SBD/February 22, 2013/NASCAR Season Preview

Defending Sprint Cup Champ Brad Keselowski Calls For NASCAR To Make Changes

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Keselowski said that NASCAR has to do a better job of increasing attendance
Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski gives his thoughts on the current state of NASCAR to USA TODAY in a sports-section cover story, and he notes the "problem I see in the sport is that there are multiple entities that have to work together for us to be successful." Keselowski: "We have sponsors ... tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a product for our fans." That is combined "with the shift in all spectator sports to a TV-dominated world." TV "has become more popular and attendance at the track ... has dwindled with the exception of major events." Keselowski: "We haven't adapted as a sport to that." When late NASCAR Chair Bill France Jr. was in charge, he "had control of all these pieces and wasn't at the mercy of the TV world." He had control "of the tracks and NASCAR, which is now divided in two" and run by ISC Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy and NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France. Keselowski notes, "France Jr. had relationships with the sponsors, drivers and teams. Now we don't have that. Those three other pieces are segregated. Those three pieces need to get together. And until all three of those can unite, we're a house divided, and we're making bad decisions that are affecting our bottom line." Keselowski added, "We have to move away from team sponsors, because the way it's set up now encourages us to harm each other. And by doing that, we're hurting the sport. ... What NASCAR needs to do is somehow wean ourselves off our sponsors and make the sport more affordable to where you can basically race off the purse."
 
OTHER ISSUES: Keselowski notes all tracks "should have Wi-Fi." Keselowski: "That's so obvious, you don't even think it has to be said. But it does, and it goes back to all the factions. ... The fact I can go to a race with a Verizon phone and not have service when the race starts is a major problem." He adds, "You can't tell a fan that doesn't have service, 'We're working on it.' They bought their ticket already. That money they spent was for 'worked,' not 'working.' We have to open our eyes to the big picture. That's our sport's challenge: Can we do that?" He believes it is every driver's "responsibility to carry the sport whether they're a champion or not." Keselowski: "I feel I've taken that responsibility as much as I was allowed to last year, and some people have told me -- a lot of people -- they wish I'd be quieter and that I hadn't earned the right to speak. But I never listened to that. I've always done as much as I wanted to do and could manage. I'm sure there will be more demands going forward, and I think I'm capable (of) handling it smoothly. That doesn't mean I've got it figured out" (USA TODAY, 2/22).

TWITTER REAX: USA Today's Jeff Gluck wrote on Twitter, "This is like a State of the Union speech without all the BS." SportsBusiness Journal's Tripp Mickle wrote, "Most interesting @keselowski comment on NASCAR's biz? A call for new team revenue." Marquette Univ.'s Chris Jenkins wrote, "Applaud NASCAR's @keselowski for pondering the big picture." Keselowski wrote on his Twitter feed, "Thank you everyone for the responses. I want the best for our sport, an open dialogue is where to start."

STAYING TRUE TO HIMSELF: In Boston, Michael Vega notes Keselowski "may be ushering in the era of NASCAR's next-generation champion -- young, personable, techno-savvy, and quick with an opinion -- which would dovetail nicely with the unveiling of NASCAR's next-generation car." Keselowski said, "I have my own way of doing things, and there is a little pride thinking that some of that is back to the way some of the people earlier in the sport did it. I think you have to fight to be relevant and you can't do things that were done in the past and feel like you are going to be relevant to today's fans." Fellow driver Jimmie Johnson said that Keselowski's voice "will have some resonance in the garage as well as the grandstands." Johnson: "Once you are the champion, your voice carries much further. The more success you have in the sport, the voice will carry further and further." Noting Keselowski's celebration following his win last year, in which he appeared on ESPN drinking a Miller Lite, Johnson said, "He'll have a few moments like that, which will rein him back in some, and make him think about what he says and be more calculated." But Vega notes Keselowski "doesn't intend to mute his voice or homogenize his personality now that he's champion." He will "stay true to himself: outlandish and outspoken" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/22).
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