Did you watch Fox Sports' coverage of the NASCAR FedEx 400 for Autism Speaks last Sunday? Maybe you were in attendance at Dover International Speedway yourself. Did you notice all the grandstands? There were many empty seats and the TV cameras could not hide them.
NASCAR attendance declines are not new, and not unique to Dover. The track seats 113,000 when full, but it's been reported that there were 83,000 paid on Sunday. It looked worse than that, but maybe 25,000 fans were taking selfies in the Fan Zone.
Jim Utter, one of the last of a once prolific breed of NASCAR beat writers, thinks that the Dover International Speedway should be lauded for fighting the good fight when it comes to putting fan butts in the seats.
I agree with Utter and that leads me to the subject of patronage. Monte Dutton, former member of the NASCAR beat, wrote this week about how much of life is based upon patronage.
Dutton used the surprise disclosure, by Jimmie Johnson, that he had hernia surgery in the offseason. The fact that Johnson had casually scooped this to Darrell Waltrip, on the air, is what frosted Dutton. Why didn't the beat writers get this? When you cover the beat, and dutifully disperse the massive amounts of inane PR crap that the NASCAR beast emits, you expect a bit of return. Dutton explains how he would play it, in this scenario.
If I were still mingling with the young and nouveau riche, this is how I’d play it. I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t make a big deal about a routine medical procedure. I’d just wait. From time to time, Hendrick Motorsports asks the media to provide shameless promotion of some activity that isn’t really that newsworthy. A recent example was the “our drivers have superhero buddies” promotion. The next time there’s one of those, I would smile, nod, examine the materials and write absolutely nothing. Then I would wait for one of the smooth Mr. Hendrick mouthpieces to let me know the omission was noticed in the Complex.
“You didn’t mention the Corn Flakes for Action Figures Initiative.”
“Is there any particular reason? Did we not provide adequate materials?”
“You didn’t mention the Jimmie Has a Hernia Initiative.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Touche.”
Perfect play. One good turn leads to another is the basis of patronage, according to Monte Dutton. Back in 2008, NASCAR created a thing called the Citizens Journalist Media Corps (CJMC), and this blog was one of the original websites in The Corps. Here is part of the NASCAR press release announcing the CJMC;
“We have been overwhelmed by the positive response since our initial announcement to form the NASCAR Citizen Journalist Media Corps last month,” said NASCAR Managing Director of Corporate Communications Ramsey Poston. “More voices speaking about NASCAR is good for the sport and is fan friendly. We intend to make the most of the changing media landscape.”
Although Steve and BethAnne and I had been attending NASCAR and ARCA races for several years by 2009 - the On Pit Row Radio Show afforded that access - we proudly used the new status of the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog and OnPitRow.com website, to increase our coverage to more tracks and races. We recruited some terrific writers and photograhers, and most of them worked solely for the media access that we could provide. On Pit Row has been responsible for thousands of hours of audio content, hundreds of videos, thousands of photos and carefully crafted words, all about NASCAR.
Glenn Bure, a dedicated and talented photographer, who shoots for publications much more prestigious than On Pit Row Magazine, was at Dover last weekend. You can see some of Glenn's NASCAR pictures from Dover here and Victory Lane here. Glenn's access was due in part, to our CJMC credential but also, I would hope, to the fact that we help to promote racing at Dover International Speedway. In other words, it was a form of patronage.
This weekend, the NASCAR circus is going to Pocono Raceway. We have been to every Pocono NASCAR weekend since, I think, 2008. This time, Pocono said no. This is my way of playing this one. Please share this post and or leave a comment.
Photo credit of the empty garandstand at Pocono - Glenn Bure - OnPitRow.com