I never thought I would compare Brian France to old women, but one of the most important commercials of all time is a pretty good comparison to a reality that faces race fans, sponsors and participants. When it comes to NASCAR, where’s the beef?

What happened?

NASCAR ratings took another hit in 2009. According to Jayski’s analysis, the hits were across the board. FOX lost 1.5 million viewers from 2008 to 2009, a 15 percent hit. TNT, ESPN and ABC each lost about 400,000 viewers, about an 8 percent hit. The June Michigan, June New Hampshire and November Texas races were flat. Ratings went up in New Hampshire, the August Michigan race, the Bristol night race and the fall events in Atlanta, Richmond and Talladega. Attendance numbers are tough to gauge, but anecdotal reports at many tracks suggest the number of booties in seats was down as well.

Where are we now?
Commander France continues to insist the sport is strong and moving in the right direction. Reporters and bloggers disagree.

The proof in the pudding suggests the NASCAR mafia does see some need for change. They created a uniform series of start times to help fans find the races more easily. Tracks continue to offer incentives to get people to the tracks. And in case you were wondering, here is what Yahoo says about the phrase “The proof is in the pudding,” since that phrase only makes sense to Bill Cosby.

According to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the phrase dates back to at least 1615 when Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. In this comic novel, the phrase is stated as, ‘The proof of the pudding is the eating.’

Why should you care?
When ratings go down, it’s a sign interest is waning. Why are ratings down?  People stop using a product if the quality goes down, they can’t afford the product or the value of other products increases. From an attendance standpoint, I think we all get how much tougher it is for many families to afford the price of sporting events. Every major sport is dealing with those issues, even the NFL. But it only costs people time to watch a race on TV. To me, that’s a sign that people aren’t enjoying what they see on the track. Maybe racing coverage sucks. Maybe the drivers aren’t promoted properly. Maybe the races are boring because of the new car.

What we do know is that as revenue has dipped, competitive balance has declined as well. So those of us who do watch already have a good sense of what ten drivers can compete for the win and what 33 other drivers can screw things up (paging Sam Hornish Jr.) The goods news is, NASCAR still has some beef. Whether fans can or want to find it is something to keep an eye on in 2010.

Related links:
Top story No. 7: Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets clobbered
Top story No. 8: Tony Stewart has a Whopper of a season
Top story No. 9: RCR gets loopy
Top story No. 10: The return of Mark Martin
Top story No. 11: Kyle Busch sucks, rocks
Top story No. 12: NASCAR Hall of Fame
Top story No. 13: David Poole’s death
Top story No. 14: Double-file restarts
Top story No. 15: As the Danica turns