Brian France Optimistic On Future Of NASCAR Despite Longtime Stars Leaving
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France yesterday during his annual state-of-the-sport press conference acknowledged the impact of the departure of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other drivers, but said that the sport is "'in good shape' with the arrival of a group of young, talented drivers," according to Mike Hembree of USA TODAY. France said that NASCAR is "reacting to changes in how fans 'consume' the sport and the realities of a sponsorship landscape that continues to be difficult." France said, "They (younger drivers) are here, and they’ve got to develop their performance, but they’re doing well. ... We’re in a transition, too, but that happens from time to time -- not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens." NASCAR President Brent Dewar "echoed France’s remarks." Dewar said, "We feel pretty bullish about the future of the sport for the talent they have." France also said that race attendance is "up at 'many, many events'" and that TV ratings "don’t reveal how fans watch the sport on other devices" (USA TODAY, 11/20). France said he is "optimistic" right now about NASCAR's finances. He said, "We've gotten the council meetings going. We've gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners." France said of the sport's future, "We've got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car. We like that. We'd love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we've made in the last four or five years, including stage racing." France also said NASCAR has been "really pleased with how Monster has come in and engaged with our fans." France: "In all markets, it's been fantastic. They're young, edgy demo, they're motorsports-centric and they always have been in their culture. We're really pleased" (RACER.com, 11/19). Racing reporter Jeff Gluck on Twitter noted Dewar "says it frustrates him when people talk about business/non-racing issues during the season, when he'd rather they focus on the racing. 'I'll die trying to fix that,' he says." ESPN's Bob Pockrass replied, "There’s an obvious reason. ... Business of NASCAR impacts results b/c money/sponsorship buys speed (and drivers)" (TWITTER.com, 11/19).
CHANGING LANDSCAPE: France said that there have been "'challenges for everybody' as the sport’s business model has been tested by companies unwilling to invest as much money in single marketing platforms such as race team sponsorships as well as the loss in recent seasons of several of NASCAR’s biggest names" (MOTORSPORT.com, 11/19). In N.Y., Jerry Garrett notes the "math has changed considerably" for NASCAR’s competitors as the sport "grapples with declining television ratings and attendance." Earnhardt said that sponsors are "paying far less to advertise on cars during races, and such sponsorships are increasingly difficult to get." Top drivers, who "might have commanded annual salaries" of $10M as recently as two years ago, are "faced with new realities." Earnhardt said, "There are kids coming up, teenagers, who are willing to race for a tenth of that -- or less" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20).
FALLING STARS: In Miami, Greg Cote writes NASCAR’s starpower is "dimming as the sport enters a transition." Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. -- the four with a mathematical chance to win yesterday's championship -- all "are stars, but not superstars, not transcendent stars." The sport "might never have another driver as popular as Junior" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/20). In Charlotte, Brendan Marks writes the "legions of fans who showed up each and every weekend just for Earnhardt will have to find a new driver to support -- or else the sport is going to suffer some." It "doesn’t help" that Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick are "also done." That is a "lot of star power and talent scurrying out of the sport at once." If younger drivers "don’t step up and stake their claims for those fans, those fans might leave the sport, and that’s the last thing NASCAR needs right now" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/20).