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NASCAR Hall of Fame: A Break Down In Pit Row

The NASCAR Hall of Fame, a stock car racing palace in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina, is trapped in a problematic scenario where they are speaking only to the diehard fans, yet wondering why they cannot attract the casual ones at all. Opened in 2007 for $160 million, the 390,000-square-foot facility is trying to have its construction loans “forgiven” by creditors because it hasn’t attracted as many fans as it thought that it would.

I attended the NASCAR HOF with 30 sports business professionals during a conference Jan. 29, 2015 and there were several apparent reasons why the HOF isn’t set up to attract those who are “in love” with stock car racing. I’m not against trying to attract those fans who are so passionate that they name their children after the stars of their sport or wear their favorite colors, but it isn’t a good strategy when the HOF only decides to reflect that.

Admittedly, I’ve never been to a NASCAR race. I’ve always wanted to and thought that the NASCAR HOF might have helped drive my interest. It frankly failed, in several categories, and I’m not the only one. It speaks to a problematic issue that every sport faces: How do you respect your diehards, but also attract casual fans?

One of the major pain points for the NASCAR HOF, and likely one of the specific reasons that attendance has dropped from 178,838 (2012-13 fiscal year) to 169,724 (2013-14 fiscal year) is the HOF’s insistence on double-taxation for casual fan attendees once inside their facility. The fact that the NASCAR HOF decides to charge an additional rate for one of its core exhibits, The NASCAR Racing Simulator, should be cited as a cause for turning away or eliminating non-diehard racing fans from attending or coming back again.

This may not appear to be a big issue when looking to drive revenue, when the casual fan must be considered when they are present inside the venue. They are not the core decision-maker for attending the NASCAR HOF, likely they are present with a diehard fan who is urging them to attend with them. But keep the casual fan’s interest is vital, as it ends up keeping the diehard fan’s presence longer, and the possibility of a return visit to the NASCAR HOF down the road.

Double-Taxing The Casual Fan With Its Core Attraction

The myriad of stock cars, displays and other features are enough to gain the diehard fan’s attention. The NASCAR HOF has that covered, and then some. But this doesn’t keep the casual fan’s interest at all, and thus, can showcase why the NASCAR HOF averaged 14,144 fans per month, which breaks down to 471 fans per 30 days, during that 2013-14 fiscal year figure provided earlier. The NASCAR HOF is attracting the diehard fan, but no one wants to go with them.

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This was the main attraction for the casual fan, but also one of the main turn-offs at a $5 per 5 minute ride.

Despite each entrant paying a $20 surcharge to enter the facility, the double-taxation of the core exhibit of the NASCAR Racing Simulator is $5 per person, per 5 minute race at Daytona. When our group of 30 received brochures, on the way to the facility, this was the attraction we were most interested in participating in. Most, if not all of the crowd, were not NASCAR diehard fans. Some of us knew about the racers, but it was the interactive nature of the NASCAR Racing Simulator that was an attraction for us to attend.

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The NASCAR Racing Simulator – an exciting attraction beset by a case of double-taxation.

When we arrived up to the NASCAR Racing Simulator, we were noticed that no one was in line to experience it. Shocked, I asked, and discovered the $5 per race rate. Coupled with the fact that we would have to “Qualify” first. None of the group could figure out, after we “qualified” why it was important to do so. It didn’t have anything to do with our position in the race, and was so rigid, it zapped a lot of the fun of the first race out of it. A few of our group just skipped the qualifying and ended up doing better in the actual race.

Our group didn’t do much else other than the NASCAR Racing Simulator. We kept going back, paying the $5 fee, and then found out that the last races were free. This confused a lot of us: No signage, no way of knowing why some race times were free and others were not. But it spoke to the issue of double-taxation. While the casual fans are pre-occupied, it allows them not to rush the diehard fan, keeping them longer in the facility. Yet, by taxing them to utilize the Racing Simulator, it becomes a turn-off where the casual fan maybe does one race, instead of several, and provokes the diehard fan to leave sooner than later.

None of this speaks well to those with small children as well. While displays may interest the older crowds, the racing simulation is what grabs the kids. And no parent wants to have a crying, upset child when the racing simulator is something that cannot be afforded – especially after a $5 tax per ride.

Identity Crisis Overall

To be frank, I was disappointed with the presentation of the NASCAR Hall of Fame overall. The major 278-seat High Octane auditorium presented a 20-minute video that looked like it had been rejected from a ESPN 30-for-30 episode. There was nothing that compelled me to say that I would ever want to return to the facility, which is an issue that the NASCAR Hall of Fame has to overcome.

Photo Jan 29, 5 53 40 PM
The Junior Johnson HOF Induction Ceremony.

It lacks not only character, but interactivity. Even Alcatraz Island in San Francisco and The Breakers Mansions in Rhode Island have audio-tour equipment provided to each guest to go at their own pace. Alcatraz Island is always a hot ticket that is routinely sold out many days prior (1.3 million annually), and The Breakers Mansions are never far behind (500,000 annually). This type of learning experience is easy enough for the NASCAR Hall of Fame to obtain, yet even if they do have it, they never provided it to the group of 30 that I was in.

Instead, it was a “dump-off” point where most of us just wandered until we found the NASCAR Racing Simulator, then were subjected to be “kicked out” at 6 p.m. on a Thursday because they were inducting NASCAR racing legend Junior Johnson. It wasn’t hard to sweep patrons out, we were the only group still inside the facility during that time, which speaks to the reason that the NASCAR Hall of Fame has dropped from $1.5 million in sponsorships to $110,000. Both Alcatraz & The Breakers Mansions are low-tech by comparison, yet utilize their space and educate their history to an audience in a much better fashion that NASCAR does. To be honest, after 2 hours there, I didn’t learn anything about NASCAR’s history overall that couldn’t be viewed on television or the Internet.

Fundamentally, it comes down to a core issue of added-value or lack thereof. If its just a bunch of static historical pieces, it has no reference to anyone outside of the NASCAR Racing community. To me, this was a missed opportunity to create my own fandom, as I waited and waited for things to be explained, or described to me, by the experts at the NASCAR HOF. Mostly, there were just a bunch of cars there, or car parts, and a NASCAR Racing Simulator that they decided to double-tax me on, rather than get me truly excited to invest in their brand and sport.

A Quick Poll The Next Day

The next morning, I had most of the group of 30 sports business professionals in the training session that I led. These are folks from minor league baseball teams and colleges. They know about ticket prices, added value and aren’t akin to providing discounts. Therefore, they understand the modern sports fan, and want to attract them, as well as the casual fan who comes once and needs to be given a darn good reason to come again.

The first subject with my group surrounded the conversation about how double-taxation can turn off fans, instead of create them. This should have also been an opportunity for those interested in the field to learn about a sport through its hall of fame. None of these 30 sports business professionals had any ax to grind with NASCAR, nor were they opposed to learning more about it. Because it was part of the agenda to attend the night before, several voiced their excitement to go, only to be disappointed or let down by the overall result.

I did a quick poll with them:

Question: What was the biggest attraction there?
Answer: The NASCAR Racing Simulator.

Question: What the biggest disappointment there?
Answer: Paying the NASCAR Racing Simulator.

Question: What else did you learn about NASCAR’s history through the exhibits last night?
Answer: Silence.

This is the big issue with the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It has one attracting feature, which it forces people to pay extra for, above its ticket price, and then doesn’t meet the educational needs of those attending to ensure that they are transformed into fans or at least interested NASCAR parties. There is a long way to go if NASCAR’s Hall of Fame wants to survive. Eliminating double-taxation and creating a more interactive tour would be a start.

This presents a good lesson for other sports business professionals in the field. Attracting the super fan diehard is nice, but they can only take you so far. It doesn’t mean changing over the entire sport or capitulating the whims of the casual fan, but there still needs to be something for the casual fan to do, especially because they are likely only in attendance with the diehard, and could nag the diehard into never attending again.

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