Turn 2 Blog: How do Pay-Per-View broadcasts impact race attendance?


The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.

Richard: The 2020 season is going to bring about a pretty significant change in the Dirt Late Model racing world. Over the past few years there number of races broadcast live on a pay-per-view basis has steadily increased until we have now reached the point that there will be a broadcast of some event just about every weekend throughout the year. For fans willing to spend the money to purchase packages from providers such as DirtonDirt.com, Lucas Oil Racing TV, Speed51.com, and DirtVision, there will be an abundance of racing available.

Some of these races can be bought individually while others are being made available for those who simply have a basic subscription to the service.

As I see it, this is a pivotal year for the sport. While the national tours and the crown jewel races have been receiving significant attention for some time, it will be particularly important for the various tracks and series that may not typically garner large amounts of viewership outside of the grandstands.

But with that attention could come a potential negative consequence for tracks. It has been expressed to me by more than one promoter that there is a concern regarding what impact, particularly from the lower cost video productions, the increased number of broadcasts might have on grandstand attendance. And of course, grandstand attendance along the concession sales that go along with it serves as the life blood of most tracks.

Do you also see the increase in PPV offerings as a potential watershed moment in the history of this sport?

Michael: I find the whole PPV deal an interesting dynamic to Dirt Late Model racing.

First, as you said, fans will be able to see nearly every major race on their TV or computer. That’s good for the fans if you live in Knoxville, Tennessee but a big race is going on in Iowa, as fans don’t have to worry about making a long distance trip to see that event.

Second, the cost of seeing these events on PPV are vastly different. Some are quite affordable while some are on the pricey side. If a fan wants to subscribe to all of these, that fan will spend in excess of $1,000 just to sit at home to watch them. For some, this is no big deal. For others, they may not have to means to do this.

Third, and you touched on this a little bit, is the impact of these live events on the tracks. While it’s good exposure for many, the long-term effect may be at the gate where the promoter needs as many people to come through the gates to make these big events successful. It’s my understanding the track is not getting any money from these televised events, other than Eldora which has its own separate deal. If that is true, the promoter has no way of making up for lost revenue at the gate. It’s a tricky situation for the promoter.

Do PPV broadcasts impact grandstand attendance at race tracks?

Richard: The exposure part of it is something I find fascinating. Those of us who are old enough can remember a time when every NASCAR was not broadcast live. Prior to being bought by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the promoters of Bristol Motor Speedway were adamant about not allowing live telecasts from their track for fear of losing grandstand attendance. However, Bruton Smith and SMI had a different view when they took over the high-banked half-mile.

When I first started going there in 1978, the grandstands at Bristol consisted of two concrete step-like structures that resembled something like a high school football stadium. Once the world got exposed to the track through television, it grew into the 160,000 seat behemoth it is today. Exposure to a bigger audience through television made that happen.

But there is a big difference between NASCAR television and dirt racing PPV broadcasts.

NASCAR was being shown to a much bigger audience by networks such as CBS, ABC, ESPN and TNN in those early days of live broadcasts. Those networks reached people who may not necessarily have been race fans before. Those who have services such as DirtonDirt.com or Lucas Oil Racing TV are already race fans so there is no new exposure. Yes, someone who has never been to a particular track may decide that they need to visit that venue based on something they have seen on a PPV.

That is true of me. I very much want to go to East Bay Raceway Park before it closes and also Volusia Speedway Park because of watching the early season events from those places on the PPV broadcasts.

But again, tracks have to weigh the impact of these broadcasts carefully because those who are watching are already dirt racing fans. Someone who doesn’t like dirt racing isn’t going to sign up for DirtVision.

If they are not making anything from these productions, can tracks actually benefit from PPV telecasts?

Michael: I think the only way tracks can benefit from them is if they put on a good show and can entice fans to visit their track who have never been there before or haven’t been there in a long time. If a track gets a reputation for not providing good racing, a couple of good races on a PPV broadcast will help turn that viewpoint around.

Then again, there’s nothing like being there in person to smell the smells and hear and feel the sounds of those engines.

Richard: That is my primary belief. PPV broadcasts are good supplements but will never replace the feeling of actually being there and will hopefully benefit the sport as a whole in the long run.

To turn this discussion in another direction, it’s always nice to see new winners have an opportunity to shine. This past weekend we had that when Pearson Lee Williams drove to victory in the Xtreme DIRTcar Winter Series finale at Modoc(SC) Raceway this past Saturday night. It was his first win since joining Joey Coulter’s Rum Runner Racing team and his first ever Super Late Model triumph.

I will admit that I had heard very little about Williams prior to his joining the No. 2 operation. And after having a successful year with Brandon Overton before parting ways near the end of 2019, I wondered what kind of a season this young driver and veteran crew chief Harold Holly might be in for, but it looks as if they might very well be set up to win some races.

New faces in victory lane can be refreshing, can’t they?

Michael: New winners are a great thing. It shows the sport is still growing by not having the same people winning all of the time. You will still have some of that, but it’s always nice to see new winners, especially when it’s not totally expected.

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