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August 31, 2006

"Bathroom Wall" Revisited

A Commentary on Message Board Use and Abuse in 2006

By Jack Smith

A recent post on the Florida Stock Car Racing message board says "I came onto this board because I felt it was a good way to stay informed and up to date on what was happening in and around Florida racing... Instead, and this isn't my line... I end up reading the Bathroom Stall Wall!"

My response is:
You came to the wrong place. This board is not now and never has been a "good way to stay informed and up to date on what was happening in and around Florida racing". There are literally thousands of race fans who have made that same mistake. If you want to stay informed, I suggest you navigate to the front page of Florida Stock Car Racing, and then use the links off that section to get information. There is also a wealth of information about Florida racing on Short Track America, if you are so inclined to spend the time listening instead of reading.

On this board you will occasionally get pieces of non-time sensitive worthwhile information not found elsewhere on KARNAC. Very occasionally! That is the nature of the beast, and you me and the multitudes aren't going to change the human nature that makes it so. If good news made more money than bad, or occasioned larger audiences, CNN, FOX and MSNBC would not spend endless hours on the Michael Jacksons, Jon Benet Ramseys, endless pieces designed to keep us scared half to death of some bogeyman and the like. They would be sharing with us all the positive news of the world, like news the Good News Network covers (www.goodnewsnetwork.org).

Now you must understand you folks new to the message boards entered a theatre with the show well in progress. There are actors and actresses with well established roles and several redundant plot lines already well into the third act.

Don Nerone coined the phrase "Bathroom Wall" six or seven years ago. Personally I don't now nor never did see it that way. I see it as a community newsletter where anyone (just about) can publish, and there just happens to be very low standards as to what we accept. We do that because quite frankly, this Internet thing, which I have been having a very intimate experience with for about 12 years, is still a Grand Social Experiment.

Many track owners and promoters don't like the fact that fans can have such broad reach with their thoughts and like it less than many have appeal. Very understandable.

It is also very understandable that there is a lot of "negativity" on this board. Consider this, name each Florida track that closed in the last 10 years because the owners weren't making money. Name each track that closed for other reasons that had nothing to do with the racing program's success. Race fans are afraid. They see lower car counts and fans counts in the last few years in general than 5 or 10 years ago, and it scares them. You love this sport. You see it as having a sickness. It worries you. It seems no one is listening. Many race fans don't see a lot of tremendously positive things happening around their track.

Mind you the above paragraph is not making value judgements, we'll get to those in a minute. We are simply restating an age old marketing maxim "Perception is Reality". If the race fans don't feel the owners and or promoters are doing the sport justice, that is the reality the owners and promoters darn well address, and ignore at their peril. Forty years of experience in stock car racing or 40 million dollars isn't going to change the fact that there is an overwhelming number of the hard core faithful that are very unhappy.

No I am not worried about race tracks closing. As a matter of fact I said a few years ago and stand by it that a few race tracks closing is not going to reduce the quality of the racing industry in Florida. Consider this; thirty years ago a major sports franchise cost "X" dollars and today a major sports franchise costs "X times 20" dollars, accounting for inflation. Many people who in past years could have afforded a team can't even get in the game today. NASCAR racing fits this scenario as well.

The point of that is that there are people trying to run race tracks right here in the Sunshine State today who do not have the money to do so. It takes a lot more money to do it now that it did in 1970, 1980 or 1990. A lot more.

If you don't have a competent full time marketing and sales person on your staff, you are not going to be able to have a quality venue with solid attendance enjoying quality entertainment. It takes money in the form of sponsorship and special promotional considerations and marketing partnerships with the businesses in your community to pull it off. Don't believe that? Call any Minor League franchise of a Major League Baseball team and talk to them. They have the exact same problems race tracks have as far as the attendance figures go.

Now drivers and car counts and all that is a different story, but it the opinion of most professional sales and marketing people I talk with that you cannot fill the grandstands in 2006 by creating car counts. The dynamics are completely different from 20 years ago.

What scares me far more than the potential loss of race tracks is the "turning away" of racers. Racers is this case meaning lifelong fans, drivers and other participants. This week two good friends of mine packed it in, sold their stuff and said the heck with it. That was not caused by a track closing. That was caused by a final frustration with racing as they perceive it and for which they cannot bring any change.

Hopeless and frustrated, they said farewell.

What does all this have to do with the message board as a "Bathroom Stall Wall".

Back when Don Nerone originally referred to the "bathroom wall", there was some serious social misconduct occurring on the message boards with a constant barrage of threats, language intolerable except from the most depraved and personal attacks that kept a team of six or seven moderators going round the clock.

We don't have that now, albeit a occasional anti-social dreg manages to sneak something in. Now we do have a contingent of sometimes angry, at times insensitive, but very caring race fans crying out for owners and promoters to listen and hear their anguish at the direction their sport has, in their mind, taken in the last few years.

To call the only outlet these race fans have, a "Bathroom Stall Wall" is both off the mark and a statement of ignorance as to the current state of stock car racing in Florida. Of course, in jest, I too often refer to a "bathroom wall". But any serious race official who views it that way in earnest is in serious jeopardy with being out of touch with the race fans "reality"

If you want to have fun and entertain yourself and others with the Message Boards you will probably fair well, if however you see it as a means of keeping informed, I can assure you will not be happy and you will be often misinformed.

And too, insensivity to the people who are trying hard at their local track is not serving any worthwhile purpose.

[NOTE: Since Sept 2003 the Florida Stock Car Message Board has been visited 1,101,281 and race fans have read 7,141,471. We estimate that since 1998 the Message Board has been visited approxmately 3,500,000 times and fans have read around 18,000,000 posts. That is one whale of a "stall door".

Have an opinion on this story? Post a message on our Message Board!
or send a letter to the editor!



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