Patrick, Pastrana and the Goat: NASCAR’s failed attempt to attract fans
By Michael Finley On Thu, Nov. 14, 2013
Before I begin, let me explain that I am not in favor of anybody being rushed or staying anywhere in NASCAR without having the talent to support it. Rather, this is more about how strange it is to me, who NASCAR and others use to promote the races.
Let’s take Danica Patrick, for instance. She’s pretty popular, but what new does she really bring to the table? Hasn’t it been preached to the public going on years now that roughly half the NASCAR fan base are female? Yes, the ratings for the Daytona 500 were way up this year. Yes, the ratings for FOX were pretty stable overall (and with how the TV world is evolving, where the only sure things are certain reality shows and the NFL), that’s pretty impressive. And finally, yes, Patrick did give a huge boost to IndyCar when she had that wonderful run in the 500 eight years ago. But where are those ratings now?
Ratings went so low for TNT they didn’t care to release any figures for it. For TNT, I think one of the main culprits is simply horrible TV production. Even compared to the surface only coverage from FOX Sports and the half-hearted coverage from ESPN. But ESPN, that’s the oddball in this whole deal so far.
Ratings have been up this season for the Chase. But, the problem for Patrick is that these have almost nothing to do with her. She has had exactly two top-20′s during the Chase, and neither of these races featured improved ratings.*
Meanwhile, IndyCar, eight years later is in complete shambles, generally due to incompetent management (Moving to Versus in 2009 (Now NBC Sports) from ESPN cut their viewership in half), and half of their top drivers trying NASCAR (and looking like losers when they came back) didn’t help matters. But it isn’t like Patrick was setting the world on fire with her ratings in IndyCar by the time she won a race in 2008. Without commenting on her driving ability, I have come to the conclusion that, ratings wise, Patrick does bring some people in long term, but her biggest boost is when she first competes in a series.
Because this is America, apparently a lot of people still think it’s a novelty when a woman competes in a male dominated sport and want to see what she’ll do, especially when all the media outlets are reporting on it. Basically, I believe some of these viewers are just casual fans with no real love for what they are watching, they just watch because everybody else is. But the same goes for Football too, there are plenty of people who only watch the Super Bowl every season simply because everybody else is.
Now, here’s the main problem with the NASCAR fan base. Very rarely do you see any new young, teen fans connect to the sport simply because, 1. a short attention span and 2. nobody to connect to. When the average Sprint Cup driver age has gone up four years in five years and people like Kevin Conway win rookie of the year, you may have a problem. And honestly, it’s nobody’s fault. Drivers are simply driving longer then they ever have before. Twenty years ago, I want to say only Dave Marcis, Bobby Allison, and Richard Petty had over 700 starts. Now 12 more drivers have joined the 700 club and counting. Jeff Burton only needs nine more races and quite a few more are only within 200 starts of the 700 feat.
The main reason for this is sponsor loyalty and team stability, along with the increased safety of the cars. This has created a log jam in the NASCAR Nationwide series over the past eight or so years, with many promising names falling off the map. Two of these drivers are Ricky Carmichael and Travis Pastrana.
Carmichael is nicknamed G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) in the motorcycle world because he’s more or less Richard Petty on a motorcycle (and with a much smaller cowboy hat, if any). However, he hasn’t raced at all in NASCAR since 2011 and will probably never come back. Why? Because Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) stole his sponsor Monster Energy.
Was Carmichael showing progress? Yes. Did he ever win? No. And yet, because of this, Monster Energy signed a deal with KBM and he vanished from the scene in one off-season.
Same deal (to an extent) with Travis Pastrana this season. Only in his case he never had a sponsor. How and why? Just go ask Jack Roush. I’d love to know why too.
Now, where I come from, there are plenty of Carmichael and Pastrana fans. They were part of my graduating class of high school this year. I’ve seen them wear Monster Energy hats and talking about Nitro Circus. When I told them they were at NASCAR once, I heard one of them ask where they had been (team), and all of them said they had no idea and would have checked out NASCAR if they had known.
The youth movement next season gives me hope that this sport can appeal to the teens again. If you hook them now you have them for life. But I’m going to be pretty cautious on this because they dropped the ball bad with Pastrana and Carmichael.
*= One of those top 20s came at a rain delayed Chicagoland, so the rating was going to be bad anyway.