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I think the biggest problem facing the NHRA and other major league drag racing series isn’t so much the general decline in fans, racers, and corporate sponsorships but the abysmal television ratings.
The fact is that most NHRA national event venues have 25,000 spectator seats or fewer. So that means that at the majority of tracks the most people who can buy tickets for one of these three-day events is way under 100,000! That number just isn’t big enough to get a Fortune 500 company to even take a team owner’s or sponsor seeker’s phone call. It is also probably the reason that Ford and Castrol are no longer major sponsors in the NHRA.
Despite the poor ratings I suspect that none of the few non-automotive sponsors that the NHRA and its teams have currently would be involved at all if it weren’t for the ESPN2 broadcasts of their races. In my opinion NASCAR’s current existence depends on the contracts they negotiated with the TV networks that deliver the tracks a large check (like $25 million and up ) BEFORE the races start. Most if not all NASCAR tracks with a “Cup” race are guaranteed a profit before they sell one ticket.
I have been told that the major advertisers and sponsors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup division have said that as long as NASCAR races on TV draw 5 to 10 million viewers per event they couldn’t care less if there are 125,000 in the stands for one race!
Reportedly F-1 president Bernie Ecclestone was asked about race fan attendance -- and I am paraphrasing here -- he told the interviewer “We have over 400,000,000 fan world wide watching our races on TV. The only thing I worry about concerning the fans at the races is that one of them will get in the way of a camera.”
So it would appear that the answer to turning around drag racing’s flagging national event popularity is to somehow find a way to make organized professional drag racing more appealing and entertaining on TV. When a schlock TV show like the “Street Outlaws” gets five times the audience that an NHRA national event draws it is obvious the NHRA broadcast needs some fixing! It would also appear that for the most part just having a cable network TV show does no good in attracting sponsors and fans unless that show has significant Nielsen ratings on a cable network with 100,000+ subscribers.
If the IHRA can get an hour-long broadcast on a premier cable channel I believe they could compete with the other sanctioning body on any level. On the other hand, I believe if they don’t get a professional TV package they will never be able to compete with the NHRA on a level playing field. By the way, I think the national event Nitro Jam show the IHRA offers its fans with its unique pro classes of Jet Cars and Nitro Harleys plus the other classes are more entertaining than what the NHRA offers.
I’ll bet that if the NHRA had TV broadcasts that were drawing a 1 share or better Nielsen rating Tom Compton would have long ago been able to find a buyer for the NHRA.
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