WALTZ: The Circus Is Slashing Prices, Why Isn’t NASCAR?


HARRISBURG, N.C. — The circus is coming to Charlotte later this month — and we’re not referring to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Media Tour.

While a visit by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus to North Carolina’s largest city is not unusual, a television advertisement for the annual spectacle definitely caught our attention when the announcer proclaimed, “New, lower prices with tickets starting at just $15.”

The circus and auto racing fall into the same basic business category. Both are forms of entertainment and both rely heavily on a blue-collar fan base. There are several circus promoters that tour the country, but the three-ring version of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show is the racing equivalent of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

And while the marketing folks at Ringling Bros. apparently got the memo about America’s struggling economy, those who host America’s biggest auto races either didn’t receive it or simply chose to ignore it.

Look at virtually every type of advertising today and the focus is on price. Consumers are looking for deals and many businesses have figured out that they can make more money by giving them one.

Even though the economy is gradually recovering, many hard-working Americans are still struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table. Several of them would probably love to attend a major race, but simply can’t afford today’s ticket prices.

Auto racing has been through a fantastic period during which a lot of people made a lot of money. But the financial boom days of racing are over — at least for now — and it’s time that race-track operators take a long, hard look at dialing down ticket prices.

We know it’s the biggest NASCAR race of the year, but the cheapest ticket we could find on the Internet for the Daytona 500 was $55. That’s a long way from the $15 for a night at the circus, especially if you’re planning for a family of four.

A $25 ticket for the second Cup Series race of year at Phoenix Int’l Raceway was much better, but still too high. As was the $49 seat for the Las Vegas event.

It has long been our belief that every NASCAR and IndyCar Series race should have at least five percent of the grandstand seats available for $19. This would give the tracks a great selling point, “… with tickets starting at just $19,” while also putting fans in the stands who otherwise could not afford to be there.

In an industry where so many different groups — the track owner, the sanctioning body, the drivers and the team owners — are trying to make money off of the same event, reducing ticket prices is not easy. But everyone needs to look farther down the road and understand that attracting more fans now will put the sport in a better position when the economy is back running on all eight cylinders.

The bottom line is that until demand once again equals supply, ticket prices, even those for many of the major short-track races, have got to be more affordable. At least the circus has that figured out.

– Congratulations to Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards on another successful Chili Bowl. Many people thought these two racers had literally lost their minds 25 years ago when they came up with the idea of building an indoor dirt track and hosting a giant midget event.

– This is the time of year when thousands of NASCAR fans from across the country used to make their annual pilgrimage to Winston-Salem, N.C., for the Winston Cup Preview. The event was basically a daylong autograph session with each Cup driver required to sign autographs for two hours. The sport desperately needs another event just like it.

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