When fans turned on the TV to watch the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, the stands looked very empty. It was a far cry from previous Las Vegas races which sold out with crowds in excess of 150,000 people. The weather was great, it was a Playoff race, and the race itself was a good one, so, what gives?
How Many People Were Really There?
Now, optics are one thing, but it does not often tell the whole story of reality. Some crowds may look very small on TV, but they may be bigger than one may think because of how many seats a venue may hold. For example, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds 250,000 people, so when NASCAR brought in 125,000 people for the 2012 Brickyard 400, the place looked half empty because it was half empty.
However, the opposite is also true. When a race track has fewer seats than other tracks do, a comparatively smaller crowd looks awesome because it is a sold-out crowd filling up all of the grandstand seats. For example, Nashville Superspeedway holds 38,000 people in the grandstands, and North Wilkesboro holds about 30,000.
If you put 30,000 or 38,000 people at a track like Indianapolis, Daytona (101,000 capacity), or Texas (just over 100,000), the stands look completely empty. A crowd that looks great at Nashville would not look so great at other tracks.
NASCAR does not release attendance figures, so, we do not know exactly how many people were in the grandstands on Sunday. However, we do know that Las Vegas Motor Speedway currently seats 80,000 after tearing down grandstands according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. With that in mind, if the crowd was say, 40,000 or 45,000, which is better than someone like Nashville can hold, it looks bad on TV.
Is the Issue the Crowd Size or the Grandstand Size?
Now, it is tough to answer because we do not know exactly how many people attended the race on Sunday. NASCAR also does not release any official attendance figures, which makes it tough to compare this race to others.
However, the grandstands seemed to be at best half to maybe 60% full on Sunday, which puts that estimate between 40,000-48,000, which would put it as close to an average race-day attendance. Even if the grandstands were say 40% full, then the crowd would have been 32,000 in the grandstands. That is more than the 30,000 in the grandstands at North Wilkesboro.
It’s not too far-fetched to say that the size of the grandstands played a role in how the crowd looked on Sunday. Again, we do not know the total attendance figures, so, these are just estimates.
What is Keeping Fans Away?
Regardless of what the crowd actually was, something needs to be done to fix these optics, and the best solution is to get more fans in the grandstands. There are a couple of factors that people turn to when they think about what keeps fans away. First off, it is worth noting that the Las Vegas Raiders played a game on the same day at the same time.
This is something the NASCAR has to fight when in major markets during the fall. It could be part of the reason why Texas Motor Speedway moved its 2024 date into the spring. Then again, look at a venue like Homestead-Miami, which has had a fall date throughout most of its existence and had no problem competing for spectators with the Miami Dolphins. Kansas, Charlotte, and Phoenix are in the same boat, and they compete with NFL teams as well.
Others point to Las Vegas being less than a month before the Championship Race at Phoenix. With how close Phoenix is to Las Vegas, is NASCAR asking the same spectators to choose between one race or another? Then again, the two tracks are back-to-back in the early part of the schedule as a part of the West Coast Swing.
Others point to Las Vegas having two races, and this opens up a much bigger discussion about whether or not race tracks should only have one race date. It’s certainly plausible that having two dates does cause some fans to choose between one race or another.
However, Las Vegas offers NASCAR two things. One, it offers a big market that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the sports world. Secondly, it is a race that all but guarantees good weather in the fall, when certain tracks become ill-advised to impossible for NASCAR to race at. If NASCAR takes a race date away from Las Vegas, their potential reach of tracks is limited.
The crowd at Las Vegas was not something that looked good on Sunday, however, it might be more complicated than meets the eye. Why was the crowd so small on Sunday, and can it be fixed?