Friday, March 27, 2009

So who does owe the fans?

The other day I posted my thoughts on what NASCAR owes the fans. Very simply, I wrote all they owe those of us who consider ourselves fans of the sport is an event that is officiated fairly and the rules are applied evenly among all of the entrants.

NASCAR may not owe the fans much, but that doesn't mean the fans should be overlooked. So who does owe the paying customer?

1. The racetracks. First and foremost the tracks owe the fans since in reality that's who the fans are giving their hard-earned money. The fans pay the tracks by buying tickets and concessions, and they make tens of millions of dollars per event. As a thank you, the fans should receive more than just a pat on the back on the way out the gate. Too often, the fans are hit with exorbatant ticket prices (some tracks even charge processing fees per ticket!), concession prices, and even hit them with a parking fee when they get there. It's one thing to pay a fee to park a motorhome in the infield, it's a bit much to ask the average ticket buyer who just wants to come in and watch the race with his family or friends to pay $10 just to park. The tracks should keep ticket prices in check and they should keep prices for food and drinks reasonable. Should a simple hamburger and 20 ounce soft drink cost $12.00? No it shouldn't. The tracks should also ensure there are activities in and around the track that allow the drivers to interact with the drivers. Autograph sessions planned and advertised well in advance are a good way to allow Average Joe a chance to meet his favorite driver, but the possibilities are limitless. At the Truck race in Mansfield the downtown street festival we threw every year brought in a dozen drivers, show cars, interactive displays, and all of the team transporters. Through the track's cooperation with the city, it didn't cost the track anything and the city only had to pay for the safety services (extra police and closing the roads) and it attracted thousands of people downtown for several hours. Some other tracks have similar events but it wouldn't hurt if all of them did.

2. The drivers. We hear about their new private jets and their cushy extistence in the motorhome lot, which is often guarded as tight as Fort Knox to ensure any misguided race fan doesn't end up there to bother for an autograph. We see the millions of dollars they make, even if they run 40th every week. We hear about all of the demands on their time but few of those demands involve the people paying the freight. Sure, they take care of their sponsors. But why are the sponsors here? To have their message spread to a large and loyal audience! The drivers need to be much more accessible to the fans. They shouldn't be forced to do it either, it's something they should want to do. These are the people buying gaudy, overpriced T-shirts and jackets to show their loyalty to you. They have every die cast ever put on the market on display in their living room. Their loyalty to their drivers has put millions of dollars in the drivers' pockets. Instead of hiding in those million-dollar motorhomes (that have been paid for in part by the people they hide from) the drivers should be out mingling with the fans more than they are. Take a page from Robby Gordon's book and go spend a Saturday night on the golf cart riding through the campgrounds and spend some quality time with the people who make the sport go around.

3. The television networks. The networks are how most of the people watch the sport and is the only means of doing so for the vast majority of the audience. Journalistic standards should be met. The commentators should report on the event and avoid attracting any additional attention to themselves. All participants should be involved in the coverage of the event, not just those running among the top ten. If someone running 34th drops out, the audience should be told why. No one is suggesting every car receive equal coverage - those running up front deserve to be shown more. Announcers should be impartial. Anyone with an ownership interest in a team should not be able to comment on an event in which that team is participating. Announcers shouldn't be wearing apparel with sponsor logos on them. Rather than being the show, as many of them want to be, the announcers need to do what they were hired to do and describe and analyze the action on the track. It's fine to have fun doing it, but the shenanigans and buffoonery that's passed off as professional commentary by some of them needs to go.

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