Dover International Speedway has jumped on the seat-widening bandwagon, becoming just the latest NASCAR track to expand seats in the name of fan comfort while reducing its capacity.
As you know, racetracks have a hard time selling out these days – and in Dover's case, attendance has seemed to get worse and worse over the last few seasons.
When the stands appear to be half-full at a race, fans and media turn attendance into a topic (and justifiably so). But when a track reduces its capacity and then sells out (like Phoenix), the same fans and media praise the venue and view it as a hot ticket.
So now it's Dover's turn. The track will widen seats from 18 inches to 22 inches, which will thereby reduce capacity from 132,000 to 113,000.
Let's say the same 70,000-80,000 people who came to the Dover races this year were seated at a track with nearly 20,000 fewer seats. The crowd would look a whole lot better, right?
In addition, the perception of a "hot ticket" is more valuable than how big the track's seating capacity is. I personally know of someone who heard the Phoenix race was sold out in November and then rushed to buy their Phoenix tickets for February earlier than normal because of another sellout possibility.
That's why tracks such as Dover, Phoenix, Talladega, Daytona and others see the value in reducing their capacities. It would still cost the venues money to simply remove the seats outright, so they're putting the "fan-friendly" spin on the whole thing.
And let's face it: Some of these tracks are never going to sell out again like they did in NASCAR's heyday. Even when the economy comes back, 132,000 people aren't going to flock to Dover for a Sprint Cup race. Same with Talladega. It's just not realistic.
If you attend races on a regular basis, what does all this mean for you? It's a positive – wider seats, shorter lines for the bathroom and less traffic on your way home.