The Frontstretch: Judging NASCAR's ISC: The Titanic Looked Pretty Majestic, Too, Even While Sinking! by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday October 8, 2009

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Judging NASCAR's ISC: The Titanic Looked Pretty Majestic, Too, Even While Sinking!

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday October 8, 2009

 

We all know that NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (ISC) are basically one and the same. They are run by siblings Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy. One sanctions the races, while the other owns the lion’s share of the race tracks upon which the races are run. They are tighter than a “newbie” released into general population on a prison cell block.

Over the years, these two corporations have amassed billions of dollars for the France family, and have taken stock car racing to popularity heights that were once thought unattainable. But that was “back in the day!”

In the last six years, this “Titanic” corporate entanglement seems to have hit an iceberg or two along its journey. For ISC, one of the ‘bergs was the complete and utter rebuff of fans from city dwellers in New York (a much coveted jewel to add to the sibling’s crowns) and the Pacific Northwest. For NASCAR, the biggest iceberg that it encountered, at full ramming speed I might add, was Brian France himself.

After receiving the reins to the company from his late father, Bill France, Jr., Brian was like an eight-year-old boy on Christmas morning. In came the Chase, in came multi-billion dollar deals with Nextel and the television networks, in came the CoT, in came the blatant desire to be bigger than the NFL, in came the aggressive schedule changes in pursuit of nothing more than “the casual fan” and the biggest “markets.” Among other things, out to the trash heap went Winston, the traditional points system, and — probably most important — long-held traditions of the sport.

Brian France is constantly making changes to NASCAR policies, but a huge loss in revenue is forcing him to finally listen to what the fans want.

As with any impact on the scale of a large ship hitting an iceberg, vibrations and shudders were soon felt. Television ratings began dropping. Attendance figures began going down. Fans screamed at the tops of their lungs to no avail about moving the Labor Day race to the “second-largest market.” Fans ranted about rising ticket prices and tracks (mostly ISC tracks) only selling tickets in “packages.” Fans (and drivers) said the new car sucked and made for boring races. Sponsors are fleeing the sport like lemmings over a cliff. Yet all of these warning signs went unheeded by co-captains France and Kennedy. Why, Brian himself would annually get up in front of a large group every year and tell us that “everything is just fine!” “The sport is as healthy as it’s ever been.” “This sport is unsinkable!”

But is it really, or are the “captains” finally feeling their feet getting wet? Consider the following;

In the first half of this year, ISC recorded a net LOSS of 6.5 million dollars compared to a net PROFIT of 62.25 million over the same period of 2008. ISC of course, writes most of that off on the fact that their merchandising arm, Motorsports Authentics (MA), has been struggling greatly to the tune of a 55.6 million dollar write-off.

MA, as you might be aware, is partnership between ISC and SMI that formed to buy out the successful Action Performance brand that was wildly successful, but of which ISC was getting none of the profit. At its peak in 2002 as Action Performance, AP had 400 million in revenue and over 500 employees before the buyout. In 2008, Motorsports Authentics had 200 million in revenue, and analysts predict that in 2009 those numbers could drop to 125 million and fewer than 200 employees. Reports in the last few days indicate the MA may soon file bankruptcy altogether.

On the more publicized NASCAR side of things, as mentioned before, ratings and attendance are at all-time lows since the first major TV contract was signed in 2001. A prime example of that is the fact that this year’s August night race at Bristol (an SMI track) sold out only DAYS before the event. What was once one of the hardest of tickets in all SPORTS to obtain, can now be easily had at modest prices.

These are but a few of the problems that has begat the ISC/NASCAR ship. But what is being done about it?

For NASCAR, even while he just recently said that lower ratings did not concern him, Brian France (or someone with a brain anyway) seems to suddenly be listening to the few “traditional,” hard core fans that haven’t already jumped overboard. The implementation of “double-file restarts, shootout style” was a step in the right direction, as was the mostly symbolic schedule change of moving the Labor Day race back to the South, even if it was to Atlanta. Another sudden change that took place only yesterday was the out of the blue announcement that unified start times for races will be implemented for the 2010 season, addressing another longtime beef of the fans.

Why the sudden changes of heart by Brian France? Why is France only now “listening to the fans?” Because he is scared, that’s why!

But what about ISC? What are they doing to stop the water from coming in?

Well, they have started to offer “single event” tickets at selected tracks. Let’s see, what else is there…oh yeah! ISC recently announced they are changing their corporate logo! Gone is the old logo, and in comes a new, sportier one, which still maintains the rich history of the old!

It’s out with the old …

Well, ain’t that grand! Here ya got a company that has tracks barely eight years old (Kansas) that need repaving or fixing, one in Fontana which needs a whole new reconfiguration, and a whole lot of other infrastructure problems at other tracks that need attending…but wait, we can’t afford to do that now! No, ISC needs to join a venture to build a casino at Kansas, and since they are moving into brand new headquarters in Daytona, they might as well have a new logo! How much is it to change a logo for a large corporation such as ISC, and how long would it take? I wondered that, too, so I asked ISC’s Director of Marketing Communications, Lenny Santiago.

“We have not disclosed the costs related to the new logo development and rollout. Given the timing of our move into the new International Motorsports Center in Daytona Beach, and upcoming launch of a new corporate website, it made sense to revisit our logo and update it at this time,” Santiago said. “To answer your second question, we continue to be cost-conscious so there will be a period of time over the next several months before it becomes universally adopted… but the logo itself is final. It’s just not financially prudent for us to immediately scrap perfectly usable business collateral.”

In with the new when it comes to the ISC’s hip little logo — costing them an unpublicized amount that won’t be used to fix any tracks on the circuit. Take that, Kansas tar patch!

Another ISC change (although unneeded in my opinion) is the raising of the catchfences at Talladega and Daytona as a response to Carl Edwards crash earlier this year in ‘Dega. I say unneeded because hey, the fence DID it job as designed; it put the car back on the track with only minimal shrapnel damage to a few fans. Apparently, that is not enough for ISC, as they have installed a bigger and better fence on that will presumably fling a car even further back into the track. As with the logo, the cost of this is not being revealed either but whatever it is, ISC has said when it comes to safety, the cost is never too great. It’s just a shame they didn’t think that way prior to February 2001.

Are all these sudden changes enough to save the floundering ISC/NASCAR ship? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: with new logos, new buildings, new fences… she’ll sure look good if she does go down! One thing, though, that has to amuse the longtime fan is the sudden backpedaling of Brian France! Who wants me back now, eh!?

Stay off the wall (you might scuff the new logo!),

Jeff Meyer

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Bad Wolf
10/08/2009 02:12 AM
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I get a mental picture of Brain France outside the bedroom windows of the “core” fans holding a large boombox over his head pumping out Lynard Skynard, waving the Stars and Bars and crying for them to come back.

Brain pooped where he eats, and now he’s paying the price. It’s too bad that Nascar has been destroyed by his ineptness, but it’s gonna take a lot more than consistant start times to get me back. Get to the point of actual stock based cars, no chase and get back to the basics of television coverage and I may come back, but it has to be proven by actions first.

Hambone
10/08/2009 06:56 AM
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As a former fan of 45+years until Brian screwed up what WAS the best racing in the world, NA$CAR & Brian France can fold up and rot in hell. I couldn’t care less about it and it appears that no one else does, either. Sh*tcan the stupid and insulting chase, put Rockingham & THE Southern 500 back where they belong, get rid of toyota (they make a fine car but have NO PLACE in nascar) and hang Brian France from a very tall tree and I might… MIGHT start watching again… but I doubt it.

Bill B
10/08/2009 07:45 AM
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Really!!!? ISC has a new logo? Well, that changes everything. Problems solved.

Bob
10/08/2009 08:16 AM
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I’ve spent more time reading this article than watching a race this month! But the logo is nice! Im sure that will bring me and ten million fans back. Way to go Brain!

The Turnip
10/08/2009 08:24 AM
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You guys are killing me this morning!

GREAT WRITING!

Gordon82Wins
10/08/2009 08:38 AM
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I will say, the consistent start times are a step in the right direction. I was really sick of the indigestion from eating dinner at 8:00 when the race was finally over.

NASCAR could go a long way with me by losing the Chase. Just about everything else I could live with, albeit while grinding my teeth, including the car which I believe will get better. But the Chase really killed it for me.

Mike in Floyd Va
10/08/2009 08:48 AM
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Great article Jeff. I’m afraid these changes are too little too late. At the current rate I$C and its’ conjoined, incestuous twin are losing money, they’ll be bankrupt in less than 18 months.

Instead of spending $17 million to build the amusement park in the Daytona infield, they should’ve used it to reconfigure Fontana or repave some of the other tracks which are in dire need of it for safety reasons.

When the T-bird was retired, the last of the stock looking cars was gone. Since then, we’ve had the used bar of soap looking things and now the COT which resembles nothing. Had they put stock sheet metal on the COT, it might have been more accepted but that would make sense and we can’t have that in NA$CAR.

The ticket prices got jacked up sky high and drove fans away because they couldn’t afford them. In an effort to close the barn door after the horse is gone, they’ve lowered some of the ticket prices in an attempt to get fans back. Too late I’m afraid.

Even the uniform start times aren’t that uniform. By 3 pm Eastern on Sunday, race fans who also enjoy football will be locked into whatever football games are on. Had all the daytime races been started at 1 pm Eastern instead, they might have had a better shot at getting more folks to watch. Of course, with the way 2 of the 3 networks broadcast the races, nobody wants to watch them anyways because they don’t bother listening to what the fans want. They do what the leadership in Daytona tells them to do in between drinking “sodas” and running into palm trees. It would require some major changes from 2 of the networks to get some of the fans back. But with David Hills attitude about not listening to the fans and ESPN’s boring coverage, I’m afraid the ratings will continue to decline.

Folks complained before that some seasons were a total blow out under the old points system. So we got the current play-off system, which was cherry picked from the Hooters Pro-Cup Series in an effort to compete with the NFL. Now folks complain about the regular season leader getting screwed out of a championship and drivers not making the play-offs. Maybe if NA$CAR had adopted the full play-off system used by the Hooters Pro-Cup Series, it might have made for a more exciting season finale and a better process of a champion winning for the year.

I could go on with the mistakes that have been made by the leadership in Daytona. Long story short, the leadership has screwed the pooch and is scrambling to try to save their butts. Too little too late I’m afraid.

Mike
10/08/2009 09:16 AM
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You make a lot of good points in your article…but I think it also should be noted that one of the biggest problems is NASCAR competing with teams for sponsorship dollars. I am a marketing director for a small automotive services company and we tried to enter the sport as a sponsor a few years ago. We found a team and wrote a big check… but that wasn’t enough because they will make sure your sponsorship gets no attention unless you pay the sanctioning body, the track and the media. Don’t forget your sports marketing company. You cant even get a picture of your car at the track without paying NASCAR images. I understand why they do all of this…but it discourages small businesses from joining. The most loyal fans are usually employees at sponsor companies. How many fans do you think they lose when a company walks away?

btw, they destroyed bristol by over-engineering the track. I used to go to every race if I found tickets…but now the bump and run is a thing of the past and they just ride around in a circle with very little excitement. Thanks for that extra groove :(

The Turnip
10/08/2009 09:36 AM
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And as regards “The chase”, so, after 26 races they “adjust” the points, presumably to make the race for the chumpionship “tighter”, but after just three (3) races of the ten (10), ONLY three (3) drivers now have a chance!

HUH?

Next idea please King Brain?

Brian France Sucks
10/08/2009 03:13 PM
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Waited for this article for a good while. My sig sez it best.

David
10/08/2009 05:53 PM
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@ Bob:

+1. I barely keep track of where they are racing any more. I plain forgot that they were racing, at where? the last two weeks.

and I used to have season tickets to TMS.

Richard in N.C.
10/08/2009 06:52 PM
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Now of course EESPN and the economy could not have anything to do with declining ratings and attendance, could they? Of course it is not allowed to criticize the World Wide Leper in Sports for its mediocre job in handling NASCAR races – including having the guys in the booth, with over 75 years of NASCAR experience, call what the tech’s in the truck think is important instead of looking out the window.

RAEckart
10/08/2009 11:17 PM
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The real story of the quarterly earnings report was the demise of Motorsports Authentics. It makes null and void all the contracts with 50+ drivers. Bet that supplied a significant amount of income to Dale Jr, Gordon, et al. Now they get a haircut on their earnings.

Kevin in SoCal
10/08/2009 11:40 PM
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Jeff said: “one in Fontana which needs a whole new reconfiguration”

As a new fan from Southern California (since 2003), I still have yet to understand why Fontana gets constantly dumped on, yet Michigan never gets mentioned. They’re almost entirely the same track! My guess is its a combination of East-coast bias, and Michigan being around a lot longer on the schedule.

Jeff Meyer
10/08/2009 11:58 PM
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Kevin….well there’s you problem right thar! You nailed it…“They’re almost entirely the same track!…and Michigan being around a lot longer on the schedule.”

Exactly! If we already had ONE, why in the world would you need TWO?

Kevin in SoCal
10/09/2009 01:17 PM
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For the same reason that there is Kansas, Kentucky, Texas, Chicago and Las Vegas when we already have Charlotte and Atlanta.

Richard in N.C.
10/09/2009 05:58 PM
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As I recall, the media could not say enough good about Fontana when Roger Penske built the track – but the media view turned negative after it was acquired by ISC, which must just be a coincidence.

It also never ceases to amaze me that it seems almost all the tracks built in the last 10 or 15 years have had to have major renovations not too long after being built to make them really race-worthy – like Texas. Whether it is an ISC or SMI track I would think they could be designed right when built.

 

Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
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