NASCAR launches a new season with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, pondering ways to make the Great American Race great again amid a gloomy backdrop of an aging fan base and declining attendance and television ratings.
NASCARS’s Super Bowl comes not at the end of the season but at the start and Sunday’s stockcar showcase in Florida will propel the series into a campaign that will have a new title sponsor, new drivers, new rules and plenty of new challenges.
Once the darling of the U.S. sport scene, NASCAR a decade ago rivaled only the National Football League (NFL) for fans and sponsor attention and dollars.
It is a much different and hostile landscape today as tracks around the circuit rip out seats to avoid depressing images of swaths of empty stands, a disturbing trend reflected in television ratings which have also been in steady decline.
NASCAR’s television viewership from a decade ago is down 45 percent, according to an analysis of Nielsen ratings by SportsBusiness Daily, a trade publication quoted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Certainly NASCAR is not the only sport battling to maintain a hold on viewers.
“What NASCAR is facing is not unique,” David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, told Reuters.
“Most of the sports are struggling; college football is having a tough time getting students to attend, the NFL trying to figure things out and baseball changing its rules to address pace of play.