Mike Neff · Monday December 12, 2005
In their continuing quest for expansion, NASCAR is looking to build a racetrack in the Northwestern corner of the United States. Whether the reasoning happens to be plugging a hole on the map where they don’t currently run, or to simply reward the fans of Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle is up for debate. Whatever the case may be, the folks at International Speedway Corporation (NASCAR’s track ownership arm) have made one thing perfectly clear: a permanent trip aboard the Northwest plane won’t include a frequent flier discount. ISC wants the good people of the state of Washington to pay for almost half the cost of the track, which is estimated to be about $350 million when all is said and done. With such an expensive proposition, one has to pose a simple question to the NASCAR powers that be: Why make anyone else pay?
Before we get into that, let’s try and figure out what the REAL cost of building this track will be. Let’s take that $350 million and assume cost overruns for weather delays. We’re also talking about the Seattle area here, so there’s gotta be some sort of environmental impact (I’m sure there will be some spotted owls affected by the construction). That likely takes the final price tag from $350 to $400 million. The folks at ISC are asking the people of Washington to put up $165 million, with the NASCAR folks ponying up $235 million of that cost.
In the coffers of NASCAR, the extra $165 million is really not very much money. The new TV deal they just announced is rumored to be worth over $500 million per year. That means one year’s TV rights will more than cover the cost of the track. Forget about the additional money that comes in for the official products of NASCAR, or the fees that track operators, team owners and other people who want to use the NASCAR name have to pay. NASCAR does have to pay the salaries of all of the officials who make the tough calls on pit road and the scores of PR people who remind us that NASCAR is out there, but it would seem that the sport could cover those expenses out of the additional revenues they have coming in without having to dip to heavily into their TV profits.
Meanwhile, the proposed ISC track for New York City is going to be funded 100% by NASCAR. What makes that endeavor any different from the Seattle proposal? Location, location, location! It seems, at least from their actions, that NASCAR is more anxious to get a track in the Northeast than they are in the Northwest. Granted, the media market is much larger in that area, and NASCAR continues to try as hard as they possibly can to make additional inroads into the untapped millions in the Big Apple. But what makes the deal so different that they are willing to cover the entire cost of the New York City track while only picking up two-thirds of the Seattle venue? Only the folks in Daytona can really answer that question.
The greater question here is why should the people of any state have to pay for a sports facility? It’s an important issue that’s been debated several times over in many sports. Public subsidies such as the one that could fund the Washington track have been around for years, and apply to a myriad of business ventures, not just sports facilities. However, most of these “other” ventures employ people on a year-round basis and provide a continuous economic benefit to their surrounding community. Sports facilities, on the other hand, provide a quick boost to the local economy, but not much of a continuous stream of income. The other drawback to a new racetrack in this scenario is also that they are generally privately held companies, which means the majority of the windfall is going to a select few people.
Because of that, I feel there should not be public money spent to subsidize a sports facility. Sure, there is an increase in restaurant and hotel activity during an event. Retail establishments near the venue may receive a slight increase in traffic while activities are taking place. However, the majority of people in a city receive zero benefit from the money they are paying to support the facility. There is no reason that billionaire track or team owners cannot finance their own stadiums. If a few people are going to benefit the most, those few people should have to pay the entire bill.
Bruton Smith is a fine example of someone who does it the right way. Charlotte Motor Speedway (I’m old school) pays their own way by taking care of all of their own facility enhancements on their own dime. Not only that, but they also pay taxes on the land where the track resides…to the best of my knowledge, there is no public tax subsidies that have ever been given to them. Bruton actively participates in many civic activities and often assists in funding charitable and public activities for the cities of Charlotte and Concord. He even volunteered to commit $500 million to help build a monorail that would run from the proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame site to Charlotte Motor Speedway itself.
Don’t get me wrong… Bruton’s not always an angel. The entire North Wilkesboro situation still drives me to distraction whenever I think about it. But, in general, he does appear to be a fine civic partner and an owner who does things the right way.
So NASCAR, cut the purse strings and pony up the bucks for the Seattle track out of your own pocket. You are going to be the ones who benefit from the windfall of NASCAR racing in the Northwest, so you should be the ones who pay the ENTIRE bill to build and operate the track. Don’t hold a region hostage, forcing them to strongarm their neighbors to vote for a subsidy that won’t benefit them no matter which way you look at it.
It’s time, NASCAR, to step up and show us the money.
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