Attendance Is Not Just An IndyCar Issue
Fans of the IndyCar Series have been wringing their hands over poor attendance over the past several years. While it is a legitimate concern and attendance needs to increase, there is some consolation that this is not simply an IndyCar problem. Not only has attendance sagged at NASCAR events as well, the problem has transcended all of sports.
The Tennessee Titans put their single-game tickets up for sale about a week and a half ago. Ten years ago, the three thousand or so tickets per game that were made available to the public would have been gobbled up within a matter of minutes. That’s no longer the case. A week after they went on sale, there are still plenty of tickets left for all Titans home games.
Granted, the Titans are coming off of a 6-10 season. But this decline in ticket sales isn’t limited to small market teams like the Titans that are coming off of losing seasons. Attendance is down league-wide throughout the NFL.
Did you happen to catch the New York Yankees game that saw the much-anticipated return of Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium? The new billion dollar playground for the Yankees was half-full, at best.
To quote Slim Pickens, what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here? Why is attendance a problem at almost every venue? The more pertinent question is…will it ever come back?
This can’t be written off as a product of today’s soft economy. I think there are many factors involved here. Unfortunately, if all of these factors that I suspect are to blame – I’m not sure sports will be playing before packed houses again in the near future. Here are just a few of the factors that I think are in play here:
Cost: Although the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just had their first price increase in ten years, the cost of a ticket for such a world-class event is still a relative bargain. My four seats in Stand A cost me $407 to renew for 2014, which included the mythical $7.00 handling fee. That’s not cheap, but when you consider that you are allowed to bring your own food and drinks if you so choose – it’s still cheap compared to the NFL which has almost priced itself out of reach of the everyday fan.
We bought tickets to one game for the upcoming Titans season. We’ll be attending the Titans hosting the San Diego Chargers for the Titans home opener on Sep 22. Our seats are on the ten yard line, eleven rows up in the uppermost deck – not exactly the most coveted area. The cost? $135 for the pair. We still have to take a shuttle to the stadium ($20 for two). It’ll still be hot, so let’s assume we’ll have two beers each ($8.00 apiece, based on last year’s prices). If we eat cheap, we’ll each have a $5.00 hot dog. That puts us up to $197 for the day – for just two of us, not four. That’s a fairly hefty price tag for an afternoon’s entertainment. For those that have a pair of season-tickets in the nose-bleed section, multiply that by ten, which includes the honor of paying for two meaningless pre-season games.
Susan and I had season tickets last year. We had the option of trying it for a year before deciding if we wanted them permanently. We decided to decline even before she lost her job in January. It had gotten to the point where we said, “Oh crap! It’s another Titans game this weekend.” It was no longer something special to us to go. It became more of an obligation.
Inconvenience: For more than twenty years after I graduated from the University of Tennessee, I made it a point to attend at least one Vol home game each season. They really cram you into Neyland Stadium, in order to reach well over one hundred thousand for each game. The seats have been narrowed to about fourteen inches. You sit on benches with no backs. Your knees are in someone’s back while someone else’s knees are in your back. Even when the team was winning, it was not a great experience once I passed the age of thirty-five.
After a few years of going to Titans games, I got spoiled. there, I had a theater-style seat with arms, a back and a cup holder. There was plenty of leg room and the seats were nice and wide to accommodate age related expanding girth. After a miserable UT game in Knoxville in 2004, I decided I’d had enough. Consequently, I’ve not been back to a game in Knoxville since.
The Idiot Factor: As fun and exciting as it is to attend races, football games and concerts in person – it can be very frustrating as well. As I grow older, I become less tolerant of the inconsiderate dolts that always seem to sit right in my vicinity. There is always the one couple that insists on standing throughout an entire event. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that everyone around them is sitting. There are appropriate times to stand. I mean, who sits at the start of the Indianapolis 500? A key defensive stand on third-and-long requires the crowd to stand and cheer louder. That’s just part of the home-field advantage.
But to simply stand when everyone else in your area is sitting is downright rude. Susan and I attended a concert in March. As luck would have it, there was a young couple two rows in front of us that insisted on standing, dancing and making out while everyone else was seated. Shouting matches ensued involving me and others between them. The guy said he paid good money for his seats and he planned on “enjoying” the concert, apparently at our expense. The woman directly behind them finally went to get an usher. They brought the police and they were quickly escorted out and never heard from again.
Although I make it a rule to always refrain from profanity on this site, I generally have somewhat of a potty mouth. However, I tend to watch my mouth when at sporting events – especially when there are young kids around. Unfortunately, not everyone follows this creed. When my son was under ten, we would go to NFL games and he heard more than an earful. Does that really add to the game experience? Hardly.
I also enjoy a beer at the game, even though a single beer at a game is more than an entire six-pack in the grocery store. But I enjoy a beer or two – not ten or twelve. Some of these people are so liquored up by halftime, you wonder if they’ll even remember the game on Monday morning. If I’m paying that much money to go to an event, I want to be able to remember it. Unfortunately, the drunken slobs that won’t remember the game the next day will make it very memorable to those around them – for the wrong reasons.
Then there’s always the inevitable fight that seems to break out over the dumbest of reasons. If two idiots want to bash each other’s brains out, that’s fine by me. But don’t take out an innocent bystander by slinging your binoculars as a weapon.
The HD At-Home Experience: Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that attendance is down is due to the proliferation of high-definition television. With crystal-clear, sixty inch screens that show every blade of grass and each metallic flake in the helmets, coupled with 5.1 surround sound systems that give you the absolute sensation of being there; it’s hard to argue with those that would rather experience race day or game day in their living room instead of the actual event experience referenced above.
Having cheap and cold beer within a few steps of your couch, along with a clean bathroom you can use in private, while sitting in a climate-controlled environment with highlights of other games interspersed throughout the telecast is hard to beat. Contrast that with either burning up or freezing, depending on the time of year; crawling over fifteen sets of knees to go get an expensive luke-warm beer or standing in line with inebriated morons to use a filthy, disgusting rest room. All this for $200 a pop, if you do it cheaply. If you were smart, you’ll get home from that experience only to watch the replay on your DVR to see what really happened.
It’s not what kids like to do: Here’s where I’ll come off as the antiquated, outdated rube I was accused of being recently. When I was a kid, there were three channels on television – CBS, NBC and ABC. OK, four if you counted the PBS station. We caught mere glimpses of sporting events. There was no ESPN or any other station dedicated to sports. If you wanted to see an entire sporting event live, chances are – you had to be there. There was no bigger thrill than getting to go see a major sporting event in person.
When I was growing up, there was nothing more sought-after than a ticket to a Tennessee Vols football game. My only exposure to a live NFL game was the occasional pre-season exhibition game that would be played at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. My father never cared for baseball, so I never attended a Major League Baseball game until 1985, when I was an adult. Fortunately, my father was an IndyCar fan and he started taking me to the Indianapolis 500 in 1965.
Based on my children (and now my step-children) and their friends, it seems that this generation that is now in their early twenties simply don’t put the same value on attending sporting events that we did growing up. I’d like to hear from some readers currently in their twenties as to why that is. It now seems boring and routine. Where I would count down the days to a meaningless pre-season NFL game, my son and his friends turn their nose up at a chance to attend the most critical game of the regular season for the Titans. There just seem to be too many other entertainment options that they would prefer doing.
To read this, one might wonder why anyone would ever think about going to a live sporting event.
But to me, there is nothing like being there. That’s true for college and pro-football, but it’s even more the case when it comes to auto-racing.
As great as the home HD experience is, there is no way that any television and surround-sound system can even come close to replicating what you hear, smell, see and feel at track. It is practically sensory overload. No matter how close the production crew places a camera to the track, television cannot translate the sense of speed to viewers at home. After my twenty-year hiatus of not attending the Indianapolis 500 ended in 1992, I was shocked at the speeds I saw from the stands – even though I had always been watching the event on television.
The sounds you hear and feel in the stands cannot be duplicated on television either. While the production can effectively make the engine sounds move to different speakers in your sound system; nothing replaces the sound that echoes throughout a racing venue, or the feeling in your gut as a car goes rumbling by. And as odd as it sounds – there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can equal the aroma of ethanol exhaust – unless it was the smell of methanol fumes up until a few years ago. The smell of tires is pretty high up there also. Then there is the enticing scent of the concession stands – most notably, the breaded tenderloins that add to the experience.
When I go to Barber Motorsports Park each year, I thoroughly enjoy the entire experience of being there, but in all honesty – I seldom know what’s going on in the actual race. It’s not until I get home and watch the DVR that I really understand what all went on in the race. Still, it is much better being there.
But this is one person’s opinion. Unfortunately, the growing trend is that it’s much more enjoyable to stay home. And it really seems more difficult to lure kids to even watch sporting events on television, much less to force them to commit the time to attend one in person.
What will stands look like in the next twenty to thirty years? Will they be mostly empty, except for those left from my generation? Will sporting events take place in venues with no seats and be geared strictly toward a television viewing audience? That sounds absurd, but had you told me twenty years ago that pay phones would no longer exist – I would have questioned your sanity.
I seriously doubt that things will actually reach the point of what I just suggested, but what can venues do to lure back fans? IndyCar racing certainly has its challenges to become relevant on the sports landscape, but sagging attendance is something that almost all sports are being forced to address. It’s going to be up to each organization to be the most proactive in dealing with the current trends to determine their success in the future.