NAS­CAR deal­ing with money crunch

Brian France says the sport could face big changes in at­tempt to con­trol ex­penses.

Los Angeles Times - - NLCS - GE­ORGE DIAZ ON MO­TOR RAC­ING

NAS­CAR’s busi­ness model keeps down­siz­ing to the scale of Groupon and Over­stock.com, with a dash of the Dol­lar Store.

Ev­ery­one wants to pinch pen­nies.

Faced with drops in spon­sor­ships, the in­abil­ity to pay top driv­ers, sag­ging at­ten­dance and drops in TV view­er­ship, NAS­CAR is in scram­ble mode go­ing into the 2018 sea­son.

But that’s not just me talk­ing.

NAS­CAR Chair­man Brian France ad­mit­ted over the week­end that the sport could be in for some dras­tic changes as it looks to keep ex­penses from run­ning out of con­trol.

“There’s a lot more we can do, and we’re go­ing to do it,” France told NBC Sports at Char­lotte (N.C.) Mo­tor Speed­way. “That’s what the char­ter op­por­tu­nity gives us the chance to do. We’re work­ing with [teams] to see how we can con­trol ex­penses in a way that has not been done in mo­tor sports be­fore.”

The no­tion of a spend­ing cap has been floated. This is where things get com­pli­cated be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to com­pare NAS­CAR with ball-and-stick sports and their salary caps.

Driv­ers es­sen­tially are in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors who work out a deal with team own­ers and spon­sors, with NAS­CAR hav­ing no con­trol over the par­tic­u­lars.

But those spon­sor­ship deals — es­pe­cially lu­cra­tive ones with top driv­ers — have been im­plod­ing in re­cent months.

Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch are among the vet­eran driv­ers out of a ride be­cause they have priced them­selves out of the mar­ket.

Denny Ham­lin, an­other vet­eran driver, voiced con­cerns about rev­enue re­dis­tri­bu­tion in the sport, sug­gest­ing driv­ers need to make more money.

“The pie has to be shifted for sure,” said Ham­lin, who is fifth in the play­off stand­ings with six races to go. “The TV dol­lars com­ing into NAS­CAR is higher than it’s ever been, but we’re see­ing fewer and fewer teams, and it just can’t sur­vive. So it eco­nom­i­cally doesn’t make sense. The pie — the amount of TV money that the race teams share — has to go up, in my opin­ion.” Good luck with that. “I truly be­lieve our guys are worth ex­actly what other top ath­letes are worth,” said Larry McReynolds, a long­time NAS­CAR in­sider and an an­a­lyst on Fox Sports. ”Un­for­tu­nately, be­cause of what it takes to make our sport work, un­like stickand-ball sports, the num­bers just won’t get there.”

The cash-flow prob­lem will no doubt be ad­dressed in the off­sea­son and likely will lead to cut­ting a day off the week­end sched­ule, which will add up con­sid­er­ably.

But it’s still a tough road eco­nom­i­cally.

NAS­CAR was for­tu­nate to land a 10-year me­dia part­ner­ship with NBC Sports Group that be­gan in 2015. The deal was re­port­edly worth $4.4 bil­lion. Fox is pay­ing NAS­CAR $2.4 bil­lion over eight years (2015 to ’22).

While that’s enough cash to keep NAS­CAR afloat for a num­ber of years, ev­ery­thing else is skew­ing in the down­ward di­rec­tion. Hence the wor­ri­some prospects, in­clud­ing the mar­ket­ing sledge­ham­mer of los­ing the sport’s most pop­u­lar driver (Dale Earn­hardt Jr.) and its most po­lar­iz­ing one (Dan­ica Pa­trick). Each moves the nee­dle like no other driver.

Those who are stay­ing on, such as Ham­lin, aren’t happy.

“We’re way un­der­paid as race car driv­ers,” Ham­lin said. “There’s no doubt, do­ing what we do, the sched­ule that we have and the dan­ger that we in­cur ev­ery sin­gle week, NAS­CAR driv­ers should be mak­ing NBA, NFL money.

“I’m sure this will be in some head­line some­where where Denny says driv­ers aren’t paid enough, but I’m bas­ing it off all other sports. I’m not in­clud­ing my­self. I’m in­clud­ing the back half of the field — those driv­ers are risk­ing the same amount I am, and they should be paid a hell of a lot more.”

So driv­ers are ask­ing for more money in a sport where dol­lars are dwin­dling.

As noted, good luck with that.

Ju­nior’s day

Not sur­pris­ingly, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has de­clared Sun­day as “Dale Earn­hardt Jr. Day” as Ju­nior makes his last Tal­ladega start in the Cup se­ries.

Tal­ladega has been good to both Ju­nior — who turned 43 Tues­day — and his late fa­ther. The younger Earn­hardt has won six times at the famed su­per­speed­way.

“Nowhere else in the world are there more Dale Earn­hardt Jr. fans than in the state of Alabama,” Ivey said. “He has al­ways made clear his love for Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way and the mil­lions of fans that lay claim to him as their fa­vorite NAS­CAR driver. He has been an impressive, pos­i­tive role model for so many, and we are proud to honor him this week­end at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way but also across the en­tire state.”

Earn­hardt has yet to win a race this sea­son, but in case he does, ex­pect the In­ter­net to ex­plode.

sports@la­times.com

Sarah Cra­bill Getty Im­ages

DENNY HAM­LIN says NAS­CAR driv­ers “should be mak­ing NBA, NFL money” for the risks they take.

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