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For the second time in a year, an Izod IndyCar Series race is clouded in uncertainty.
The promoter of the series’ August race in China hasn’t paid a sanctioning fee, sources said, and the sanctioning body is considering moving the date of the race. Sources valued the sanctioning fee at $8 million to $10 million.
The turmoil comes less than a month after Andretti Sports Marketing signed on as the third promoter in the last year of the Baltimore Grand Prix, bringing stability to a race that had been thrown into doubt after its previous promoter failed to reach a series of benchmarks for hosting the Sept. 2 event.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard declined requests to speak about the China race. The race wasn’t “100 percent” guaranteed, Bernard said during a news conference before IndyCar’s recent race at Belle Isle in Michigan.
“We have a backup plan,” he said. “That’s what’s most important. But right now I want to make sure China has every opportunity to succeed. We continue to work with our promoter in China.”
The China race is scheduled for Aug. 19 in Qingdao, a city of 8.7 million along the East China Sea. It is being promoted by Yinxin Investment and trumpeted as the sport’s first race in China.
The challenges with the race come at a difficult time for Bernard. He recently posted on Twitter that a team owner was working to push him out of his position as CEO, and several teams have voiced frustration over the last several months about the lack of information they have received about the China race.
Several teams hoped the race would open the opportunity to land new sponsorships with international companies interested in the Asian market or Asian-based companies, but team executives haven’t been able to put together sales pitches because of the uncertainty around the race.
Teams didn’t receive ticket and hospitality pricing from the IndyCar Series until several weeks ago and didn’t learn the broadcast plans in China until late April, when the series emailed to say the race would be shown live on CCTV. Typically, teams know hospitality prices and broadcast plans at least a year before a race. Teams still haven’t received basic information about travel plans for the race. The series typically covers team travel costs for international races.
Teams that have their sponsorship secured for the race, such as A.J. Foyt Racing, which will be sponsored by ABC Supply, and Panther Racing, which sold out of inventory this year, are less concerned about the event.
“Our team was looking forward to going over there and racing there,” said John Barnes, Panther Racing’s owner. “It’s a new market and everyone is excited about that. We haven’t been told it’s not going to be happening yet, but we were told that if it doesn’t happen we’ll have a 16th race in the United States.”
Five years after bringing all of its media operations under one roof, NASCAR is recasting NASCAR Media Group as four independent departments: NASCAR Broadcast, NASCAR Productions, NASCAR Digital and NASCAR Entertainment. They will have separate financial goals but continue to share the same P&L and revenue with racetracks.
When it announced the change last week, the sanctioning body described the move as a rebranding.
The change brings with it several shifts in personnel. NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps will assume oversight for three of the four departments, taking over the responsibilities once held by NASCAR Media Group President Paul Brooks, who left the organization in March. He will have two direct reports: Marc Jenkins, vice president of digital, and Steve Herbst, vice president of broadcasting and production. Zane Stoddard, managing director of entertainment marketing and business development, will continue to report to Eric Nyquist, vice president of strategic development.
Herbst takes over responsibility for production from longtime NASCAR Media Group COO Jay Abraham, who is leaving the organization.
“It doesn’t mean the group from a functional standpoint is going to change all that much,” Phelps said. “If you look at the core group in terms of the talent we have and product they produce, it’s an incredibly high quality and that’s something we want to continue.”
As part of the change, NASCAR’s production division will cease production of college sports and other content and focus exclusively on NASCAR programming. Phelps said that NASCAR Media Group’s revenue from production of non-NASCAR programming was insignificant.