A once-mighty movement with deep Southern roots now seems to be slouching towards obscurity, as does its core group of supporters -- 50 year-old blue collar white guys. Bi-coastal intellectuals and marketing strategy geeks look at it and say, if it can't appeal to women, young people, and the growing Hispanic demographic, it's an endangered species.
No, I'm not talking about the Republican Party, I'm talking about Nascar.
Or at least I was, until last weekend. The only time I see Nascar racing is when I'm walking to the water fountain in the gym on Sundays, if I happen to look up at the bank of televisions in front of the cardio machines. That's when I caught a glimpse of the bench-clearing brawl between Jeff Gordon's and Clint Bowyer's teams, at the end of the season's penultimate race in Phoenix.
"Wow," I thought. "The races end in wild fistfights now? Maybe Nascar really is a sport, after all."
Or, maybe they're so desperate to gain back fans that have been trickling away for the last few seasons that the powers that be in Daytona are making a pitch to win over hockey fans who have nothing to watch because of the NHL lockout.
But seriously, folks. This post's limited connection to motorcycle racing is primarily based in the fact that AMA Pro Racing is, after the Daytona Motorsports Group takeover in 2009, effectively a subsidiary of Nascar.
Motorcycle racing stakeholders have had an off-again-on-again relationship with DMG since it took over. On the off side, we shivered at the prospect of another Roger Edmondson dictatorship. On the on side, maybe American motorcycle racing could benefit from a little Nascar marketing magic. Flat track racing, in particular, seemed like a natural brand extension for the stock car series. But it quickly became apparent that the motorcycle properties were not going to get any investment from the auto side of the ledger.
In hindsight, that may have had something to do with the fact that Nascar's bosses took over AMA Pro Racing just as their car racing business hit the skids. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted Nascar's problems.
Talladega used to sell out its gargantuan 160,000-seat grandstands; last September, they were barely half full. Martinsville Speedway's actually removed thousands of seats it can't fill any more. And International Speedway Corp., (like DMG it's part of the France family empire) which owns about half the series' race tracks, has seen ticket and concession revenues fall by 40% over the last five years. Sponsors like Office Depot, Home Depot, UPS, Mountain Dew and (gasp) Dodge are reducing or eliminating their sponsorship involvement.
Nascar's far from dead. ISC recently made a $2.4 billion broadcast deal with Fox that ensures it will be a major entertainment franchise for the next few years (that deal would be a crazy wet dream for any motorcycle racing series.) But racing is not about one promoter getting one huge licensing fee. A whole ecology of sponsors, teams, suppliers, support series, and fans all need to be able to afford goin' racin' -- something that is, at the end of the day, pretty frivolous to almost all of them. Next year, Nascar embarks on a five-year plan to revitalize the sport and rebuild it's fan base, with a focus on youth and the future.
We may not know what the implications are for AMA Pro Racing, although it's safe to say that Nascar bleeding money is not good for us. There's a cautionary tale here, too, for MotoGP; the mighty stumble and occasionally fall. And, to bring this post around for a full lap, I'd say that if Nascar succeeds in broadening it's demographic base, whoever turns it around can expect a call from the Republican Party.