But it has everything to do with NASCAR’s television ratings, which, though not over the proverbial cliff, do continue to slide. The most recent bad news comes from Atlanta, where the number was down 14% from 2008 (but still six percent higher than 2007). Certainly, there is all manner of spin applied to this black magic to explain and justify — NASCAR demonstrably outperforms the NBA and the PGA, for example — and, yes, NASCAR remains a broadcast powerhouse.
That’s great and all, but it’s hard to spin the fact that the sport’s ratings are down 11 percent through four races or that the percentage of men aged 18 to 34 who watched the Atlanta race plummeted 27 percent from 2008 to this year. No matter how you slice it, it ain’t good.
Even worse are the apparent reasons, which can essentially be boiled down to the races are boring. No matter how diligently die-hards from NASCAR work to wish that one away, it can’t be done. Even Jayski.com, owned by ESPN, a NASCAR broadcast partner, seems powerless to ignore that reality, at least if this snippet from the site is to be believed:
One month into the season, NASCAR racing is being impacted by two disappointing trends on the track: lead changes per race are at an all-time low, while caution flags per race are near an all-time high. The season’s first four points races have averaged just 14 lead changes per race. The same races a year ago averaged 30 lead changes.
Frankly, to me the issue is less the declining market than with the fact that NASCAR seems unwilling or incapable of accepting certain realities that might not conform to its preferred narrative. Like it or not, it simply isn’t the juggernaut it was a decade ago; and, like it or not — and in spite all manner of arcane stats that are designed to "prove" to me that racing today is better than it’s ever been (such as the number of cars finishing on the lead lap) — there is a whole bunch of readily available data that argues persuasively that NASCAR has some s’plainin’ to do.