Patrick, Pastrana and the Goat: NASCAR’s failed attempt to attract fans

By Michael Finley On Thu, Nov. 14, 2013

Photo Credit: David Yeazell
Photo Credit: David Yeazell

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.

Michael Finley (10 Posts)

I am currently a student at the College of Southern Maryland, I plan to one day work at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.


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Displaying 4 Comments
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  1. Pokey says:

    Your thesis is correct, but your supporting data is not very well thought out. While there is a definite log jam of drivers at the Truck Series and Nationwide Series levels, Carmichael and Pastrana did not come to mind. Stock car racing is a whole different world from motocross and very few drivers ever make that transition successfully. Young people don’t expose themselves to NASCAR racing and that isn’t NASCAR’s fault. Young people spend too much of their time trying to keep up with their social websites and cannot make it trough an eight hour experience of much of anything without being afraid they have been left out of the electronic social loop and you just can’t talk on a cell phone during a race. They do like noise a lot, but not noise they can’t tune out whenever they need to connect again. It is pathetic, in my opinion. But all sports are affected by this, not just NASCAR. The biggest problem NASCAR has is that you can’t call timeouts for commercial breaks ( opportunities to connect ) since the idea of a race is who can get there first. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Dillon1, Dillon2, Bubba Wallace, Jeb Burton, and many others will be the stars of tomorrow. There are a lot of young drivers for young fans to root for. They just don’t and the sponsors can see that.

    • Michael Finley says:

      I’ve seen plenty of younger fans whenever I go to Martinsville. They are fine watching the race. When you go to a race live there’s too much going on, except for maybe during a caution, where you’d want to check Twitter or Facebook. And if all teenagers are like what you said, why does the NCAA sell tickets? I don’t think teens magically become less addicted to social media after going to college.
      Those are great young drivers and I never said Pastrana or Carmichael had their talent or promise. Neither does Danica. Note, however, that those drivers are also not competing in the Sprint Cup series. I didn’t focus on Nationwide or Trucks because the only reason those series exist in the first place is to develop new talent for Cup, those both lack the fans and the ratings of Sprint Cup.

  2. Russ says:

    And the thing is some think that a return to the “good old days” is the salvation of Nascar. They fail to realize that no sport or organization can survive without an influx of new people. And they wont come for the same old thing over and over.

    • Michael Finley says:

      Yeah, NASCAR’s idea has basically been “Fix whatever is broke”, the problem is that eventually the washing machine after about 15 years of being fixed needs to be replaced eventually.

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