There’s a shift in the sports landscape, and you can see it. At this moment, fewer are going to NFL football games, and here in NASCAR Nation, even Captain Obvious can see that venues that used to sell out, aren’t anymore. In particular, one struggles to find as many young fans getting into motorsports as there used to be.
The causes are numerous, and we’ve explored them here before. If you’re like me, and you’re in your fifties, you may recall a time when you tinkered with your car in the driveway, dreaming you could get an extra measure of speed out of your Camaro or Mustang as did the crews at the stock car track. On my Mustang, I remember installing glass packs, fooling with raising and lowering heights on the suspension, and making modification to the engine. If you are also like me, and you have teenagers in the house, how many are keeping those traditions alive? Much fewer. Advancing technology plays a part and so does environmentalism. Throw in shorter attention spans, and you can see traditional sports not just springing one leak, but a vessel with more holes than Swiss cheese.
People who spend much more time on such studies have arrived at some interesting conclusions. When it comes to catching sports away from the stadiums and tracks, young fans are still around, but how they watch has changed. We’ve all heard the stories of mass layoffs at ESPN, and it’s simplistic to believe it’s all about the uncomfortable co-mingling of sports and politics. Young fans are on the move, and taking in highlights and even streaming events on their computers and other electronic devices.
It’s interesting also to see what is emerging in terms of sports popularity. One of my teens is a local high school high school and club soccer all-star. He and his peers are gobbling up European soccer matches in the middle of the day (due to time differences.) The major junkies will watch full matches, but many are content to catch highlights on YouTube and Instagram vines. Others are turning to MMA, extreme sports, and even in motorsports, drift racing is something young fans find to be more interesting.
This isn’t to say the NFL, NASCAR, the NBA, the NHL and MLB are all going away. Yet, let’s face it, NASCAR-even it’s heyday- never enjoyed the same nationwide popularity of the “big three,” including the college versions of such aforementioned events. Heck, it’s not hard to see where politically disaffected fans of all ages are finding greater viewing fulfillment in the NCAA. We’re not saying that college sports has some problems of its own, but we’re free from unions, and coaches have a little more control over their charges than the pros do.
There will always be racing, and within that, there will always be “stock car” racing. Brian France and company have something to do with it, but there’s a lot no one can do to affect it. The real issue from here is what it costs. That’s- in part- what has kept more of the so-called “little guys” getting in. I am certain that Alan Kulwicki would have had a greater struggle as a true independent in today’s NASCAR. Building cars, maintaining them, and making them competitive is incredibly expensive.
You know, it could have the effect of localizing racing. Some of the older fans will tell you that’s where the better racing is anyway. It could also help draw young fans who may have some of their peers out competing. Being a fan is a whole different proposition when it’s someone you know.
We can pillory young fans and their tastes all we want, but that doesn’t help things. As they say- it is what it is. They’ve got the way they are going, and it’s changing the national sports scene as we know it. Niche sports- like racing- are already affected. The big sports will be affected, sooner if not later.