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NEW YORK (Reuters) - NASCAR calls it "right-sizing" but others see it as sign that something is terribly wrong with America's most popular motor sport as thousands of seats are being removed from tracks across the United States.
The sprawling Charlotte Motor Speedway, which once drew a crowd of 167,000, is removing 41,000 seats while tracks in Dover and Atlanta will chop capacity by at least 17,000.
"Right-sizing is the term," NASCAR's Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar told Reuters after addressing the Sport Business Summit in midtown Manhattan on Wednesday. "It is what you are seeing in all sports properties is the transformation of making the fan experience greater."
With TV ratings on a steady decline the sight of empty seats has served as a glaring reminder of the problems facing NASCAR as the series tries to recapture the glory days of the 1990s.
But Dewar maintains that downsizing is not so much a sign of trouble but a sign of the times reflecting the race experience fans demand and the way they consume sports.
"What you are seeing at a lot of the tracks is widening of the seats, additional suite access, venues that allow a better fan experience," said Dewar. "It is not just going to the race; it is more than the race.
"That is the story you are seeing at many of the tracks, football stadiums and baseball parks. The fan expectation today going to a sports venue is changing."
One thing that has not changed is NASCAR's global strategy, which pales in comparison to the aggressive approach taken by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
Those four North American leagues all regularly play games in foreign markets from London to Beijing, hoping to tap new revenue streams but NASCAR has no such plans to race outside U.S. borders.
Instead, NASCAR is building interest at the grassroots level by supporting a European series, searching for international drivers while relying on television and digital platforms.
"We are always having conversations about emerging markets," said Dewar, who added that the sport broadcasts to 150 markets and territories around the world. "It's about globalization of the fan base. It doesn't mean we have to go racing in every market around the world."
"We are always having conversations about emerging markets.
"It's about globalization of the fan base. It doesn't mean we have to go racing in every market around the world."
Editing by Frank Pingue