The Frontstretch: MPM 2Nite: The 10 Percent Solution by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday February 11, 2010

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MPM 2Nite: The 10 Percent Solution

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday February 11, 2010


I expected a bit more of a hullabaloo over NASCAR’s recent decision to cut race purses by 10 percent in all three top touring series this season. NASCAR officials stated in this era of declining ticket sales, and thus revenue, the track owners needed a break to return to profitability. Of course, NASCAR, the race officiating body, shares office space with the International Speedway Corporation (an entity also controlled by the France family) which owns a bunch of tracks including Daytona, Talladega, Kansas, Fontana, Watkins Glen, and others. I’m certain that the move has nothing to do with the recently announced 95 percent drop in ISC’s revenues last year (Jezum Crow, Auntie Em, say it ain’t so!) from $134 million in 2008 to $6.8 million in 2009. (While ticket sales are down, most of the loss is apparently because of declining souvenir royalties from the Motorsports Authentics division.)

I’m not sure the big teams, who rely more on sponsorship dollars than winnings, are going to feel too hard a pinch, but some of the smaller operations that scrimp and save just to make the next race are going to feel the hit. So it would only seem fair that if race purses are being cut 10 percent, so should the length of each race. Less miles on the race track means a smaller tire bill, less wear and tear on the drivetrain, and a 10 percent smaller chance of wiping out a car in a wreck.

With race purses cut and less money available to teams, NASCAR would do well to cut road course races… and the expenses that come with building road course cars.

While they’re at it, NASCAR needs to shorten the season by 10 percent as well. I’d make it a nice even four races. Of course, those of you who have endured my ramblings a few years know the four races I’d choose to ax. First off, I’d eliminate Watkins Glen and Sonoma. The cost of preparing road course cars for just two events a year, especially now that the big teams have separate cars for both events, is prohibitive. We’ve come a long way from the good old days where to prepare for a road course, a team would take its Martinsville car and move the filler neck to the other side of the vehicle. Plus, the purses at the two road courses have never been exactly generous.

Moving on to the oval tracks, I’d get rid of one date at NHMS as well. That place is a long way from the team’s Mooresville, NC home. And yes, naturally, I’d ax one of the Fontana dates. The fans out in California just haven’t embraced the races well enough to justify having the teams haul all the way out there twice a year – nor has the quality of the racing at Fontana often made the trip worthwhile.

Getting rid of those four races would cut down on travel, transportation, lodging, and other logistical expenses, becoming a huge advantage to the small team owners. But I guess if the tracks are going to cut purses 10 percent, they ought to pass some of that savings on to their valued customers. (They love you, fans, they really do. They say so all the time in press releases. Then they get you to come to a race and it’s such a hassle, a bore, and huge expense, you vow you’re never going back. I hear that from you fans all the time.) So, let’s start with this 10 percent solution. Every expense a fan and his or her family faces during a race weekend gets cut 10 percent. 10 percent off tickets. 10 percent off beers and hot dogs. 10 percent off RV parking. And while we’re at it, 10 percent more room in a grandstand seat, so normal-sized adults don’t feel like they’re being packed into the steerage class. Eventually, track owners will find a price point that fans are comfortable with, and they’ll start coming back to the races. That’s going to help alleviate a lot of the problem with declining interest in NASCAR racing, though only as long as what NASCAR likes to call “the product,” the actual on-track racing, is at least 10 percent better as well.

Our beloved phone company title sponsor of Cup racing can also help. I’d suggest that they take 10 percent of all the championship money they plan to pay out to the top 12 this season, and instead take that 10 percent of the funds and distribute it evenly among the teams that make a good faith effort to start and run every race to its completion. Guys like Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon might be the big draws at the turnstiles, but there has to be some competition for the super-teams to keep up interest in the sport. Spread the wealth around a little, and maybe it will make for better racing and an occasional surprise winner. Even if most of them are wearing “Goliath” T-Shirts, everyone likes to see David slay Goliath just occasionally…shall we say, perhaps, 10 percent of the time?

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02/11/2010 02:53 AM

Great article Matt.

One can only imagine the pressure some teams are feeling due to the current economic situation. Many of the big teams have to be concerned with the fate of sponsor dollars with the world possibly on the brink of a global financial meltdown.

NASCAR seems to be trying to convey a “back to our rowdy roots” attitude that they are surely hoping will reignite interest in a core fan base that is at best watching peripherally.

I think that if the purse money is cut 10 percent, NASCAR should attempt a equal cut in expense for teams. It would be smart for NASCAR to make some cuts that would benefit the teams, but also the fans. I would shorten some of the races that are brutally long. Watching 1,000 miles at Texas each year is just too much.

Sure it would be nice to get a 10 percent break at the ticket booth or hotdog stand, but I think most fans would like to see 10 percent better racing. The one thing that will kill attendance both at the track and on TV is poor racing. People want to walk away from a race feeling like their time and money was well spent.

One elementary thing they could do is figure out that the race HAS TO END AT THE START / FINISH LINE. 5 year olds at the playground have this figured out. A “race” has to have a predetermined start and end point. Leading in turn 3 means nothing. So, either go back to the previous lap leader, or line them up and try it again, but don’t declare the winner at any point other than the start / finish line.

The Chase thing has proven to be anticlimactic, so it can go too. How about awarding 10 percent more points for winning the race?

This year will probably prove pivotal for the future of many teams, sponsors, and ultimately the sport.

Bad Wolf
02/11/2010 03:03 AM

Hmmm, a 24oz beer would still be $6.75, that burger would come in around $4.50 and a plastic tray full of nacho chips and cheese substance would be around $5.50. I could be wrong on those prices, it’s been around 5 years since I’ve been to a Nascar track and I’m sure inflation has taken it’s toll.

What I would really like to see is 10% less of DW.

02/11/2010 01:41 PM

And also fire 10% of folks who take tickets at the track, moniter parking, run shuttles, sell concessions, work as officials, security guards, custodians, PR, and marketing?

Sounds a lot like the unemployment rate under Obama. 10%. Just thought of something: Obama/McLaughlin 2012

danny stanford
02/11/2010 01:49 PM

If memory serves me right, the money at a nascar event is split 50% to the track, 25% to nascar and 25% to the winning purse. If you cut 10% from the winning purse who gets the extra 10% ??? The track or nascar? It looks to me that this is just a way for KING BRIAN to make more money or at least try to make back the money his stupid mistakes has cost nascar since he took over the sport.
Any way you look at it nascar wins since they own about half of the tracks on the scheldue.

The Mad Man
02/11/2010 06:54 PM

And don’t forget the other “pay raise” NA$CAR and it’s incestuous twin are getting from the TV contracts.

Plus who’s to say if the posted purse is actually 25% of what the race sponsor put up? There’s no oversight by the teams to ensure that.

02/12/2010 11:13 AM

There’s a big difference between revenue and profit, and it’s the latter that fell by 95% year over year. Total revenue was down by 13%, which isn’t so bad, all things considered. Gross profit was actually up 17% for 2009 vs. 2008. The big drain falls under what ISCA calls “general and administrative” expenses, which more than doubled from $109 million to $253 million. That sounds like a good starting place for your next column, Matt.