Lap of Luxury!

As I sat in a corporate suite at Richmond International Raceway during a memorable weekend, I was thankful for another opportunity to experience “The Suite Life.” My mother’s employer has been a sponsor of NASCAR for years, as a way to network with their employees and clients.

The suite is located on the third floor of a glass building that sits just behind the start/finish line at RIR. It features TV’s with live race coverage, a bar area with plenty of food and beverages and comfortable seating for about 65 guests. A satellite radio allowed me to tune into a specific driver of my choice throughout the race. The front wall of the suite is smoked glass, affording a great view of the track. Pit passes are also available. The pits are less than a hundred feet away. Many of the pits are within easy viewing. Directly in front of the suite is victory lane. Although my favorite driver didn’t participate in that Friday’s race, Carl Edwards, #33 won the race. Once you experience NASCAR life in a suite, you won’t want to experience it no other way! AS

BARGAINING POWER OF NASCAR ON THE WANE?

Considering declining TV ratings and attendance at most all of the tracks, both of these issues have significant impacts to the business aspect of NASCAR. One impact is that the teams may lose sponsorship value and another is the ability for NASCAR to be able to negotiate better rights deals in the future. The ratings for Sprint Cup races are down 10% and viewership overall is down 8%, which is estimated to be a loss of 500,000 people per race.

Track attendance dropped 10-15 percent last year, which has resulted in a revenue loss of 17.2 percent at ISC tracks alone. Scenedaily.com stated “Consider this: International Speedway Corp., which plays host to 19 of the 36 Cup points races, took in $195.5 million from ticket sales last year. It took in $192.1 million from NASCAR television rights – revenue for which it doesn’t need any advertising or marketing campaigns.” Nevertheless, sponsors don’t like to see empty seats, because in their perception, they may believe that the interest in the sport of NASCAR is vanishing. HB

CHANGES FOR THE 2011 NASCAR AND F1 SCHEDULES–The Impact?

On August 18 Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, announced the 2011 Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Series schedules. Among the most notable changes are the addition, or “realignment” as Mr. France calls it, of two race events. The first change will be seen at Kansas Speedway on June 5, which will be the second Sprint Cup race of the year at Kansas Speedway. And the other “realignment” of the 2011 schedule will be a new Sprint Cup date at Kentucky Speedway on July 9. This is the first time since 2001 that NASCAR has added a new track to the schedule, those being Chicagoland and the previously mentioned Kansas Speedway.

Under these changes NASCAR seems to want to open its doors to new venues, being the bluegrass state, but also it seems that they are making sure they can fill the seats of these venues. Kansas Speedway and Kentucky Speedway are both 1½ mile tracks, but both have less seating capacity than Richmond International Raceway (RIR), a ¾ mile track. RIR seats roughly 112,000, while Kansas Speedway can fit just over 82,000 and Kentucky Speedway can only seat 66,000. My belief is that NASCAR and the track owners, International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., respectively, want to be sure they can retain the value of their ticket prices.

In other motor sports news the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and Formula One World Championship (F1) have announced the plans to open an FIA sanctioned event in Austin, Texas. The track is scheduled to open for the 2012 season and will be the first time in over five years that F1 will have an event in the United States. The Austin F1 Circuit will be 3.39 miles in length, feature 20 turns, elevation changes of over 130 feet and top speeds reaching 200 mph in a “proper” F1 car. Renowned F1 circuit architect Hermann Tilke, who has also designed the Bahrain International Circuit and Yas Marina Circuit, which start and end the F1 season respectively, has designed the track. Included in the final design is seating for 100,000 plus fans, and considering it will be five years since the last F1 race was on United States soil I can only imagine that ever seat will be occupied for the entire race weekend. According to the F1 Times, the circuit and its organizers, Full Throttle Productions, are hoping to make $300 million dollars annually for Elroy, Texas and Austin.

The questions I pose to readers are:

How will the “realignment” of the 2011 NASCAR season schedule affect viewership and attendance numbers?

Will the addition of an FIA sanctioned event in the United States affect the 2012 NASCAR season?

JA

Should NASCAR Take the Show on the Road Internationally?

NASCAR has undoubtedly become one of the biggest and most popular sports in the U.S. As NASCAR has grown in popularity in this country, the growth of its popularity has also expanded internationally. This growth raises the question of why NASCAR is not expanding further into the international community. Currently, NASCAR races in the Nationwide Series in Canada, and previously in Mexico as well. But NASCAR has not had a points paying race in the premier Sprint Cup series in the modern era outside of the United States. Although there have been experiments with the premier series outside the U.S., specifically Japan in the nineties, it never caught enough attention for NASCAR’s liking.

Another question is raised from this issue of NASCAR being international: why does NASCAR need to expand internationally when there are markets currently in the U.S. that are underserved, such as the Pacific Northwest to the Mecca of sports in the U.S, New York City? Opponents of NASCAR going international feel that the faithful American fans in underserved markets deserve to have a chance of having a track in their market. This belief makes sense to me given the economic situation is so negative at this time; new tracks could create jobs and revenue for Americans in those underserved areas.

As a result, I feel that NASCAR should focus its efforts on serving its loyal fans in their own country first, especially those underserved by the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

And that’s the view from here.

WV

WHAT IS GOING ON?

As a brand new NASCAR fan, I am enjoying the array of sponsors and recognizing their specific products in stores. I can see now where the brand loyalty statistics come from because just today I saw Coke Zero in a grocery store and remembered getting a sample of it at the concessions at RIR. However, it has been reported recently that many big brand sponsors are pulling out of the Sprint Cup Series. Jim Beam and Jack Daniels both announced recently that they are not including NASCAR in their marketing plans in the near future. In addition, Lowe’s has announced that it will not hold the naming rights for the Lowe’s Motor Speedway after an 11-year relationship with Speedway Motorsports Inc. Is the declining economy to blame? Are companies struggling with the high costs of marketing and advertising their products within the Sprint Cup Series? It is really interesting and coincidental that two liquor companies pulled out, one after the other. Are NASCAR fans more likely to buy beer than liquor? What is the future for alcoholic beverages and sponsorship?

I am not sure exactly what is going on with these particular companies but I am assuming it is a combination of issues. It will be interesting to see what happens with the naming rights of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and if any other alcoholic beverage company announces an ending sponsorship.

And that’s the view from here.

SM

NASCAR’S Economic Impact Felt Widely

Richmond International Raceway is located in Henrico County, Virginia. Henrico has a population of about 300,000 people and has been ranked one of the best places to work, live, and play. And on race weekend, it becomes an even better place to play.

A few times a year, fans from all over the country flock to Henrico County to watch the NASCAR races. This year, more than ever, Richmond and Henrico welcomed fans with arms wide open.

Over the past few years, Richmond has joined the rest of the country in feeling the effects of the slumping economy. Sales have decreased in a variety of different retail stores and many businesses have been struggling to survive. In the weeks around race weekend, people start coming to Richmond and this migration has a great impact on our economy. Restaurants, gas, campgrounds, and hotel sales skyrocket during this time, and we couldn’t be more thankful. The business Richmond receives from NASCAR is astonishing, and thus another reason why Richmonders love the race! And that’s the view from here. RR

The true signs of Autumn: Leaves changing; School Starting; and NASCAR!

With the summer winding down, one can begin to see the signs that autumn is quickly upon us. The leaves are beginning to change color. The Back-to-School sales are in full swing. And, everyone is looking forward to NASCAR coming to Richmond.
Having lived in Richmond all my life, I am very familiar with the sights and sounds of race week. Twice daily – to and from work – I pass by Richmond International Raceway where the race is held. As race weekend approaches, an atmosphere develops very similar to a circus or state fair. This is appropriate since the raceway was formerly the fairgrounds where the annual state fair was held. Early in the week, the fans begin to converge on the area with their mobile homes, campers and trucks. Flags supporting their favorite drivers are everywhere.
In the surrounding neighborhoods around the raceway, signs appear offering camping and parking spaces to those in need. Many people in the area earn a large portion of their annual income from the money made during race week renting out their front yards. Although with the decline in the economy and reduced attendance, there is not quite as much money to be made as in previous years.
It is very amusing to drive into town during race week and pass by the raceway early in the morning and see bare-chested good old boys with their beer bellies hanging over their pants sitting on the tailgates of their trucks or in lawn chairs in front of their campers having their morning coffee and cooking breakfast. This is truly the only way to live!
Closer to race day, the traffic patterns in the area begin to change. When driving down “360″, there is a steady stream of vehicles heading toward the racetrack from all directions–flags and banners of favorite drivers flying. If you are lucky enough to hit a red light at “360″ and Laburnum, usually on Wednesday evening before race day, you can experience the delight of what I call the Driver’s Big Rig Train – a line of rigs bringing in the drivers’ cars. It is truly a sight to behold. I guess you could call it NASCAR’s circus train.
These are some of my fondest memories of race week. And all this is BEFORE the race even begins! Please share your memories. And that’s the view from here. SH

IT’S JUST NOT THE SAME!

With the economy slumping, it’s becoming harder for NASCAR fans to get to a track to enjoy live racing. Even with tracks lowering ticket prices, most races aren’t selling out. You would think that because of this attendance issue television viewership would be just as good as last season, if not better but the truth is ratings are lower now than the same time last year.
True, ratings for the last couple of races (Michigan and Bristol) were up from last year’s averages but the reality is football season is about to start and history has shown that once football games begin being aired NASCAR viewership drops.
Now, back to the decline in ratings of this year’s earlier races. There hasn’t been a clear change in the way NASCAR has presented its races in the past two weeks, so what was wrong with the previous races that led to a drop in viewership? Could it be the much disliked COT that drivers claim isn’t competitive enough? Or is it that stock car racing just isn’t what it used to be? I’m not old enough to have seen Richard Petty’s first win or Bobby Allison’s wreck at what is now Talladega Superspeedway, forcing NASCAR to mandate restrictor plates there and Daytona, but I’ve seen video and TV footage of the beginning of NASCAR’s modern age and I know today’s racing isn’t as exciting. While I love racing and always have, I miss what it used to be just 10-15 years ago. The sport has lost some integrity and I almost prefer local short track racing to sitting at home and watching a Cup Series race on tv.
So the solution to NASCAR’s television rating problems is yet to be resolved, even with the recent increase in viewership. Is the economy to blame or is it because of the COT and lack of excitement? Of course there’s always the argument that NASCAR just isn’t like the old days. And that’s the view from here.

HG

WHAT’S NASCAR TO DO?

Last November I was quoted by Sarah Rothschild in the Miami Herald regarding the effect of the halting economy on NASCAR. That quote dealt with the diminished discretionary money that fans could use to attend races. I suggested that tracks should consider lowering their ticket prices, “but that’s not going to happen,” I stated. Well, lo and hold, we’ve seen several tracks do just that, as well as take other steps to make racing more affordable for fans.

Still, costs are not coming down and NASCAR, track owners, and team owners will continue to see a decline in revenue from the various sources. In fact, faced with the prospect of race attendance falling off, Bruton Smith has suggested that the television networks consider a local blackout if a race hasn’t been sold out — much like the NFL has done with televised games that haven’t sold out locally.

The sentiment has not been held by Paul Brooks, ESPN senior vice president, who indicated that ESPN has no such intentions; he feels that fans shouldn’t suffer simply because they can’t afford to attend a race. And David Hill, CEO of Fox Sports, in a Dustin Long (Landmark Communications) column when asked about Smith’s comment, stated “I thought it was total bull—-.I thought he had absolutely turned his back on the fans….”)

In fact, the local fans will probably be in the stands because they’re not faced with three-to-five night hotel minimum stays, long drives even with falling gas prices, or the need to spend money for meals. Rather, it’s the fans who in the past drove a couple of hundred miles for an extended weekend at the track that will probably be the casualties of the economy.

What I think this entire scenario surrounding the upcoming season suggests is that those of us who follow NASCAR closely will see many new innovative approaches to maintaining the fan base. Clearly, it’s time now for NASCAR to tighten its belt and the belts of all those involved in the racing community. Now is not the time to gouge the loyal fan; now is the time for NASCAR to tell everyone involved in the sport — from track owner to team owner to hotel operator to concessionaire — to treat our fans with the respect their loyalty deserves. Lower ticket prices seem to be the first such step in the approach to serving the fans.

And that’s the view from here.
Next week, my prognostications for the upcoming season — for what they’ll be worth.

Jon