One good way to make sure there aren’t as many empty seats is to keep reducing the total number of seats.
Arenas and stadiums for most sports don’t often remove seats. NASCAR tracks are a different story.
Faced with declining attendance for the better part of this decade, numerous facilities that host NASCAR races have chosen to simply punt on the idea of ever returning to attendance numbers of years gone by, reducing their overall seating capacities. And still more are considering the same tactic.
Earlier this week, the Charlotte Observer reported that Charlotte Motor Speedway was “removing some lower-demand seating areas and suites,” perhaps the nicest possible way to say that even in the very heart of traditional NASCAR country, downsizing is the way to go. SMI, the company that owns the Charlotte facility and eight other tracks, told the paper its revenues from ticket sales dropped nearly 10 percent last year compared to 2015.
That was followed by a report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal noting that Las Vegas Motor Speedway was not selling certain seats in some sections for 2018, a signal that they might not exist next year. What’s interesting about LVMS is that it just lowered its seating capacity in 2015, so considering another round just three years later would seem worrying.
Yet this is the same track that NASCAR just granted a second race weekend for the 2018 season, so there has to be some level of confidence people will come watch in person. One supposes 70,000 people twice a year is better than that same number in a 108,000-seat grandstand just once annually.
The fact of the matter is this: many NASCAR tracks have been outrageously sized compared to other U.S. sports venues for some time. Daytona International Speedway once had 168,000 seats, or roughly 65 percent more than even the largest stadiums used for football, which is only the nation’s most popular sport.
In an era when there are more — and more convenient — entertainment options than ever, getting 60,000 to 70,000 people to a live event is still a lot. Tracks need to do what makes sense for them, and if that means continuing to take seats away and spending more money and energy to make the experience special for people who come out to fill the ones that are left, there shouldn’t be any shame in that.