Niche Or Promotion?

Brandon Whitt

Who he?

Well, to be honest I can tell you nothing about this man other than he took part in one NASCAR race in 2006. But when I read about his achievements in that one race I was staggered. Starting from 37th on the grid in the 35th race of the season at Phoenix, he was classified in 43rd place at mid-race, having retired after 123 of the 312 laps. Okay, so that doesn’t sound too impressive, but there is one statistic that I haven’t yet mentioned that I will return to shortly.

I was reminded of Mr Whitt having read the Jonathan France interview on DSC and also a very interesting thread on Ten-Tenths regarding race promotion. In both pieces, there was frustration and disappointment about the paucity of promotion in GT and sportscar series in Europe; but in the forum thread, there was also the assumption that ‘ours’ is a rich sport and so ‘something must be done’. Sadly, this is not necessarily the case.

Certainly, a large number of the people involved in sportscar and GT racing are very wealthy individuals. Some of these individuals drive their own cars, some buy seat space, some own cars for others to run, while others sponsor family members. However, and to the best of my knowledge, most if not all of these individuals acquired their wealth through hard work and shrewd business decisions.

Which brings me back to Brandon Whitt. The one piece of information that I withheld is that, for tootling around at the back of the field for one third of a race, Mr Whitt (or his team) was rewarded with prize money of $61,286. Some drivers fared even better; Johnny Sauter managed to pick up $85,750 for his one race, despite not earning a single point in a series where the champion amassed 6,475.

Overall, NASCAR prize money for the 2006 Nextel Cup totalled $190,056,440.

NASCAR is a rich sport.

For the wealthier participants in Europe, the opportunity to race in the sportscar field is the reward for those many years of hard work, which rather begs the question as to why we should now expect those individuals to indulge ‘us’ (ie. the wider viewing public) by incentivising us to go and watch them race.

Yes, it is frustrating that sportscar and GT races are often so poorly attended, especially as it is possible to draw a crowd when a meeting is effectively promoted. But there is an expectation that there should be a healthy crowd at every race and it is simply a matter of throwing money at it. As most business decisions are made on a cost/benefit basis, perhaps we should be asking another question – who actually wants the crowd?

As it stands, the series promoters see their role as getting cars on the grid, which they do reasonably well in my opinion. They believe the circuits should promote the races; but if the circuits are getting paid for the hire of the track and they don’t believe that there is a potential crowd worth wooing, then they aren’t going to spend the money. For the most part, having a crowd is nice for the teams and drivers, but not the main reason for going racing.

Perhaps it is time to accept that sportscar racing, at least in Europe, will never be more than a niche market (niche in the US too, certainly compared to NASCAR) and has only a small potential to build its fan base; perhaps we should just be grateful that there are enough people out there willing to spend huge sums of money on racing in a category that we love to watch.

Or perhaps the series promoters need to accept that there is a horse and cart situation here; ie. they need to start investing in promoting the races as an incentive for manufacturers to come in and take over the promotion task.

Jonathan France did his bit for the British GT Championship, but as he rightly points out, the baton is right where he dropped it.
Mark Howson

 

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