|Pocono's Brandon Igdalski|
This week, Pocono CEO Brandon Igdalski told Associated Press sportswriter Dan Gelston that ticket sales for Sunday’s return engagement are down substantially from 2013, adding that he will speak to IndyCar CEO Mark Miles this weekend about pulling out of the final year of their three-year contract. Igdalsky said ticket sales for this year’s race were “kind of scary" when compared to last year, and would not guarantee a return of the IndyCar series to Pocono in 2015. Igdalsky said that if IndyCar does not return, “it's because the fans did not come out and support the event."
In some corners, IndyCar’s Pocono struggles are seen as an indictment of the series and its popularity. In truth, however, the Open Wheel Series is suffering the same attendance maladies as virtually every other professional sport, including NASCAR.
|Packed houses at Bristol, a thing of the past?|
The days of 160,000 fans at Bristol, 150,000 at Texas or 140,000 at Talladega are long gone and unlikely to return, at least in the foreseeable future. Blame a faltering economy, unsettling employment news, gas prices that hover near $3.70 per gallon and health insurance premiums that have doubled (or even tripled) for many consumers in the last 120-18 months. Blame an instant-gratification society that has 1,000 entertainment options at its fingertips at all times and is unwilling to spend four hours or more in the grandstands at a professional sporting event. Blame breakthroughs in television, radio and internet technology that have made it easier (and cheaper) to watch the game from the comfort of home, rather than travel to the stadium or race track.
It’s a situation that has professional sports franchises crying the blues. And it’s not just NASCAR and IndyCar.
In-person attendance figures for Formula One racing are not readily available, but that circuit’s television viewership is down dramatically this season. F1’s global audience fell from 515 million in 2011 to 500 million in 2012 and 450 million last season, with staggering losses in many of the sport’s most critical markets. Viewership is down 50% in In Latin America over last season, 13% in Germany and 20% in Italy, and while France’s recent move to Pay-Per-View F1 broadcasts makes a direct comparison difficult, the loss of viewership is seen as nothing less than catastrophic by the sport’s organizers.
|Major League Baseball is down...|
In the National Basketball Association, attendance was been flat or slightly down in recent years. Many teams are now battling sagging attendance by running promotions that deeply discount tickets and offer other incentives for attendance. In mid-December, the Phoenix Suns offered a money-back guarantee for their game against the Dallas Mavericks, promising full refunds if fans were unhappy with the team’s performance. On secondary ticket markets like StubHub, many franchises now have tickets available for as little as a buck. That was not the case even a few short years ago.
Last season, only the Miami Heat were able to fill 100% of their seats. The Detroit Pistons brought up the rear at just 78.3% of capacity; selling approximately 13,000 seats per game in the 21,000-seat Palace. Piston games regularly featured yawning voids in the stands that television viewers could not help but notice.
|...as is the NBA.|
In terms of attendance, the National Football League remains the 600-pound gorilla of professional sports. Last season, six different franchises – the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears – boasted tickets sales of greater than 100%. The Packers top the list at 104.2% of capacity, meaning that every seat is sold (both home and away) along with a number of standing-room-only tickets. Even with television blackouts imposed in local markets where the home team fails to sell out, most teams now sell between 85 and 90% of their available tickets.
It’s complex problem, and concrete solutions will be difficult to come by. Ticket prices have already begun to fall; a direct result of the inexorable link between supply and demand. Arenas and speedways now provide more “value added” per dollar spent, discounting parking, food and drinks and providing behind-the-scenes VIP Tours and other amenities that were traditionally not available to the average fan.
In the short term, however, men like Brandon Igdalski will continue to face difficult decisions concerning the future of their venues.