Brian France - State of the Sport transcript, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: When the Car of Tomorrow cycles its way through to where it is running in the Daytona 500, will the areas we saw Sunday be minimized to a great extent as to what they can really get their hands on and try to trick ...

Continued from part 1

Q: When the Car of Tomorrow cycles its way through to where it is running in the Daytona 500, will the areas we saw Sunday be minimized to a great extent as to what they can really get their hands on and try to trick up?

BRIAN FRANCE: We think so. We think we have narrowed it dramatically. And in fairness to the teams, there are a lot of I won't say ambiguities, but a lot of rules to make sure you get right. It's their job to get them right. I think the Car of Tomorrow should go a long way and ought to be less room to have any confusion on.

We haven't talked a lot about this, but we're certifying the chassis - this is the Car of Tomorrow - in the R&D center in a much more tight, sophisticated way, using technology, a lot of other things, to make sure that these cars are absolutely perfect because we know that we have to protect the integrity. Everybody has to know that all 43 teams that start the Daytona 500 are on the same playing field. We'll do whatever it takes. I do think the Car of Tomorrow is going to allow us a chance to have less gray area than there is today.

Q: Do you envision a day maybe shortly when NASCAR will want to set a maximum age for its drivers at the Cup level? If not, why not?

BRIAN FRANCE: That's a fair question. We did put what you hope we would put, which is the parameters, we're talking about James Harvey Hylton here. He, of course, competed in the ARCA series last year, ran all their events. Got a chance to look at how he was doing physically, the doctors and all that.

We'll have to look at that. Right now we have a system that measures and evaluates drivers for their health, all the rest. We'll look at that as we go on.

Q: Do you envision yourself racing in the New York City area within the next 10 years? Why or why not?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I hope so. Obviously there's been a setback in the Staten Island situation that ISC was trying to develop. As they told me, they certainly have not given up on the New York market. They're hard at work trying to figure out the next opportunity there.

It's important to the sport to be in New York City for obvious reasons. I don't want to put a timeline on it. It's a very difficult project. There's a number of people working on it. It's not something that I work on myself personally. I don't have anything to do with that, other than that to be encouraged when I hear that ISC or someone else is making some good progress there.

Q: As the sport incorporates more foreign involvement, what role can foreign companies and markets have in NASCAR's growth? How are you actively pursuing that initiative?

BRIAN FRANCE: Are you talking about foreign markets or foreign manufacturers?

Q: Foreign markets, foreign companies both.

BRIAN FRANCE: Sometimes they go together.

Well, we've been saying that we're going to take a nice, slow, careful international view of where this sport can go. The only parameters I've laid out to our team is it has to be additive to the industry. So that means when we take an event to Mexico, which we already have, or Montreal, which we will, that the whole industry has an opportunity to win. That will also be the philosophy should we look at expanding outside of North America. That may be Europe, that may be Latin America, may be Asia. Doesn't matter where it is.

What my mandate is, how do we make sure that the industry is expanding, whether that's building cars and exporting cars, whether that's information, promotion, technology, you name it. This industry has got the model built. When we have opportunities internationally, it will have to be that the industry comes together and gets the benefit.

Q: You talked about NASCAR still being an undercovered sport in some markets. You want to change that on your watch. Does that go hand-in-hand with diversity? Are some areas where you struggle in terms of coverage areas where perhaps you're not seen as diverse, so accomplishing that would accomplish both things?

BRIAN FRANCE: I think it does. I think it undeniably does. We want to grow our audience, our awareness. We want everybody in the country - you've heard me say - be a NASCAR fan. To the extent we're not reaching a market, whether that's the African American market, Hispanic market, you name the market, or just a region of the country that we somehow haven't made our way to the front of the sport's pages, talk radio or the local television sports coverage, you name the barrier, we want to break it down. We want to break it down and try to expand this sport.

I think it does go hand-in-hand in some cases. We're working on both.

Q: Do you think NASCAR has maybe reached some sort of plateau at this point? Also could you talk about the ESPN effect. Seems they're bringing a new excitement into the broadcast area for you.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't want to comment on the excitement of the broadcast. That's for others to do.

Let me take the first part of your question. No, I don't think we've plateaued at all. I think we had what I call a lot of things that were coming in '07 that are coming right now that weren't there in '06. We had obviously some TV partners that had other priorities at the time rather than us once those decisions were made. It was reasonable for us to assume we were going to sort of cycle around here.

But we just know with this undercovered issue, with the interest the sport has commercially, ESPN will undoubtedly, because one of the areas that we can stand some growth, that is the casual sports fan. No one reaches the casual sports fan more often and more impactfully than ESPN. We're excited, not only here, but they're treating this sport like we would hope they would, which is a true franchise sport from how they produce their events, how they promote it, studio shows, the talent they're putting forward. It's an enormous commitment. That's going to help with us that casual sports fan in a very big way. It's going to help everybody.

Q: With the Car of Tomorrow entering competition for the first time in Bristol, as it gets on into the races you're going to try it out this year, if you see trends that are less than positive, things happening that you didn't predict or couldn't foresee, will you be willing to make changes to the Car of Tomorrow mid-season or will you wait till the off-season, evaluate all the data, make changes then?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, the answer is we'll make changes if we think they can be helpful right away. They may be small changes you don't really hear a lot about. But we'll make those changes.

As all of you know, this has been a long runway. We've taken a long time to test on almost every size track with virtually every team. We've gotten an enormous amount of input. My expectation is we won't miss it by much if we miss it at all. If it's small things, we'll make those adjustments right away.

Q: You mentioned about the growth of the sport, the new Fortune 500 companies going in. Television ratings were down a little bit last year. How do you sort of mesh those two?

BRIAN FRANCE: My view on television ratings, I mean, we look at them a little bit longer cycle or window than maybe you would think we would. TV ratings, depending on story lines, other competing things that are going around, are going to go down and up a little bit. We don't get too hung up on it. We went down a little bit.

We look over a long period of time, two, three, four, five years, trending the right way. One year, that's pretty expected. You're going to have two steps forward, one step back occasionally.

My expectation is we'll be up in TV ratings in '07 for the all the reasons I mentioned in my opening remarks, all the momentum we have that we didn't have last year.

Look, we have a very strong fan base. With all the TV ratings slightly down, we're the No. 2 sport on television. 17 of the top 20 events were NASCAR events. We likely carried the weekend or were second, might have beaten the Pro Bowl this last Saturday. Very, very healthy sport. The television partners that we have - don't take my word for it, look at the investments from the TV partners who put billions of dollars on the line looking out eight years, not 12 months, and look at the investment that the car sponsors are making. They're expensive investments. They're doing their homework. This is the best value in sports. We're going to try to keep it that way.

Q: Following on the Car of Tomorrow, if things go as well as you expect them to go or maybe a little better, how inclined would you be in order to reduce the costs associated with development on two different platforms to phase it in maybe full-time next year?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that would be ideal, not to have two programs running at once for a long period of time. On the other hand, that's going to be a decision that we make collectively with the teams. One of the things I told you several years ago when I assumed my post, Mike Helton and I believe in this strongly, we're going to be consensus builders. We'll make decisions, no question about it. But we're going to make sure we cycle through the older equipment correctly with the teams. We'll be ready to go either way. We'll make a cost decision, a competitive decision, how good the product is. We think it's going to be tremendous. Let's get in there and see.

As quick as we can cycle the Car of Tomorrow in for every event is when we will. We have a plan now, and we're going to honor that plan. If we can speed it up, we'll know more this spring and summer with how the teams are producing cars, how comfortable they feel it's going on the track. We'll know more in the summer.

Q: You talk about being undercovered. Yesterday for the second year in a row the headlines that are coming out of here for your biggest race are cheating. All these papers that don't normally pay attention to NASCAR, this is what we see, they run with. I think that's probably the wrong image that you want for your sport. What do you have to do to get this cleaned up and stop this nonsense?

BRIAN FRANCE: That's part of our problem. Not this group. This group is very sophisticated in what NASCAR and this industry is all about. But many parts of the country simply don't know how to cover this sport, what's important on a Tuesday, not talking about the Daytona 500, but in a normal week what are teams doing on a Tuesday or Wednesday to prepare to win the second-most important or first biggest sporting event in that particular weekend.

The truth of the matter is that talk radio, which NASCAR is not very -- doesn't have much of a place, or depending on where you are, they just simply don't know how to cover us. We're working on that. It's our challenge.

I don't think the cheating thing, and listen, I said earlier, 120 cars, you have a lot of rules that are up for interpretation, you're going to have a couple of people who want to try the system. There's a lot on the line. That's been going on forever. It will go on forever.

It's our job to escalate penalties. You're going to see it today. It will be undeniable that when you keep pushing the system and test the integrity of the sport, we will do whatever it takes. That doesn't mean you go out and get somebody in the electric chair, but it does mean you step up the penalties to a level that makes it a true deterrent.

Even when we do that, somebody without much to lose or somebody who thinks they're smarter than somebody else, will always try. So don't ever think we'll be here three years from now, and NASCAR was so tough, they did all these things, they have nobody pressing the system. It's unrealistic. Some people press the system, they don't know they're pressing the system. Literally unintentionally. Maybe it's rare, but it does happen from time to time.

Rest assured that no alarm buttons are going off. But we're noting it. Today we're huddling with myself, Mike, the board. Integrity matters to everything. Whatever it takes, we will come forward and make that happen.

Q: You talked about the health of the sport, so on. Rockingham losing a date, doesn't sell out. You have lots of empty seats at California, empty seats at the 600 in Charlotte. What is NASCAR doing, if they're doing anything, to try to help change that or address that?

BRIAN FRANCE: Let me say we had a few empty seats in California. Still did 90 something thousand, whatever, double what they did in Rockingham. Charlotte's been on the upswing. The Chase has been additive to their fall event. They've always done well at the 600. These speedways have a lot of seats. But we're selling more tickets than ever. Look at the public company's stock price. That's based on how well they're performing. We're selling more tickets. Doesn't mean we're selling them all.

When we move to Phoenix for a second date, they sold every single ticket for their spring race as they did the fall. We got to remember we've also added, and we're talking a lot about California, the Southwest, we've added a lot of events there. When you go back to Dallas, you go west and add a second in Phoenix, you add a second in California, that's a lot of supply coming online in just two or three years of time. It takes a little while to absorb that.

We don't just add one race, we add a whole weekend. That can be a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We're way up in ticket sales, some one event here or there. But the sport is in great shape. I'm very comfortable saying that.

Q: You mentioned John Henry, what he brings to the sport. The fact that one of your top organizations has to go outside to look for financial help in order to compete and survive, what does that say about things?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that's a good loaded question. I like the way you phrased that.

I don't know who looked for who. I just know that I met with John a couple times. Obviously what he's done up in New England with building the Red Sox, winning the World Series, being on Sports Channel, a bunch of other assets he brings to the table. If I was Jack, had a chance to partner with John, which he may or may not do, but looks like he will, if he does, I think that's great.

Listen, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach bring something different to the sport. Joe Gibbs, when he came in, brought something different. We like it when other people in sports who can bring something to the table besides just financially, but can bring some other ways to look at things, that's always been helpful if you go through the history. I think John Henry will be no different.

THE MODERATOR: Brian, thank you very much.

BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you.

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Mike Helton