USA Today recently featured a story about the five-year slump in both attendance at and TV viewership of NASCAR racing. Between 2005 and 2010, annual attendance at NASCAR races declined by almost one-quarter (22%) from 4,670,400 to 3,625,400 and TV viewership ratings dropped by one-third from 5.4 to 3.6. The largest drop in popularity was with the 18 to 34 demographic. The USA Today story basically attributed the declining popularity to an aging fan base and to the improved safety since Dale Earnhardt’s death in a Daytona 500 crash 10 years age, i.e. racing has become less appealing as it is now perceived as less dangerous and less edgy. Those may certainly be factors in the declining popularity; but based on other data we have analyzed, it’s not the entire explanation.
There is an overall decline occurring with sports attendance. The percentage of adults that attended at least one sports event during the previous year declined by one-quarter from 41.2% of adults in 1997 to 30.6% in 2008. Expenditure data on admissions to sporting events since 2000 shows a strong staycation trend. From 2005 to 2009, Americans spending on attendance (inflation adjusted) at local sporting events was basically flat (+1%) while admissions to sporting events on trips, such as attending out-of-town NASCAR races, decreased by 23%. The staycation trend is most pronounced with lower income households who decreased their sports attendance spending on trips the most during the past five years, by 36% for the lowest 60% of income household. This data strongly suggests that many people have probably stopped attending out-of-town sporting events. And the decline is not caused by the Great Recession, but rather is a longer-term trend that started many years before the recession.
Research our company just completed indicates that another contributing factor to the decline of both attendance at and TV viewing of NASCAR races is most likely the increasing attraction and time being spent on video gaming, social networks and forms of e-communication (texting, e-mail, IM’ing, etc). In many respects virtuality is better than the real world. The 18 to 34 demographic, which shows the greatest decline with NASCAR, is the demographic with the highest use of video gaming, social networking and e-communication. Our article discussing the research will be published in the next few weeks.
The USA Today article referred to can be found at: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/motor/nascar/2011-02-18-safety_N.htm