," he said. ISC has lowered some tickets at some tracks and is offering payment plans, among other incentives.

NASCAR will be at ISC-owned Darlington Raceway in South Carolina tomorrow night, May 8, for the Showtime Southern 500, and earlier in the week, the track was touting that tickets were still available. The annual race recorded four consecutive sellouts from 2005 to 2008, but for the past two years, it has reduced some ticket prices down to $35 each, a drop of about $10 per ticket.

“We went through a major price reduction during the offseason to help make attending a race at Darlington more affordable for our loyal fans,” Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning said in a statement. Prices for more than 40,000 seats have been reduced this season; seating capacity is 65,000. “We’ve also extended ticket office hours to include weekends to make the purchasing process a little easier for folks.”

NASCAR is trying to lure fans by lowering prices tickets and merchandise, and running various promotions, but only some of the deals seem to be taking hold. Roger VanDerSnick, chief operating officer of International Speedway Corp. (ISC), told USA Today that the season's attendance woes have not been a surprise, but that still doesn't lessen the sting. ISC owns 12 NASCAR tracks.

"A number of our ticketing strategies are working. But our sport is comprised of middle America, and (it's) going to take time before the economy starts driving employment and consumer confidence," he said. ISC has lowered some tickets at some tracks and is offering payment plans, among other incentives.

NASCAR will be at ISC-owned Darlington Raceway in South Carolina tomorrow night, May 8, for the Showtime Southern 500, and earlier in the week, the track was touting that tickets were still available. The annual race recorded four consecutive sellouts from 2005 to 2008, but for the past two years, it has reduced some ticket prices down to $35 each, a drop of about $10 per ticket.

“We went through a major price reduction during the offseason to help make attending a race at Darlington more affordable for our loyal fans,” Darlington Raceway President Chris Browning said in a statement. Prices for more than 40,000 seats have been reduced this season; seating capacity is 65,000. “We’ve also extended ticket office hours to include weekends to make the purchasing process a little easier for folks.” ticketnews.com

05/13/10 DENIS MCGLYNN watches NASCAR's Sprint Cup races on television and sees the empty seats. On Sunday, McGlynn expects to see vacant seats at Dover International Speedway, where he is president and CEO.
"Nobody's selling out," McGlynn said Tuesday. "When you see 40,000 empty seats at Bristol [Tenn.], it tells you it's the economy and the impact it's having on ticket buyers.

"Many NASCAR fans have blue-collar jobs. There are signs the economy is improving, but employment is the last thing to come back. You just have to be patient."

Races at the Delaware oval haven't sold out for several years. Some sections of grandstands, which seat a total 140,000, have been closed for races and covered with advertising banners. zzzz

Realizing that the races aren't sold out, many fans wait until the weekend to decide whether they'll show up.

McGlynn said Dover's most expensive seats sell first. With lower-priced seats available, McGlynn said, "That tells me that people just can't afford to come right now."

Previously, the quality of the racing also was an issue. But this season, the racing has been much better, with riveting finishes.

"Race fans had been disenchanted with the racing," McGlynn said. "But NASCAR has solved that issue. The racing is good and the TV ratings are starting to climb."

In a sign of the tough economic times, Pocono Raceway signed on Gillette as the title sponsor of its June 6 race. The last time a Pocono Cup race had a title sponsor was in 1996. Dr. Joseph Mattioli, Pocono's board chairman, preferred calling the races the Pennsylvania 500 and Pocono 500 to maintain the Keystone State brand.

The mid-May date for its Autism Speaks 400 Cup race doesn't help Dover's attendance issues. Sunday's race is 2 weeks earlier than normal.

Since there are only four June weekends this year instead of five, NASCAR asked Dover to move to May 16.

Children are still in school and many fans aren't traveling yet. Of course, with the battered economy, regardless of the race date families can't afford several nights in a hotel plus meals and gas.

The bad news for Dover: This probably isn't just a 1-year situation.

"Our 2011 [spring] date is not confirmed," McGlynn said, "but the 2011 calendar is almost identical to this year."

The good news for Dover is, the speedway still has its regular date for its fall race, the AAA 400 on Sept. 26. The race is the second event in the Chase for the Championship.

McGlynn, 64, has worked at the Dover track since 1972 when he started in public relations and promotions so he knows auto racing can be a roller-coaster ride: You're up for a few years, then there's a dip. This time, it's taking a little longer for the sport to get back up to speed.

This weekend, all three of NASCAR's top series will be racin' at Dover. The Camping World Truck Series race is tomorrow at 5 p.m.; Saturday, it's the Nationwide race at 2:30 p.m.

Richard Petty will be grand marshal for Sunday's Cup race. NASCAR's all-time race leader (200) will participate in a free Q & A with fans Saturday at 10 a.m. near the Monster monument in Victory Plaza. A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 43 Ford, will join Petty for the event. Philadelphia Daily News

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