NASCAR’s offseason to-do list
NASCAR’s Jim France has stepped in as interim chairman and CEO while his nephew, Brian France, remains on indefinite leave following his arrest on DUI charges in August. Most industry executives do not expect Brian France to return, at least in the CEO role. While Jim France has assumed the duties seamlessly and been a strong presence in the garage, he’s not viewed as likely to stay in the CEO role long term. So who might get the position? It’s possible NASCAR could just keep President Steve Phelps as the highest-ranking executive in charge of day-to-day operations and leave Jim France in the chairman role.
The possibility of the France family selling part or all of NASCAR started off as boardroom whispers and watercooler talk but eventually turned into one of the stories of the season. Comcast is said to no longer be interested, but the sale rumors still pop up in the garage, and it’s possible that another potential suitor is in play. The deal structure most commonly discussed is the Frances selling an initial 40 to 49 percent stake with an eventual path to control. Some in the sport believe that a sale is NASCAR’s best hope at sparking a turnaround.
NASCAR’s media rights partners in Fox Sports and NBC Sports know they have a major challenge on their hands in trying to reverse the sport’s sagging viewership, and they’re both likely to continue tinkering with their product. Fox has already unveiled a state-of-the-art virtual/augmented reality studio that it will debut next year. Heading into the final two races of the season, NASCAR was averaging 3.3 million viewers across Fox and NBC channels for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, down 19 percent from 4.1 million at the same period last season.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MERCH?
Fanatics’ decision this month to break its 10-year trackside merchandise deal with NASCAR left the sport scrambling to put together a new model in time for the season opener at Daytona in February. Whereas Fanatics became the hub of a centralized model used by most of the teams and tracks, it’s possible that the split could lead to teams and tracks using a range of vendors to produce and sell merchandise. Several team and track executives hope that the end of the Fanatics deal, while a bad look optically, could lead to a better model moving forward. Fanatics will continue to manage NASCAR’s e-commerce website.
NASCAR is considering serious changes to the schedule in 2020 that would require a lot of attention this offseason. Phelps has said that everything is on the table, but the series likely will have to wait until 2021 for any drastic move since the five-year track sanction agreement that started in 2016 runs through 2020. Still, the sport could experiment with mid-week races and even more exotic ideas such as a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader. It’s also possible that one of the track operators could shift some of its dates to other venues it owns.
NEW SPONSORSHIP MODEL
On the same day that NASCAR confirmed that Monster Energy extended its premier series title deal for 2019, the league revealed that the sanctioning body is working on implementing an entirely new sponsorship model for 2020. The tiered model would involve unprecedented integration of assets from NASCAR, tracks and media partners, as four to six top-shelf brands would receive race title sponsorships and media buys as part of the spend. NASCAR sees this as a more viable model, but the sanctioning body only has about a year left to put it together and land partners.
With NASCAR’s two major track operators seeing continued erosion in overall attendance this year, the pressure remains to stop the slide. There have been some bright patches, including three consecutive Daytona 500 grandstand sellouts and four consecutive sellouts for Watkins Glen International. Also of note will be how tracks leverage their real estate portfolios for non-racing events, like Speedway Motorsports Inc. looking at having casinos built on its properties (see Page 13). One other thing to look out for is how much more involved tracks get with having on-site sports betting after Dover successfully debuted the idea this year.
Teams continue to work behind the scenes with NASCAR to lower the cost of competition, including examining potentially radical ideas like a cost cap. While there wasn’t much major news made on this front in 2018, that could easily change in 2019. The Race Team Alliance is trying to take a more aggressive role in developing new revenue streams including with gaming and selling the space on cars that NASCAR used to sell to contingency sponsors.