Brian France - NASCAR press conference, part 1

NASCAR News Conference Transcript - Brian France July 2, 2010 An interview with: BRIAN FRANCE THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We're now joined by NASCAR's chairman and CEO, Brian France, who will open up with a few remarks and then...

NASCAR News Conference Transcript - Brian France
July 2, 2010

An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We're now joined by NASCAR's chairman and CEO, Brian France, who will open up with a few remarks and then we'll take questions from the media.

Brian, welcome.

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, good morning, everybody. We were just talking about all the things that are going on this weekend with the new Nationwide car and bigger plates, a little activity yesterday in practice. So the racing action, as you might think, certainly how we see things, has got a trajectory that it's going in the right direction.

We're real pleased. There's always an event here or there that, you know, you could be critical of. But by and large, some of the policies that we announced back in January feel good to us. And the drivers have been terrific, mixing it up differently, not being in most situations crazy about that, but giving our passionate fan base what they want most, which is the close, competitive racing action. So we're pretty pleased.

I'd also like to thank many of you in the room. We just yesterday in Gainesville announced with the V Foundation our biggest single gift yet for the NASCAR Foundation. That's not possible unless the media helps us with NASCAR Day and throughout the year generating interest and all that. So thank you for your effort. It paid off for the Shands Teaching Hospital, the oncology center there.

I would also say that, you know, this is the time of the year, and we'll talk about it with some questions, where we're formulating the 2011 schedule. We're looking at the Chase format very, very carefully, as we always do - maybe even more carefully.

I don't want to have a big discussion today about the economy and all that. The economy is what it is. It's still difficult. It was difficult six months ago. It doesn't appear to have improved much for our fan base, a lot of our corporate customers. That's sort of the bad news.

The good news is we've got 400 different sponsors within the sport. Most of them are renewing their sponsorships. It may look differently, but they're renewing their sponsorships.

The car manufacturers, despite a very difficult climate for them, have made a lot of improvements in their own business models and are more stable. They, as well, are reinvesting in NASCAR for the long-term. So that's good.

I think the other thing that's happened to us, and it's probably happened to a lot of industries, is when things are tough, and we all feel like we're in a storm, it's not as easy as it used to be. What happens is you get a chance to be more self-critical of yourself. The industry comes together a little bit differently because we're all trying to get through to the other side.

So consequently I just spent two hours with our communications team looking at the next three or four years for us and re-zeroing in on the things we think we can improve on, a lot of them to do with the media here and elsewhere. And that's just one thing.

So the point is that the industry, you've heard about our meetings which I chaired directly, which started last year. I met personally with every driver, every team owner in January as we talked about all the things that we were going to be looking at. Those meetings have continued. A couple weeks ago we began reengaging, we're always talking, but in a very formal way, in a small group of our drivers and team owners, we're talking about 2011, both in the rules packages, the Chase format, whatever it might be, that we're looking at getting their input on.

It's a long way of telling you that even though there are difficulties with the economic climate that we're in, it kind of forces you in a good way to look at yourself, to work together closer so you can get a better result in the long run.

So with that I'll be happy to take up any questions.

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the media.

Q: Can you talk about maybe what challenges you feel like the Chase is having and what are you looking at as far as changes there?

BRIAN FRANCE: We're looking at it pretty carefully. And the reason we are is because -- this is not uncommon, by the way. We look at it every year. The main reason is we want to make sure it's giving us the biggest impact moments it was designed to do. That means, it is over a 10-race schedule in itself. Everything to us means pushing the winning envelope to mean what it needs to mean in our sport.

It's different because there's 43 teams, not 1 or 2, 2 or 3, some tournament thing here. We're in a situation where, you know, in some cases winning can't be possible. So we can't have a winner-take-all, per se, like some of the other playoff systems.

On the other hand, we'd like to have it balanced correctly. We're going to look at that more carefully than ever because we also have some historical things we thought would have allowed winning and big moments on a big stage. Maybe they did or maybe they didn't. What's important is we got a chance to look at a lot more seasons than we have up until now.

So it wouldn't be surprising for us to take back the original objectives. We're happy with the Chase. It just means that if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way, we may do that. So that will be the thing that we decide in the next couple of months.

Q: Brian, next year the NFL could not have a season potentially based on what's going on with their labor negotiations, which could leave NASCAR really primed with no competition on Sundays in the fall. When you're looking at next year, is that a factor for you guys at all in terms of what your strategies are or to try to capitalize on?

BRIAN FRANCE: (Indiscernible) that's the best model. We don't plan on failing, that's for sure.

Q: I think it's fair to say the on-track product has never been better. I think people would be pretty much in agreement NASCAR wide things are better and therefore the product is very good right now. That being said, you're not really getting the return in attendance and in TV ratings. We look around this room and it's half empty. Is it the economy or is there more to be done to bring people back to the sport?

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, that's a fair question. You do things that are working, but you don't see. The answer is because there's always a number of things that are working against you or for you at any one time. Take this year. We did get the on-track product -- we thought the on-track product was pretty good last year. There was a perception where it wasn't. Certainly we have a tendency over many years to at some points in time overregulate the sport for whatever the reason. We obviously dialed that back.

But what we also had was we moved start times back out from where more viewers are back to an earlier start time. We knew that would have a short-term impact until our fan base could get a benefit from sort of a centralized start time for most of the events, East Coast, Midwest and West.

In the short run, there's less people watching at 1:00 than there is at 3:00. You had the World Cup; still have the World Cup going on. You had a very, very popular Winter Olympics. Our first three events went directly heads up on us. We had more competition than even a normal busy sports calendar. They've had big moments, big story lines. If you recall back in our Vegas race, I think that hockey game did a 21 share or something in the Winter Olympics directly against us. We didn't have that the year before.

Then the economy certainly plays a role, more so to us than anybody else because we ask our fans in the big event business to stay longer, drive further, buy hotel rooms and alike as part of what it takes to come to our events. That's why the tracks and just about everybody in the industry has tried to help that situation out by lowering prices, working with hotels, restaurants, anywhere where they may spend money, to be reflective of that.

In some of our big states that we were very successful in traditionally, like Michigan and here in Florida, have been the hardest hit, some of the hardest hit.

A lot of reasons, a lot of issues. Still there's 14, 15 million people a weekend tuning us in. We're a sport that looks way down the road. In a pocket of the economy or other challenges, that's our job to get through those.

Q: Brian, in June, in a story in the Sports Business Journal, David Hill was quoted as saying the biggest problem facing NASCAR is that the younger males have left the sport. If I was NASCAR, owner of a team, it would be something that I would be burning the midnight oil on a nightly basis worrying where they've gone and how do I get them back. One, your response to that. And, two, finding that balance between the younger audience and your older maybe core fans. It seems like a few years back you went towards that young side and kind of upset the core fan base. Where is your response to David's comments?

BRIAN FRANCE: Any demographic that we lose ground on is something we worry about and get concerned about. Obviously he's talking about the 18 to 35 demographic, which is very important to us. And, you know, that's why you do some of the things that we're going to try to do.

And it is a balance on the core fan, which is a little bit certainly older than that, that you want to satisfy your core fan but you have to do the things that are going to make you as attractive as possible. That's social media to us, which is going to be the great opportunity, one of the great opportunities to reach that young demographic.

We've got some work to do to improve our effort. That's what we met a couple hours today on. So there are going to be a lot of things, technology that comes down. We're going to be an amazing place to validate and help these companies market these new technologies, which will be great for our teams and our tracks because they'll have a different sponsorship and commercial base to work off of.

We're not marketing against a certain audience. In our efforts, we'll get it up.

Q: Of course, there's the young drivers that come up that will make a difference as well.

BRIAN FRANCE: Make a huge difference. You got to let that naturally happen as they find their place with an audience.

Q: Brian, you mentioned looking at the 2011 schedule. Bruton has been making noises about moving his New Hampshire race to Kentucky, dealing with the police department up there, then the Kansas City question. Have you heard from SMI about a schedule change? Have you heard from ISC requesting a schedule change regarding Kansas City? And what is the deadline for them to get those requests in? Is it this week?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, the deadline has come and gone, and we have heard from the public companies and the track operators as to some of their wishes. We are digesting that now and working with them. You know, we typically put our schedule out, as you well know, usually around Labor Day, give or take a couple of weeks here or there. It's my hope we'll meet that goal.

There are obviously now new requests from SMI and ISC. They've followed the policy that we have laid out on realignment. We'll have to see how it all fits into the greater schedule as we go in the next couple weeks.

We just got it in pretty recent. I suspect we'll work through that and figure out what's best for everybody.

Q: A few years ago you made a lot of changes, then you backed off because you said it was too much for your fans to handle. Now it sounds you're going to be making a whole bunch of changes again. Where do you get to the point where you say, Okay, we've got to do this, and maybe the fans are going to have to get upset, but we can't stand still?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't know that I said a bunch of changes. We have made a lot of things that are frankly pretty small. I'm talking about recently. Mostly it's in how we officiate the events, how we put rules packages together certainly with the wing versus the spoiler, you know, the rules packages for Talladega and Daytona, the bigger plates. But, frankly, most of those things were not controversial to the fan base. They may have been to a driver or team owner. What they want is to open up competition, which we've done.

And the Chase is an evolution. So we'll tweak that just like other sports leagues. You saw the NCAA tournament took a hard look at how many teams to add into their tournament and had a big idea, then they ended up adding a few teams. There's lots of things that we'll look at.

But we did do a lot of big things to what you're referring to several years ago, the new car being one. We changed sponsors and did some very visible things that were unsettling. We'd like to not have so many things in our control or out of our control that happen at one time.

We're in a normal course of adjusting things as we go along.

Q: Can you tell me where you stand on ethanol? There's been a lot of talk that it's something we will see in 2011 and touting that as part of the green initiative.

BRIAN FRANCE: Ethanol, I don't know that we'll see it in 2011 as a biofuel. It's certainly an option that is interesting. But we have not made -- there's a lot of thought that goes into it. It will be important for us to evolve the fuel source in the national divisions over time. We'll do that with Sunoco for sure trying to respect and value their set of rights. So we'll have to put all of that together.

I don't know what will happen in '11. We're working on a lot of things. But what I can tell you is we will have a very slow, very steady, and sometimes with big impact, but steady march towards, you know, this sport looking and feeling and acting more green. We believe that to be the right way and we'll do that without compromising competition. It will be seamless over time.

But the tracks, you saw Pocono what's happening. There's lots of things on the drawing board - some we're driving; some the industry is - recycling across the board, whatever it will be, to get to the right place over time.

Q: Just to be clear on what you're saying about the Chase. You like the basic structure of a points reset, but you might look at giving additional points to wins?

BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, here is the thing. We like a playoff style format for sure. It distinguishes us in motorsports, number one, distinguishes our national divisions number two. And, number three, the big design is to have playoff-type moments that only can be, in any sport, created when there's a lot on the line at any one moment, right? That's what the essence of Game 7s, eliminations and all that are.

We've always had in motorsports a challenge with that because there's a continuity issue because there's 43 teams. Nobody can win a winner-take-all scenario. And we have to balance sort of the body of what you've done as a driver across the board. So continuity will always be a factor in our playoff-style format.

What we're talking about is, you know, enhancing it in a way that will bring out more of the winning moments, the big moments that happen in sports. And if there's a way we can do that, and there are a couple of ways, we're going to give that a lot of weight.

Q: Letting these guys express emotion, they've done so verbally, also with action. What is your reaction to some of the things we've seen? Is it one of concern or are you satisfied with the way things are going?

BRIAN FRANCE: I like it personally. I like the emotion. You know, a little less worried about what we're gonna do. They always have the sponsorship stuff. It's not easy for them. They have to be accountable to a company that has a big investment in them.

But, you know, I think the more we can do of that with obviously some limits, but we like it. We liked it anyway. It wasn't like we're the guys that like to just put a cap on everything. Rather things evolve. This is a 60-year-plus sport. Things evolve over time. You just sort of keep dialing it down or down or down. All of a sudden you look up, you've taken yourself slightly off course. We've done that before. We'll admit if we've overregulated in certain situations, and I think we did. I think Mike Helton said that directly. But we like where we're at now. We like where we're going.

Continued in part 2

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Drivers Mike Helton