As you may or may not have noticed, I have been away for awhile. First was a four-day binge in Bristol with my two BFFs from high school, Brian and Brian, for the NHRA weekend and a refresher course on which one of us can consume the most beverages without being the biggest a-hole ever. Then it was off to Canada for ten days to debate the merits of American vs. Canadian beverages and to show a few friends up there that, yes, I really do know how to golf if I have my own clubs and they are not feeding my two to their one beverages starting on the first tee. All in all, it has been a refreshing time away even if my liver is still a bit sore.
As I return to claim my self righteous spot in the Cheap Seats, fate has cast me a bone as I returned just in the nick of time to hear what every diehard NASCAR fan dreams of: Brian France speaking publicly! But before I get right on to Brian, (damn! Too many Brians in this column already!), I’d like to comment on a few things that some other France Family Minions had to say from NASCAR’s conjoined twin, the International Speedway Corp. (ISC)
ISC president John Saunders recently had the envious task of trying to explain to investors that, even though Fox television ratings were down 10 percent for its part of the broadcast season, the folks at ISC are not worried in the least and in fact are quite pleased with themselves.
Saunders was quick to point out that viewership among Hispanics increased a whopping 12 percent and viewership among males 18-24 was up six percent What Saunders didn’t think to reveal in his recent conference call with financial analysts was that, given the state of our southern border, there is probably a 12 percent increase of Hispanics period since last year and hey, they got to watch something. As for males 18-24, well, anything is bound to rise at least six percent at the drop of a hat at that age.
But wait — there is more corporate intellectualism to come.
ISC reported that Kansas Speedway, after moving its race date from April to Mother’s Day weekend, saw a whopping 15 percent increase in ticket sales due to, and I can’t make this stuff up, “increased attendance and increased ticket prices.”
Now ain’t they a bunch of friggin Sherlock Holmeses? Nothing like raising prices to bring up that bottom line, is there? And of course you had a few more people there in May than you would in April — it’s Kansas City, for Bob’s sake! Ever been to the Midwest in April? Try it sometime, but bring your parka, swimsuit, umbrella, shorts, long underwear and, oh, maybe some tornado repellent while you are at it. Not that May is much more predictable, but really, Kansas in April? Who’s the brilliant mind that thought that one up? And remember, we haven’t even gotten to Brian France yet, but here we go.
As with any Brian France speech, the average mind cannot (and according to the Surgeon General, should not) attempt to make sense of, paraphrase, comprehend or even pretend to understand any of it, lest you appear dumber than the speaker himself. The only thing even remotely safe to do is to actually read it and simply smile to yourself and think, “WTF?” In that light and even though my editors hate me for doing it, I’m going to copy and paste a few bits here for your enjoyment. Please bear in mind that some of questions are as mind-numbingly dumb as the actual answer. I hope none of them were from Frontstretch people!
Q. I know you’re a big sports fan, Brian, and I don’t know if you’ve been following the World Cup at all or if you’ve been aware of the way it’s resonated or captivated the country. Has anything about it resonated with you and could apply in a way that maybe NASCAR fans could get excited and do watch parties or perhaps other angles of it have resonated with you?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, my experience with that is it’s always organic. You can try to do some things everybody does, but when there’s sort of a wave of energy that gets created, and the Olympics brings that right and certainly the World Cup we saw that a few years with the Women’s World Cup, and that was terrific.
Good for them, and it’s been fun to watch.
OK, other than a few misguided idiots that are suddenly sporting the flags on their cars of the country that their parents, or even themselves, left for a better way of life here in the States, I fail to see how the World Cup has “captivated” our country. But of course, Brian is going to let a dumb question outdumb him! His experience of being resonated or captivated is “organic?” WTF does that mean? At any rate, good for him, and it’s been fun to read!
Q. Denis McGlynn had mentioned in a story about attendance problems a while back that track revenue had become predominantly, I think he used the term media-based. Promoters will always worry about selling tickets, but with the TV package seemingly really healthy, does the series at large worry about empty grandstands except for the fact it doesn’t look good on television?
BRIAN FRANCE: Sure, we do, and listen, that’s one of the reasons Daytona is making a big investment, to accomplish that, and a lot of other tracks are, too. Some markets are just more challenged. Some are doing better than they did last year, so it’s a mixed bag a little bit. Balanced attendance is up.
Now, there are some markets that have had a lot of pressure, and Dover is one of those. But it’s very important because you’ve got to remember something, too: Unfortunately for our industry, the speedways don’t enjoy the public financing component that almost all major sports enjoy. That’s a big difference. So Daytona’s $400 million, and it’ll be more than that when it’s all said and done, when you factor all that in, that’s private — they have to make those investments. We’re hoping that that gets better balanced over time; in other words, that communities, local governments and so on and states will help grow these facilities like they do other stadiums and arenas.
And just what exactly is this grand plan? Spend a crap load of money to make Daytona and other speedways actually seat less than they do now? It looks pretty good on the corporate books if you can sell, say, 70,000 tickets, at a higher price of course, rather than not sell 80,000 in a 150,000 seat venue and no has to see or wonder about all those empty seats.
And can anyone tell me just what “balanced attendance is up” means? Is that the more sober crowd? Did you notice the little whining at the end about how they (ISC/NASCAR) would like you to build their race tracks for them? Nice.
Q. TV ratings and viewership have been down for a majority of the races this year. Are you concerned about that at all?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, they’re down for obvious reasons. You have a very low number at Daytona simply because of running the entire day and not finishing in the evening and then lots of rain and lots of World Cup competition and other things. But when you go around and really look at it and look at all the digital interests that we have today on devices, and that’s not obviously scored currently, we’re real pleased with that. When you combine it all up, we’re actually — we’re not off that much even with our challenges. We’re still not off that much, and we’ve carried, I think, either one or two almost every weekend that we go in, I think seven or eight times we were No. 1 coming in and out of the weekend on television, 7 million viewers a week on average. We’re pleased with our — we’re never pleased when our ratings aren’t growing at the rate we would like, but we understand that circumstances will always have us going one way or the other from time to time.
Yes, go back and read that last answer again and get back at me when you understand it. All I know is, I’m glad I don’t have to consume beverages against that particular Brian! He’s way out of my league!
Stay off the wall (but on your Prozac, Brian!),