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Volume 20 No. 42
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SMI’s Smith: Formula for sharing TV money among tracks must be fair

Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith would like to see NASCAR renegotiate the way it shares television money with racetracks, so that the allocation is no longer based on a formula designed more than a decade ago when the tracks sold their TV rights collectively for the first time.

When NASCAR tracks first joined together to sell their TV rights in 1999, they agreed that they would retain 65 percent of the total rights fee. The tracks were divided into three tiers based on the size of their market, the historic importance of their races, past ratings and other factors. Daytona International Speedway was put in the top tier, tracks like Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway were put in the second tier, and places like Martinsville, Va., and Rockingham, N.C., were put in the third tier.

But since then, several races have moved. In 2004, SMI moved its Rockingham race to Texas, which was made possible because the company owned both facilities. Similarly, International Speedway Corp. moved a race among two of its tracks, from Darlington, S.C., to Phoenix.

But Smith said last week that the tracks’ TV agreement with NASCAR, which hasn’t changed since 2001, means that Texas Motor Speedway, which is in the country’s fifth-largest market, receives a tier-two TV payment for one race and a tier-three TV payment for the other because that was Rockingham’s original designation.

“You know they wouldn’t do that if it was their track in Texas,” Smith said of NASCAR, which is owned by the France family, whose members are also the primary shareholders of ISC. “They need to come around and alter that and put it where it ought to be. We need a fair shake. Be fair. It’s all I’m asking.”

NASCAR believes that the way it shares TV money is fair, especially between the two primary track owners, SMI and ISC. It currently shares $364 million a year in rights fees with SMI’s eight tracks, ISC’s 12 tracks and the independently owned tracks in Indianapolis, Dover, Del., and Pocono, Pa. A breakdown for each track hasn’t been made public.

If NASCAR renegotiated its agreements, SMI-owned tracks such as Atlanta, which once held NASCAR’s season finale, likely would see a decrease in what they receive, and ISC-owned tracks like Phoenix, which took a tier-three race from Darlington along with its corresponding TV share, and Homestead-Miami, which now hosts the season finale, would see an increase.

But even in the wake of NASCAR’s new TV agreement with Fox that will pay the sport $2.4 billion from 2015 through 2022, NASCAR has no interest in renegotiating its decades-old track agreements, according to a NASCAR executive who declined to speak on the record.

Smith said that he’s appealed many times to NASCAR to change its agreements so that Texas gets paid fairly for both of its races, but he never gets an answer from the sanctioning body about when it will happen.

“Maybe one day they’ll just kind of wake up,” Smith said.