Richmond businesses: Pony up for NASCAR or lose out

One of the more unsavory, to put it politely, aspects of pro sports is the way that many franchises or management groups will practice a form of accepted extortion: come up with the cash for a new stadium, or start showing up in greater numbers, otherwise we're out of here. It's a scheme that plays on the guilt and inferiority complexes of fans and cities alike, and boy, does it work.

Just this year, two tracks, Atlanta and California, have lost races due to attendance woes. Richmond business officials, eyeing the changing tides, are stepping up before they can get guilted into action. In a letter to thousands of local Richmond business owners, they're urging businesses to buy tickets to Richmond's two races, and keep buying them.

Signed by the leaders of four local groups, the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitor's Bureau, the Richmond Sports Backers, the Greater Richmond Chamber and Retail Merchants Association, the letter notes that there are no guarantees when dealing with owners. Richmond International Raceway is owned by International Speedway Corp., which always has an eye on expanding its track count, if not NASCAR's schedule. You do the math.

"We are not in crisis mode," the letter indicates, "but we are declaring a call to action."

Although NASCAR does not publish attendance figures, estimates are that attendance fell at both races in 2010 from 2009. The spring race fell from 100,000 to 93,000, while the fall race fell from 108,000 to 95,000. A study last year by The Washington Economics Group estimates that each NASCAR weekend generates $168.5 million in economic impact for Richmond, comprising a majority of the $467 million the track generates as a whole each year.

No, they're not yet in extortion mode in Richmond. Sad thing is, the city knows it could be coming.