(Reuters) - A potential sale of NASCAR could be just the ticket the American auto racing circuit needs to return to its former glory after struggling for years with declining ratings and admissions revenues, according to sports industry analysts.
NASCAR’s jaw-dropping speed and collisions once attracted fans in droves but they have been racing away from the sport even faster over the last decade for a variety of reasons, including the failure to register with millennial viewers.
The France family, who own NASCAR, are now exploring options that include a sale of a majority stake of the sanctioning body, as Reuters first reported on Monday.
A sale could prove to be a much-needed positive step forward for stock-car racing’s premier circuit.
“The current ownership is maybe not the most forward thinking, maybe not the quickest to respond,” Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, said in a telephone interview.
“So maybe it would be a good time for somebody new to be in there and try some new ideas and be a little edgier and see if there are ways to capture a younger market and try to make up for all the older folks that are going away.”
A little over 10 years ago NASCAR was dubbed “America’s Fastest Growing Sport” by Fortune given the mix of soaring TV ratings, packed stadiums and sponsors who flocked to make their brands visible on race cars.
But a slew of factors, including high ticket prices, a steady stream of top drivers retiring, and rule changes that alienated the older fanbase and failed to capture the interest of new fans, saw the once growing sport hit a roadblock.
Attendance declined so much that grandstands built to accommodate the gathering masses were razed to avoid depressing images of swaths of deserted stands.
While empty seats are not uncommon in other sports, they have perhaps a greater impact on NASCAR given that its economic model relies on sponsorship and empty seats shine a light on a lack of interest.
“We’ve seen the price for pro U.S. sports franchises skyrocket but NASCAR’s fortunes have not been as good as the other sports leagues,” said Victor Matheson, a specialist in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
“As recently as 10 years ago we were starting to talk about maybe NASCAR as the fifth major league in the United States and nowadays no one is talking like that anymore.”
Despite the struggles, analysts say NASCAR remains a strong and recognizable brand that could enjoy better days if a suitable buyer with a vision surfaces.
Analysts say the France family should not shoulder all the blame for the current problems, suggesting part of NASCAR’s struggles are due simply to a younger market of potential viewers who are not into cars like the previous generation.
“Part of it is the times,” said Dorfman. “And part of it is maybe a little cooler, hipper ownership could make a difference.”
NASCAR declined to comment for this story.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto