Tour de France NASCAR Chairman gives media an update on ‘state of the sport’
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
One of the traditional events as the NASCAR circuit returns to its home base in Daytona Beach, Fla., for the second trip to tracks across the country, is a state-of-the-sport press conference with the NASCAR chairman.
Brian France met with the media at Daytona International Speedway last week to talk about a variety of topics affecting the sport. He didn’t offer any major announcements, but here are some excerpts from his remarks.
On the economy and its effect on the NASCAR industry:
“I don’t want to have a big discussion about the economy and all that. The economy is what it is. It’s still difficult. It was difficult six months ago. It doesn’t appear to have improved much for our fan base, a lot of our corporate customers. That’s sort of the bad news.
“The good news is we’ve got 400 different sponsors within the sport. Most of them are renewing their sponsorships. It may look differently, but they’re renewing their sponsorships.
“The car manufacturers, despite a very difficult climate for them, have made a lot of improvements in their own business models and are more stable. They, as well, are reinvesting in NASCAR for the long-term. So that’s good.
“I think the other thing that’s happened to us, and it’s probably happened to a lot of industries, is when things are tough, and we all feel like we’re in a storm, it’s not as easy as it used to be. What happens is you get a chance to be more self-critical of yourself. …
“Even though there are difficulties with the economic climate that we’re in, it kind of forces you in a good way to look at yourself, to work together closer so you can get a better result in the long run.”
On any possible changes to the format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup:
“We like a playoff-style format for sure. It distinguishes us in motorsports, number one, distinguishes our national divisions number two. And, number three, the big design is to have playoff-type moments that only can be, in any sport, created when there’s a lot on the line at any one moment. That’s what the essence of Game 7s, eliminations and all that are.
“We’ve always had in motorsports a challenge with that because there’s a continuity issue because there are 43 teams. Nobody can win a winner-take-all scenario. And we have to balance the body of what you’ve done as a driver across the board. …
“What we’re talking about is enhancing it in a way that will bring out more of the winning moments, the big moments that happen in sports. And if there’s a way we can do that, and there are a couple of ways, we’re going to give that a lot of weight.”
On the decline in TV ratings despite lots of action on the track:
“We moved start times [for races] back out from where more viewers are back to an earlier start time. We knew that would have a short-term impact until our fan base could get a benefit from sort of a centralized start time for most of the events.
“In the short run, there are less people watching at 1:00 [p.m.] than there are at 3:00. You had the World Cup; still have the World Cup going on. You had a very, very popular Winter Olympics. … We had more competition than even a normal busy sports calendar. They’ve had big moments, big story lines. If you recall back in our Vegas race, I think that hockey game did a 21 share or something in the Winter Olympics directly against us. We didn’t have that the year before.
“Then the economy certainly plays a role, more so to us than anybody else because we ask our fans in the big event business to stay longer, drive further, buy hotel rooms and alike as part of what it takes to come to our events. That’s why the tracks and just about everybody in the industry has tried to help that situation out by lowering prices, working with hotels, restaurants, anywhere where they may spend money, to be reflective of that.”
On the displays of emotion, on and off the track, that have come as a result of the “have at it, boys” approach that officials have taken this year:
“I like it personally. I like the emotion. [I’m] a little less worried about what we’re going to do [to drivers]. They always have the sponsorship stuff. It’s not easy for them. They have to be accountable to a company that has a big investment in them.
“It wasn’t like we’re the guys that like to just put a cap on everything. Rather things evolve. … We’ll admit if we’ve overregulated in certain situations, and I think we did. …
“But we like where we’re at now. We like where we’re going.”