SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/This Weeks News

NYC momentum, little movement in Seattle

Lesa France Kennedy will always be the daughter of Bill France Jr. and the sister of NASCAR Chairman Brian France, but as president of International Speedway Corp., Kennedy is also a leader in the stock car racing industry and an expert in promoting motorsports events. Two days before this year’s Daytona 500, Kennedy sat down with staff writer Scott Warfield and talked about a variety of issues, including expansion, reconstruction and the sport’s troubled merchandise industry.

Corporate spending seemed strong in 2005. Are you seeing more companies interested in all of ISC’s different channels?

A third-generation racetrack promoter, Lesa
France Kennedy is moving ISC across the country.
Kennedy: Our sponsors are not looking at just one track anymore or a couple, they’re looking at our whole platform, and that’s really been part of our strategy, to have something for everyone. Now that, hopefully, we’ll be in the four corners of the United States, there’s something for everyone. You can get into most markets through our company or through an association with our company.

What is the current status in New York? How are the local and governmental outreach efforts going on Staten Island?

Kennedy: We have the acreage that we purchased right there on Staten Island, but we’ve obviously got more work to do. We’re hopeful to enter the land use process pretty soon, which is a more formal review process. And we’ve got a lot of grassroots efforts to do this year. I think it’s making some progress. We’re seeing some momentum. We’ve got some organizations starting to come on board … and the tide is starting to change. But it’s going to take time. It’s an educational process and it’s just going to take a little bit of time.

Has it been harder than you expected?

Kennedy: We knew New York would be different. We’ve had developments in Kansas City and Chicago. They all have a unique set of challenges. And this is unique in itself. We knew this was going to be different. I don’t necessarily know about harder, but we knew there’d be things we hadn’t seen before.

Has there been a recurring challenge or thorn in your side?

Kennedy: The biggest concern we have up there is traffic. We’re just going to have to have a different traffic plan. The mass transit plan we are going to be doing will utilize ferries, and we use buses at a lot of other facilities but more so on this property than ever before. So that’s different. It will be a unique way to travel to an event.

Have you refined your goals up there at all? What about the time line?

Kennedy: We’re still looking at 2010. A lot of things would have to fall into place to be able to race in 2010, but we haven’t gotten off that goal.

2010 would mean you would have to start building when?

Kennedy: You have a shovel with you? You want to go up there with me? (Laughs) But seriously, it’s going to take a year to get through this land use approval process, so we need to do all that before we get into the construction. … Kansas City took 18 months to build once we got everything going. But while all these other approvals are taking place, we can do a lot behind the scenes and get ready to go work. We’re used to building on timetables, because if you do something in Daytona, like our new infield project, for instance, we put the shovel in the ground the day after the Pepsi [400 in July], because you’ve got to be ready for the [Daytona] 500. We do a lot of advance, behind-the-scenes work to get us in.

Would you like to take the Daytona FanZone idea to other ISC tracks? Is that the next wave?

Kennedy: We’ve taken some mini-versions of it to other tracks. We did some more things in Michigan recently, and really improved Phoenix and Richmond as well. Would I love to have that at every track? Absolutely. … I think California will be an area we take a look at down the road. I think we can do some more things there.

Is building a track in the greater Seattle area starting to look like a long shot? If it doesn’t work out, would you look at another state or at least another area in the Pacific Northwest?

Kennedy: We would. There are a lot of fans in the Pacific Northwest and so I wouldn’t rule out other areas at all. And I wouldn’t rule out other states or cities as well. We are looking to grow the sport in a major market area and we’re open to a lot of ideas. Although New York and Seattle are on our front burner, we wouldn’t exclude another opportunity if it came along.

Discouraged at all by the Seattle effort?

Kennedy: No, not at all. You always have a timetable and a goal, but these things are very complicated and there are a lot of people that you’ve got to get on board, which is fine. You just have to be persistent and you have to be patient.

Lets talk about NASCAR merchandiser Motorsports Authentics, which was created by ISC and competitor Speedway Motorsports Inc. last year.

Kennedy: I am so excited about this for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a fragmented piece of our industry. You had Action [Performance] and Team Caliber and then ISC and SMI, and it was a little more challenging to do business that way. And now … we’re all headed in the same direction. I really like Marcus [Smith] and I think he’s got some great ideas and he’s very passionate about Motorsports Authentics. And you combine that with Team Caliber and Action, who were both at the track selling stuff as well, and now they’re in the same boat, so I think when you put this all together we’re going to have one unified group that’s selling this product. I think there’s great growth potential on the apparel side of things. I don’t think we’ve really been able to, as an industry, reach the mass market and the mass retail like we could have or should have. We’re the No. 1 spectator sport but No. 4 in licensed products. I’m not a marketing merchandising person, but something’s there and so there’s a lot of growth opportunities in that area.

Will trackside sales change at all, maybe move to a mall-type format to sell product?

Kennedy: The one thing that we need to do a better job of, not just at our tracks but at all tracks, is we need to get closer to the fans. And we use the example that at Daytona we have a great display and merchandise area, but if you want a certain driver’s shirt, you may have to walk a little further than we would like. Over time we would like to see more of a kiosk concept so you wouldn’t have to go as far to get your driver’s merchandise. I think if we put all this together we’ll have more resources to get more of the merchandise all around the track and more available and easier access to the fans.

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