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Tag:Brian France
Posted on: January 26, 2012 4:38 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:15 pm
 

NASCAR "State of the Sport:" more of the same

By Pete Pistone

Brian France addresses the media to close out this season's media tour. (AP)
 

CHARLOTTE - Last year's annual NASCAR "State of the Sport" session that traditionally closes the Sprint Media Tour was loaded with changes and modifications for the 2011 season.

That was a far cry from what took place at this year's presentation.

NASCAR CEO Brian France didn't announce one significant move for the coming campaign and quite frankly that's a good thing.

After a season that saw eighteen different winners, five first time winners, a championship decided by a tiebreaker and some of the best on track competition in several years staying the course was the right thing to do.

"Last year at this event, we announced a number of changes we believed would build interest in story lines and most importantly would make it easier for fans to understand the championship race," France said.  "We're very pleased with how all those changes played out."

The decision to not change anything dramatically for the 2012 season doesn't mean NASCAR isn't continuing to look for ways it can improve the sport. France admitted it's an ongoing process but there aren't one or two things the sanctioning body is focusing on at this point.

"Well, I don't know that there's one big thing that we're pointing towards," he said.  "What I can tell you is all the things that we're doing that we've announced today and have announced in the past.  I can tell you that the industry has never been more united to growing the sport of NASCAR on everyone's behalf.  And that's going to be our job."

"Obviously you've heard a lot about digital and social media as an enormously important place.  We've reformed our communications efforts to reach more fans.  So you're going to see us and the entire industry get more aggressive.  You're going to see youth initiatives.  You're seeing the fruits of diversity start to be right around the corner.  That will really advance us if we can get a breakthrough, which I'm very confident we will, at a national level.

"So there are a lot of things out there that are all going to point to us being able to either grow our audience with a new demographic, whether it be a younger demographic or more diverse.  We're doing the things that we think you have to do to put yourself in a position to grow in the future, even though when I say grow in the future, it is a very, very difficult landscape for any sports property to build on.  It's just very competitive."

There were a few news items sprinkled through the session including a private test to be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for the four current manufacturers to shake down their 2013 Sprint Cup models. Ford released its new Fusion earlier this week, the first in what is expected to be a series of unveilings from Dodge, Chevrolet and Toyota of cars that bear a much closer resemblance to their street version counterparts than the current Cup car.

Although the testing ban will remain in effect banning teams from tuning up at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, teams will get one day sessions at Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway to prepare on those speedways' new pavement as was done last year at Phoenix.

France did address the earlier news of the week regarding NASCAR no longer fining drivers "secretly" with all such penalties now to be made public. However he made no bones about the sanctioning body's stance to protect its credibility should drivers step over the line in NASCAR's view.

"If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we're going to deal with that," France said.  "You know, we have to deal with that.  And I think what's really interesting is I can't tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.

"Now, having said that, we give the entire industry an unprecedented amount of -- we're not talking about who's critical of NASCAR.  You can be critical of things you don't think we're doing well, in particular a race call.  You can say I don't think I was speeding; I disagree with that.  We understand that.  It's when you go after the integrity of the sport is where we will step in, and they will be public."

So the NASCAR you saw in 2011 will be pretty much the same this year. France won't rule out any more tweaks as the season rolls on but overall the sport's head is happy with the way things are going after the changes made twelve months ago.

"….You're right, the format, the wild card, the points, simplification of that, the feedback on that from our fans, the media and others, all of that was right on point," France said.  "So we're pretty pleased with where things are in general."


 
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Posted on: November 18, 2011 3:43 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 4:19 pm
 

Brian France media session highlights

By Pete Pistone



HOMESTEAD, Fla. - NASCAR CEO Brian France met the media Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway on the eve of Ford Championship Weekend. Here are some of the highlights:

ON THE TIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE BETWEEN CARL EDWARDS AND TONY STEWART

I actually expected more years like this, frankly.  I couldn't imagine somebody as incredibly dominating as Jimmie has been in a five-year run, so you have to give him an enormous amount of credit.

But our expectation is that given the balance of things that we have 43 cars at every event and given the nature of auto racing and how it unfolds and some of the traditions that you have to obviously respect, I think the current system and more tweaks will always come and we'll just have to see what they are.


WHETHER THERE COULD BE FUTURE TWEAKS TO THE CHASE FORMAT

It's possible.  I don't know.  We take those ideas throughout the year.  We really look at them as carefully as we can.  Then what we do is we run them past the team owners and drivers and other -- everybody else in the industry in the off-season before we would do anything, and that's exactly what we did last year going into this year.

We looked at all kinds of things and settled on this as a nice step forward to simplifying the point system.  Hopefully getting what we have, which is a more competitive Chase, and we'll look at it again.  I don't know where we'll end up.


WHY CHASE TELEVISION RATINGS HAVE INCREASED

We've always said that ratings go up and down because of many, many things.  The things we can control are showcasing the racing, telling our story, and giving the drivers some big moments to race for.  That will help us.  You never know how it all percentage- wise what really matters the most.

But we know that that's the NASCAR we want.  We want to see these elevated performances, and they're just fun to watch.  We want to see what's happened.  I'm confident if we do that, and do a lot of other things, we will have better ratings and better attendance.


REGARDING "BOYS HAVE AT IT" AND DRIVERS GOING OVER THE LINE IN THE WAKE OF THE KYLE BUSCH-RON HORNADAY TEXAS INCIDENT AND LAST WEEK'S TANGLE BETWEEN BRIAN VICKERS AND MATT KENSETH IN PHOENIX

Well, there is something being done about that.  We're having a conversation about that, and they are very different circumstances.  One was on a mile and a half track, a lot faster.  One was under caution, which is very significant different.

Racing accidents under green are always subjective.  Even though you may say this one wasn't, but typically there is always a debate about who went where.  Ron Hornaday was racing for a championship, and you know we value that greatly.

So there are lots of differences.  It doesn't mean though that we didn't think the line was almost met or somewhat close, whereby, we would have a conversation to explain that.  We will be having a conversation with both Brian and Matt regarding really what happened in Martinsville the week before, which is a short track.

A lot of contact happened in that particular race.  Like I said earlier, there is a line.  The drivers know where the line is.  If we should be guessing about that for some reason, we're happy to sit down and walk them through it.


ON THE ECONOMY AND WORKING TO BRING IN MORE CORPORATE SPONSORS TO THE SPORT

We were doing things that attract new companies, new technology to validate in our sport.  We're renewing a lot of companies, and some companies -- and it happens all the time, every year for us, will pull back their sponsorship or commitments or leave all together.

That is just the reality of having hundreds of companies involved in this sport.  But we're working harder than ever with the teams and their business groups to tell the NASCAR story and the value that it brings to sponsors.  We're having success with that.

I think if you ask the individual team owners, we've never had a more offensive strategy doing it together to bring in as many new companies as possible.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: November 18, 2011 2:08 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 2:14 pm
 

NASCAR secret fines hurting credibility

By Pete Pistone

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - This week's news of NASCAR fining Brad Keselowski for critical comments he made regarding fuel injection last week has set off another controversial firestorm inside the sport.

NASCAR CEO Brian France addressed the issue during his media availability Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Keselowski was reportedly fined $25,000 for his strong views opposing NASCAR's move to fuel injection for next year's Sprint Cup Series.

But NASCAR never issued a public statement in the aftermath of the disciplinary action and until an Associated Press story broke on Thursday the situation was not known.

The issue has raised the question of whether there have been other "secret fines" handed out over a variety of issues.

"There could be," France said.  "That's why they're private, right?  Well, let me tell you what we've done in the last couple of years.  In the last couple of years we've taken a position that drivers are going to be able to speak their mind and criticize the sport way more than any other sport would allow.  So let's start with that.

"However, there have to be some limits.  We thought those limits were being exceeded in the last couple of years because you can't denigrate the sport.  You just can't do that.  We're not going to accept that."

France reiterated his belief that the sanctioning body was perfectly within its right to defend itself from criticism and remarks made by its athletes that could put the sport in a bad light.

"Let me say one other portion of this," France said.  "They are perfectly fine to criticize anything we do, any call we make.  They can say they don't like it, they disagree with it.  We didn't make the right call.  That's fine.  But we're not going to let anyone denigrate the sport, and that's going to continue.

"Whether we make the fines public or private, we didn't see a benefit to making them public.  If there is some benefit to that, we'll take a look at it.  But that is the reasoning behind the penalties."

Other sports leagues regularly fine athletes, coaches or participants for critical remarks or actions that question integrity or credibility. The NBA and NFL in particular have shown no hesitation to punish those who call out poor officiating, decision making or make any other comment or action that harm the sport's image.

That is perfectly within their right as is it in NASCAR's.

However while its counterparts make any such decisions public knowledge, NASCAR continues to operate in a shroud of secrecy which does much more harm to its image. 

When that concept was brought to France's attention he didn't agree and tried to downplay the entire turn of events.

"The way we looked at it, what would be the benefit?  The drivers know exactly what we're after," France said of tehe policy to not announce such fines as the one handed to Keselowski.  "We have these annual meetings with them, right?  And then we have semi-annual meetings with them, and we meet with them every weekend at the track.  We have formal meetings in the off-season.

"So they know exactly what we expect out of them.  When they don't handle that, the only way we can control that is obviously a fining system.  But look, don't panic over this.  We'll look at it in the off-season, if we need to change it, we'll change it.  Not a big deal."

But it's a giant deal.

The more transparent the sport can be the more its credibility is built. There are conspiracy theorists and many who believe "Black Helicopters" are a regular part of the NASCAR world and these clandestine actions only perpetuate those claims.

France would not rule out a potential policy change going forward but also did not back down from NASCAR continuing to defend itself from detrimental comments.

"When you cross a line that denigrates the direction of the sport or the quality of the racing, we're not going to accept that," he said.  "Not going to accept it.

"Happy to have any other criticism, any other complaint, happy to hear them all.  If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we're not going to accept it.  It's as simple as that."

Right now the whole ordeal has left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: October 9, 2011 1:31 pm
 

Brian France meets media

Posted by Pete Pistone

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - NASCAR CEO Brian France spent some time with the media Sunday morning at Kansas Speedway and touched on a variety of topics in anticipation of the Hollywood Casino 400:

BRIAN FRANCE
:  I'll just get started real quick.  I know we're all short on time.  As you know, from time to time I will take some questions for the record and elsewhere, and today is one of those days.  Obviously I'm not sure we can be any more pleased with how the Chase is unfolding, and frankly how the season has unfolded, with the level of competition, the closeness in the Chase, some of the moves that we made, the wild card being one, and streamlining and simplifying the points system being another, to make it easier for people to understand how you qualify and of course add some additional drama.  It's done all of that, and if you look back, those were at the time viewed as small moves that we made, but they're actually having a really big impact, and that's terrific.

I think it's still very wide open.  Our hope and our hope always is that we come down to the finale in South Florida at Homestead and have as many drivers really in the thick of it as possible.  That's the goal.  That's what we hope.  We'll see, and we'll also see if Jimmie Johnson can continue to make history, as well, winning six in a row.

But with that, I'll be happy to take a few questions if you'd like.

Q.  Two local questions:  Since the last time you were here, we got a soccer stadium and a casino.  Just your thoughts on the property, and I'm sure you weren't here Friday night, but we had our first night race, which went pretty well, for ARCA.  I was wondering if you envision maybe in 2013 when the schedule gets back to normal if we'll see some night racing, trucks or even Nationwide or Cup here?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I'm sure that that will be a consideration, a fan favorite typically.  You've got weather concerns in this area; being a particularly warm October I'm told but may be not indicative of how it usually is.  But look, this whole facility and the surrounding developments are impressive, as impressive as any place that we go, and how fast they're coming on line.  I'm going to take a tour of the casino here after the drivers' meeting.  The soccer stadium is beautiful; it's very additive to the complex here.  So yeah, and they continue to take good care of their fans.  It's nice to see this track now hosting two events, two Cup events, and doing a great job with it.

Q.  There's been a lot of talk about the companion series, Nationwide and truck, returning to the roots, going to Rockingham.  Is there an interest in looking at the cost of travel and things of that nature of kind of returning to the roots of NASCAR for some of the companion events in the future?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I think that that's probably true to some level.  We've been doing that.  You think about Iowa, you think about other places that can't host a Cup race but they're able to host a truck or a Nationwide, and we've been able to use that series to do that.

And so, yeah, I think Rockingham is interesting with all that heritage, so we'll have to see how that all plays out.  And there's a new facility on the horizon if you believe what is being written about, which is down in Texas with a big road course.  We have some road racing product that might be possible, too.  So yeah, we'll take a look at that for sure.

Q.  Obviously we're near the home of Sprint.  They've got two years left on the deal.  They've had some kind of good days and bad days.  Where do you see that relationship?  Have you started renegotiating the series sponsorship?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, relationship is very good.  It's a program that's worked extremely well for them.  They would, I think, tell you that.  We're in a time when we're having those kind of discussions about extending the relationship.  My hope is that we will.  That's always a goal when we have a really good incumbent sponsor who's done such a good job.  You obviously want to extend the relationship if you can.

Q.  Can you talk about not only this speedway but the repaving project that is about to begin here, your thoughts on the surface and the project that lies ahead?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, I know that they're learning so much with the repaving efforts that have gone on, going back to Homestead a few years ago, certainly Talladega, Phoenix recently, I know with compound banking and other things, with Daytona being a recent example.  But when they do pave a track, and it's obviously -- it's obviously in that time period where it will happen, they really want to improve the racing.  I know that's the engineering of that, the kind of asphalt that they lay down, and even sometimes changing the configuration a little bit as they did in Phoenix all designed building on what they know, which will be more side-by-side racing, which is what we're all about.  That will be the goal, I'm sure, when the track gets down into doing just that. 

Q.  You've had some good news as far as TV ratings go early in the Chase.  Any data yet as to what demographics the increases are coming from in particular, and what's your gut feeling in terms of why there seems to be a heightened level of interest this year?

BRIAN FRANCE:  You know, the increase is primarily coming frankly right where we would really want it to be, which is the younger demo, up I think 20 something percent, has consistently been up 20 something percent.

I think in major sports today, you're going to see this in the various playoffs and championships that will be decided in all kinds of sports, it gets down to story lines and match-ups is that last 10 percent, 15 percent, whatever it's going to be, and when you have more of that, good story lines and great racing in our case, you should do better, and we are doing better.  We've just got to keep building on that and hope that the racing and the story lines continue to do what they have done.

Q.  You've seen a lot of races this year that have come down to fuel mileage races, and I was wondering if NASCAR is considering any competition changes going into 2012 to kind of put more emphasis on the side-by-side racing rather than who's not going to run out of fuel.

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, that's part of the strategy, it's part of the game, and it's part of the racing.  We're not going to be trying to overregulate that.  That's cyclical, too.  There's going to be times when there tends to be more of that for whatever reason, the way races play out, and then there will be times when there are cautions like there was yesterday in the Nationwide, where the cautions happen late in the race and bunches everybody up, and people always say you don't like too much of that, either, do you?  Of course we like it all.  We like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out.

Q.  You've had good story lines on the track, but off the track there's still been some unsettling news with teams filing layoff notices with the state of North Carolina, and it appears there will be maybe five or six less full-time Cup cars next year at this point.  How would you characterize the labor environment for teams and the sponsor environment for teams going into 2012, and do you see any hope of this rebounding?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Look, I've always said I'm not an economist, but I know what you know, and it's very, very difficult out there for companies and for people in the general economy.  That has impact on us, and it will continue to have some impact on us.

One of the things that does happen when availability comes forward in terms of if a team or two doesn't elect to compete next year, we often see in the off-season teams that were thinking about moving up but did not want to because there wasn't availability, they couldn't make the event, couldn't make the top 35 or whatever else, you'll see where those five or six teams don't necessarily turn out to be five or six teams.  I hope everybody comes back and everybody gets what they need to compete, but if the economy is difficult, it does allow opportunities for others, and that's, I guess, the only silver lining in it.

Q.  The Truck Series in particular, somewhat related to Nate's question, seems to be some teams struggling. It's very hard for teams to get to the races in some cases.  Do you still consider the Truck Series to be a viable, healthy series, and what do you think the future of that is?

BRIAN FRANCE:  It's very viable.  It's a franchise for the SPEED Channel.  It's their highest rated programming every week, depending on what venue.  It does fairly well.  But yeah, there's no question that that series and every motor support series in the country has got some impact, and some greater than others.

I will say that with that particular series we've done unprecedented things in the last two or three years to take cost out of the system for those team owners and the drivers for that matter.  But limiting crew members and doing all kinds of things on the regulatory side that have proven a great deal of cost savings, it's a lot cheaper to operate a truck team than it was three years ago.

Q.  You mentioned Austin and the Formula 1 race.  I assume it's not like a companion race with one of Bernie's shows.

BRIAN FRANCE:  That's a good assumption.

Q.  Are you looking at Nationwide?  Are you looking perhaps at Cup in 2012, 2013?  Are you looking to -- what are your talks there?  Are they coming to you, are you going to them?

BRIAN FRANCE:  We are having conversations.  We have conversations at one level or another with all the major motorsports facilities, and they're no different.  Remember, we've got Grand American Road Racing.  We're arguably the best road racing product in this country.  When you look at how these events play out at Sears Point, Watkins Glen, I mean, by all accounts, there's not a better road course show in this country for sure.

Now, that said, obviously we're not talking -- the cup is full and all those things, we're not having those conversations, but we have a lot of motorsports products, so we are speaking to them.

Q.  I heard possibly trucks at Watkins Glen, and what's the story with Montreal?  Will it be a NASCAR race next year for somebody?

BRIAN FRANCE:  I believe it will, and there's some changes going on in the marketplace with the promoter and otherwise that are happening, how they're promoting the event, some changes.  But it's a very popular event, does very well.  My hope is we'll continue to be there.

Q.  There's been some rumblings that your hopes of attracting maybe more youth that you'd either go into the rally business or do some sort of companion events with rally type vehicles.  Can you give us some sort of update on where you stand on that?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, there's no update because that's -- I mean, we will look -- we look at all kinds of motorsports, and sport for that matter, that we could have an impact in or a marketing opportunity.  You've seen some crossover drivers or riders in motorcycles and otherwise, so that's not anything new, so we'll continue to be opportunistic to try to see when we can expose NASCAR to a different audience.  We do that racing and non-racing, and that's just -- there's no plans for us getting in rally or any other business like that.

Q.  You mentioned some cost-cutting measures in Nationwide and the Truck Series.  Is NASCAR considering any further measures there, either technical or in any other way, to help those owners save more money?

BRIAN FRANCE:  Absolutely.  It's a core principle at the R & D center that there's a group of people that are looking at safety, performance and cost all the time.  You don't see them, you don't need to see them, they're not going to come to the events very often, but that's what they're trying to do.  And we're trying things out in the touring divisions frequently that we don't talk a lot about, but we do, to see what can work and what can't, and obviously the conditions are different.  But that's all good.

I did want to say one last thing about our diversity efforts, and you think you're starting to see some really top-notch talent that I believe will make it into the Cup level and certainly the Nationwide level shortly.  Darrell Wallace being one has got the attention of a lot of owners, and Sergio Pena is another talented driver winning races in a tough environment.  We could have what we've been hoping for, which is to spotlight some talent that will be with us at the highest level for a long time.  That will be good for NASCAR, and obviously Danica coming over and competing full-time next year in the Nationwide and some Cup events is another positive thing.  She's talented, and I hope she does well.

 
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Posted on: September 2, 2011 1:11 pm
 

Drivers decline White House invitation

By Pete Pistone

A group of NASCAR drivers including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson have been invited to attend a reception at the White House with President Barack Obama next week. Johnson in addition to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France as well as Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth were extended the invitation for the visit on Wednesday, September 7th.

However five drivers have declined to make the trip - Biffle, Kurt Busch, Edwards, Harvick and Stewart - all citing "scheduling conflicts" according to a press release.

 
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Posted on: May 20, 2011 6:00 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 6:24 pm
 

France says "Boys Have at It" has limits

By Pete Pistone


NASCAR CEO Brian France Speaks
(NASCAR CEO Brian France at Charlotte Motor Speedway)

NASCAR CEO Brain France met the media Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to touch on a variety of subjects as the Sprint Cup Series heads into this weekend’s All-Star Race activities.

On the top of the list of issues France addressed was the ongoing “Boys Have at It” style of racing that has punctuated NASCAR since last season and the recent feud between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

“There are limits,” France said of the duo’s Darlington dust-up that boiled over to a pit road altercation after the race. “One of the limits is if you put anyone in danger like what happened with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch where it was after the race.

“We never said that there was no limits to that. You just can’t go around with a missile and a weapon out there.  If you’re having contact, that’s part of NASCAR. It’s tough for us, but that’s what we do. It’s tough for any sport to have certain areas of the game … that are subjective as to what is too much. We will figure that out. We’re going to remain, obviously a contact sport and we’re going to remain with the basic philosophy that we’re putting more of it in the driver’s hands and if they go over a line we think is there, we’ll deal with that.’’

Several drivers still seem to be confused by what the boundaries are regarding the policy but France said there’s no way that NASCAR can make the rule any clearer.

“We think not,” France said. “We think that there’s a 60-year history of how we officiate the events. Most of our top officials, certainly (NASCAR President) Mike Helton is in charge every weekend, have been at the helm for a decade or longer.

“This shouldn’t be a big surprise for anyone to try to read us and how we’re going to officiate the events. We’ve said late in the event if your car is faster than somebody else and there is some contact and somebody gets by, that’s NASCAR racing. We celebrate that.”

Both Harvick and Busch are on probation through the middle of June for their Darlington altercation. France explained just what that sometimes murky word means in regard to the drivers’ future behavior.

“What probation means is there’s a different set of eyes and expectations that are placed on a driver who has been placed on probation that they’re going to have a more limited flexibility in how we’re going to officiate them should they be in something similar … to the area they just violated,'' he explained.

France spoke on a number of other topics including the upcoming television contract negotiations saying he was hopeful current network partners ESPN and FOX would return as part of the next deal.

The CEO is not overly concerned with slumping attendance at some tracks pointing to the still downward trend in the economy and weather issues as reasons events like last Sunday’s race in Dover experienced more empty seats.

“Dover had tremendous bad weather forecast, it’s a miracle that that event, and I’m not making just total excuses here, but it’s a miracle on Saturday and Sunday that they got races off,” France said. “There were no-shows, there was certainly no walk-up. They didn’t get any help from the weather.”

“There’s not many sports that aren’t being affected in one way or another in attendance and they’re having to do a lot of things and so are we, so are the tracks. We’ve got higher gas prices that are upon us, that’s another factor for our fans to consider. We certainly don’t want to see empty seats.  We’ll be working with tracks to get the best dates possible and we’ll go from there.’’

Finally France answered a question about the possibility of shortening more races to fit into a better television window as well as appease some fans who claim many races are simply too long.

“We have shortened races over the last five or six years,” France said. “We’ve shortened several, including some in the Nationwide Series. We will be open to that if it works for the tracks and it works for our network partners and, obviously, if the fan base wants that, that will be something that will be case-by-case, but are we open to that? Yes. Have we don’t it before? Yes.”

 

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Posted on: March 9, 2011 5:52 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2011 6:06 pm
 

Inside Brian France teleconference

By Pete Pistone

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads into the first off-weekend of the season with only three races in the book for 2011. After getting out of the blocks fast with a trio of interesting and entertaining races, higher television ratings and solid attendance, it's debatable whether a week off will help or hurt NASCAR's momentum.

NASCAR CEO Brian France held a media teleconference on Wednesday as an opportunity to address the start of the season and to no doubt in the sanctioning body's mind, try to keep the sport in the public consciousness despite not having a presence on the race track this coming weekend.

While nothing of the breaking news category was announced here's a closer look at some of the topics addressed by France and my interpretation:


France on increased TV ratings:

I've always said ratings are a function of many things; the competition, how you're viewed at the time by the fan base in a given moment, how the actual race is playing out. There's all kinds of things that go into it. No one around here is celebrating. We're obviously pleased we're up dramatically in our ratings. But we know that is an ebb and flow thing. We're focused on a lot of things that will give us growth down the road. We're going to work on those, not get too excited or too down.

What it means:

To France and NASCAR's credit, the sanctioning body isn't getting to swept up in the early season television ratings increase. While the numbers are certainly up in the first three races, as France correctly points out there's a long season ahead and no doubt many more challenges to bring the ratings up to the levels NASCAR enjoyed three or four years ago. That said I'm sure there are some smiling faces around the Daytona Beach offices after the 13 percent overall television audience drop in 2010.



France on an expanded television post-race show:

...I think generally speaking we would agree that it would be nicer to have a longer post-race. But if you think about it, most sports don't have a particularly long post end of a game, whatever else. The networks don't stick around for an additional half hour. It's not something FOX should be thinking about because after all, that's just not the norm with network or even cable television. Once the game is over, there's typically a short post race. You hope the rest of it, social media, NASCAR online, places to digest good post-race information is where they go.


What it means:

Other sports don't do much of a post game show and after NFL, NBA or MLB games offer a quick recap and wrap and toss to the next batch of programming. NASCAR's television partners are no different and fans clamoring for some kind of extended half hour program aren't going to get their wish. But France addresses a huge issue in terms of other outlets for fans to get NASCAR information especially after races and that's online, through mobile devices and yes even with social media. It's an area that NASCAR is sorely lacking behind other major sports in developing and must find a way around its contract with Turner that ties up most of the digital rights fees. That will be a defining path for NASCAR in the immediate future. Ladies and gentlemen start those Twitter feeds!



France on the early season off week:

In my view all things being equal, we'd probably like to be racing this weekend. But I don't believe that to be a significant challenge for us because we happen to have an open week. We have a long season, we're going to have some open weeks. In the long run with the (Daytona) 500 moving it will definitely take care of that. Our schedule's year-to-year, but you typically can see we have a lot of continuity.


What it means:

NASCAR doesn't want this early break in the schedule and has taken steps to rectify that next year when the Daytona 500 slides back to the final weekend in February and the traditional March stop in action goes away. All of the momentum and positive stories that were generated in the first three races of the year have the potential to be derailed by the lack of a follow-up race this weekend. France is right when he points out NASCAR's season is a long one, but continuity at the beginning of the schedule is imperative and although there's nothing the sanctioning body can do about it in 2011, that will change beginning next season.



France on attracting a younger fan demographic:

I think having a young winner (Trevor Bayne) and Jeff Gordon runs up our young fan base and then (Dale Earnhardt) Junior, arguably he's competitive more than he was a year ago. Probably a lot of reasons. I think the kinds of racing we had just to get off to kind of a good start. But the young demo is something we're going to keep working at. It goes to candidly reaching new young fans. This is not a one-dimensional effort here just to get people to tune in on television. It's to get young fans really interested for the long run in every aspect of enjoying NASCAR the way we want them to enjoy NASCAR.


What it means:

Trevor Bayne's Daytona win was a shot in the arm for NASCAR's critical effort to attract a younger fan base in what is a rapidly aging audience. But there's a long way to go in this area and while France is correct in saying it's important for the sport to find that younger fan it's not going to be easy. The on track product needs to be the main draw but other initiatives are sorely lacking. Something as simple as a video game would help NASCAR plug into younger fans. Digger is not going to be the cure and NASCAR needs to find ways to bring a youth movement to the grandstands and television audiences.



France of possible rough driving:

We've said you have to mix it up, this is a contact sport. We feel really good about that. It's made the racing better. They've got to figure that out. They're doing that largely. I would say too with the wild card situation, where the last two spots are going to be decided by wins, if you don't happen to have the perfect Top 10 performance in the first 26 events, I think you saw the disappointment of Tony (Stewart) not winning (at Las Vegas) when he thought he should have won last weekend he now counts that because he doesn't start fast. He may need that. I think you're going to see an escalation of that. That's what great competition is. I'm actually happy to hear people complaining about that. It means it's working.


What it means:

"Boys Have at It - The Sequel." Last year's mantra has carried over to his season and NASCAR is fine with it. France is right when he points out the interest level in the sport definitely picked up when drivers were beating and banging their way around last season and although it hasn't been at quite the level of last year, it doesn't appear anyone behind the wheel has backed down from that approach. Whether it plays into the Chase qualifying field and the Wild Card aspect added this year to bring wins into a more prominent role of determining the playoffs remains to be seen. But France is dead on about Stewart's frustration not getting the Vegas win last week and how the ramifications of that may be part of a Chase scenario.



France on possible schedule changes:

Do we see any major changes in the schedule? We don't release that for another month or so. We did have a fair amount of changes last year and even some in the last couple years. So by definition I don't think you're going to see a lot of changes. We'll see how some of the new dates, their new time on the calendar works out. But I don't think there will be as much as there was say in 2010. We don't want there to be. We prefer to have good continuity. That's our preference.


What it means:

Outside of the Daytona 500 moving back a week and the schedule condensing don't look for any major overhaul of the calendar any time soon. Next year's slate will only feature two off weekends (Easter and a late summer rest) but other than that the order of races will more than likely mirror what we have in 2011. The Atlanta and Kentucky date swap along with Fontana losing a date to Kansas and Phoenix moving into the post-Daytona slot were major changes for this season and NASCAR will let things settle a couple years at least before looking at things. That means no changes in the ten races that make up the Chase. But when the new television contracts come up in 2014, I'd say schedule adjustments will be a major negotiating item.


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