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Volume 24 No. 116
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NASCAR Deals With Drop In Attendance; CEO France Weighs Shortening Sprint Cup Schedule

NASCAR "continues to grapple with perhaps its most troubling ongoing challenge: declining ticket sales," according to a front-page piece by Scott & Dunn of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Securities filings show that NASCAR ticket sales revenue fell by 38% "over the past five years at its three publicly traded companies, which host 35 of the 38 race weekends." NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said, "Things aren’t perfect and easy, no. But a lot of people would like to have our problems.” SMI has “lost more than a quarter of its admission revenue," falling to $130M. Meanwhile, ISC has "lost nearly" 40% of its ticket revenue, falling to $144M. Dover Motorsports Inc. “has been hit the hardest," with admission revenue dropping nearly 60% to $13.6M last year. France said that the “main culprit for declining ticket revenue ... continues to be the economy, because attending a NASCAR race often requires more travel and a longer stay than attending other sporting events.” NASCAR’s racetrack companies “largely blame the slowdown in consumer spending for the lack of sales.” Admission revenues “peaked between 2006 and 2008 and have fallen every year since.” The companies say that ticket sales “will continue to struggle as long as the economy does.” SMI President Marcus Smith in May said, “We think the pricing this year will stay consistent with last year” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/8).

CREATING URGENCY: France said that NASCAR "is looking at shortening more events." USA TODAY's Nate Ryan noted Pocono Raceway cut its first Sprint Cup Series race this season by 100 miles, and the "first 400-mile event last month was well received." France: "We'll be working on that. ... You can make the argument there's more urgency in the middle of the races that are a lot shorter, so you tend to have more urgency along the way. I think you can make that argument, though not everywhere." France "wasn't sure if there'll be a reduction in the Sprint Cup manufacturer lineup next season." Dodge is losing Penske Racing after '12 and has "announced no replacements yet" for '13. France "was hopeful the company will return but hadn't been given confirmation." France in a Q&A with the USA TODAY further addressed the potential of shortening the NASCAR schedule, along with other issues. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A.

Q: There's been talk of cutting the 36-race schedule. Any chance of considering that?
France: Well, I've heard that for 25 years. We don't have anybody who would like to give up one. When I find someone who would like to give up one, we'll have that conversation, but right now, we don't.

Q: Are there any tracks, though, that should give up a race given their declining attendance?
France: You can always point fingers at given moments, but we tend to look at things in a much longer horizon than in a couple of years in a choppy economy. We're long-term players here trying to figure out what works in the future. If we have to pull events and change them around, we've done a lot of that. We have built this sport by not unilaterally doing that because it felt right at the moment. Our competitors do that all the time. It's a bigger sanction fee, or a street course pops up or whatever. They are happy to move in and out of historically important events. We think that is the wrong recipe.

Q: Are you expecting there'll be no decrease in the [new TV] deal's overall revenue?
France: I certainly wouldn't preview a negotiation, but I would say there are very few high-quality sports properties that are looking to take less with the way it is out there. We'll have those negotiations, and they'll be whatever they are.

Q: Will you be close to wrapping up the contract by this time next year?
France: I don't know exactly when we'll get to the finish line with each group, but this is about that time the discussions will get more serious. We'll see how fast they go (, 7/6).

FAIR & BALANCED: France said that he "favors shortening some races, like has been done this season at Dover, Pocono and California." France: "It generally worked well." France "acknowledged that long commercial breaks can sometimes detract from" NASCAR TV broadcasts. France said, "That's a fair point. There is a commercial balance there. There aren't timeouts, per se, in our sport. So it's understandable that our fans might miss something" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/7). 

JUNIOR NATION: In Orlando, Mike Bianchi wrote it is "no secret that NASCAR ratings and attendance have dipped in recent years," in large part because Dale Earnhardt Jr. "has been irrelevant." Even though Jimmie Johnson "has become one of the greatest champions NASCAR has ever known, he simply doesn't resonate with fans like Earnhardt does." Earnhardt last month won his first Sprint Cup Series race in nearly four years, and he "is clearly the crown prince of the infield." At Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona Int'l Speedway, an "endless array of Junior flags flapped proudly in the breeze and the thousands of Junior fans clapped loudly from their perches" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/8).