I used to be all about attendance for races in both IndyCar and NASCAR. But I no longer care. Not that I don’t care-don’t care, just that I don’t care.
Let me explain.
Admission: in the old days (five-ish years ago) I used to hope for poor attendance at the races I didn’t personally enjoy. Even worse, I would revel in what I perceived as crappy attendance in races I didn’t personally like, because I thought it was The Market coming to my rescue to rid me (us!) of these unworthy venues.
Sure, some other people have positive motives for noticing attendance. They judge attendance to be poor and worry that something they love (racing) will die from lack of interest/revenue. It's like vital sign for racing -- like blood pressure in humans -- that could indicate a problem that needs to be addressed.
Or, the reverse. Attendance looks fantastic, so they're buoyed with gladness that things seem to be going well! I don't discount or denigrate this approach at all. I only say that there's not a big need to point out bad attendance, because the track operator and the sanctioning body are both going to be acutely aware of any attendance "challenges."
WELL, I’m pleased to report that I no longer care how many show up at an event. Not in the sense that I don’t wish every event well, and hope they all pack their grandstands, because the new, enlightened version of me certainly does hope that every track makes billions off racing. In that case I do care. But in every other case just don’t get personally concerned about it.
What caused this change? A few things:
First .. hoping for failure — and cheering when it shows up — is what haters do. Just as I am a reformed Dancia Patrick hater, I’m a reformed venue hater. If I don't like racing at a certain venue, I can certainly find other things to occupy my time and attention. No need to wish that venue DIE DIE DIE.
Second …. the only people to whom attendance really matters are the track promoters, and to a lesser extent the sanctioning body. If they are OK with attendance, why shouldn’t I be OK with it? Also, if attendance is only one part (often a big one, I grant you) of venue profitability. There’s race sponsorship cash or the lack thereof, ticket prices, the amount (if any) of TV contract money that flows to the track for hosting an event, the size of the sanctioning fee, the amount of marketing spend needed … just to name a few. All of that goes into the grinder and out pops profit, loss or break even.
Third ... it’s folly to try to judge attendance by brief crowd shots on TV. Folly, I tell you! A chopper shot of a half-full (at best) grandstand causes the attendance alarm to sound among viewers. So many issues … how big is the grandstand? Half-full 60,000-seater is better than a full 20,000 seater, yes? The sense of attendance you get from the brief overhead shots on TV is so ballpark as to be useless. Plus, see "second" above, so at some races if there are 10,000 people scattered around the venue, it's still profitable.
Fourth ... I don’t think how the crowd looks on TV impacts people’s opinions of a sport much, if at all. This is an ongoing argument, I know. Maybe I’m atypical, but at no point in my life did I judge what sports I like to watch based on how many people were in the stands. I don’t think I’m atypical.
Sure, if people tuned in for an NFL regular season game and there were 5,000 people in the stands, there would be alarm, just as if someone lost 45 pounds in a week. BUT, at events like racing where attendance is always less-than-capacity, it's not that big of a deal.
The counter to this has always been that sparse attendance makes the series look like it’s small time, in trouble, poorly managed, etc. I get that argument, respect it, and agree with it to a point, but again … so what? Do people say “I’m not going to watch this autocross stuff (or any other sporting event) because I think it is poorly managed. Look at the sparse grandstands!” ..? Really? Does anyone say this? Maybe they do, but I think the number is small.
So, attendance … stop caring. It is what it is. If it’s bad enough, long enough, and the math doesn’t work, then the race won’t continue at the venue. The Market truly does not give a shit, and NOTHING in America gets the attention of a business than lack of sales. If The Market wants it to die, it will die. About all you can do is go to events and take your friends.
BUT, a caveat: sporting events, including NASCAR and IndyCar, are not charities. I don’t think you should feel obligated to go to your local race just to keep it around, if you don’t personally enjoy it or think it’s worth the money and time. I believe in the free market, and in the free market products and services need to fly or die on their own merits. If you enjoy it and think it’s worth the money, by all means go for it. If not, stay home, even if the track is next door to your house.