Bristol Motor Speedway used to be home to the most coveted ticket in NASCAR. At one point there was a waiting list for the Bristol Night Race. The track seats 160,000 fans and there was still a wait list of people clamoring to buy tickets like this was a Taylor Swift tour.
Flash forward a decade and that wait list is gone and so are 120,000 of those fans. The Bristol Herald Courier estimated that there were only 38k fans in attendance for Sunday’s race on the Bristol high banks. Optically it was a really, really bad look. Like 7k on a Monday night in Cincinnati for a Reds game bad look.
Why Was Attendance So Low?
Bristol knew this shortage of fans was coming. They didn’t even offer seats in the corners for sale, quantity was plentiful, demand was AAF level. So what happened? How did one of NASCAR’s best tracks go from busting at the gills to having enough room to host a family reunion.
Talking Heads/Twitter- For some reason people think Bristol as a track is bad. That the progressive banking ruined the track. For a short time you could argue that and people did. They beat that point into the ground so hard the hammer got stuck. Twitter laughed at how bad racing was here, drivers moaned about wanting the bottom lane back. As the track has aged and track bite was used the racing at Bristol is better than any other track on the circuit. The damage was done though, fans got turned off by Bristol.
Location- Bristol Motor Speedway is in the middle of nowhere Tennessee by the Virginia border. It’s 2 hours from Knoxville, 3 hours from Winston-Salem, and a little over three hours from Charlotte. It’s not close to a large mass of people. Sure it’s close to small towns but the density isn’t enough to grab enough NASCAR fans from. Most people don’t want to drive a combined 6 hours in one day to watch a race. And if they live further away they’ll need a hotel.
Hotel Costs- Hotels jack up their prices when races come to town. Always have, always will. Try finding a place to stay for the Daytona 500 that’s somewhat reasonable, you can’t. Same goes for the hotels in Bristol where a rates jump 2 to 3 times their normal cost. That’s a massive turnoff for most fans. There’s nothing enjoyable about a Holiday Inn Express in Bristol, TN that makes you want to spend $250-300 a night.
Saturation- NASCAR for some reason put Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond together in a 4-week span. Bristol is 3 hours from Martinsville and 5 hours from Richmond. Most fans aren’t going to plop down a couple hundred to take their family to Martinsville two weeks ago and then do it again for Bristol. All three tracks are pulling from the same base, there are simply too many options within a month period.
NASCAR has an attendance issue for sure. Having this exorbitant grandstands certainly isn’t helping. Bristol doesn’t need 160k seats, that was great for 2004 but in 2019 a mere 60k would suffice. Every sport is dealing with attendance issues thanks to HDTV and a connected generation. Less is better in 2019, NASCAR just needs to convince their tracks of that.
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